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Service businesses in Halifax are increasing prices to offset high cleaning costs

Hairdresser Enric Mas cuts the hair of a customer at his hairdressing salon in Caldas de Montbui, near Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, May 5, 2020.
Hairdresser Enric Mas cuts the hair of a customer at his hairdressing salon in Caldas de Montbui, near Barcelona, Spain, Tuesday, May 5, 2020. AP Photo/Emilio Morenatti

Most businesses in Nova Scotia are adjusting to the “new normal” after reopening in early June, but it might take consumers some time to adjust as well.

Reopening regulations called for an increase in cleaning and sanitation, purchasing personal protective equipment (PPE) and workplace safety equipment.

Along with reduced capacities in most businesses, the costs of operating while maintaining public health regulations have increased.

Read more: Atlantic provinces encouraging staycations as they compete for local tourism dollars

Services that we have grown used to, like getting a dentist check-up, will likely have much longer wait times, will take longer and cost more.

Kristina Boerder is a regular client at a Halifax-based dental clinic.

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Just prior to the clinic’s reopening on June 8, Boerder received an email that advised her of several changes she should expect before her next appointment.

One of the changes was a notice of a potential COVID-19 surcharge that could be waived if future appointments are made.

“That was the first time I had heard of the surcharge thing,” Boerder says.

“On one hand, I can somewhat understand it. On the other hand, I’m kind of fed up that they’re just passing on the costs to the customers.”

She says her opinion on the surcharge depends on the amount, and she understands as long as the communication of the charge is clear.

“I guess someone has to pay somewhere along the road,” she says.

Coronavirus outbreak: Are you willing to pay a COVID-19 surcharge?
Coronavirus outbreak: Are you willing to pay a COVID-19 surcharge?

Purchasing PPE, making adjustments to office spaces, setting up Plexiglas barriers and additional staffing have been expensive for dentists upon reopening, says Dr. Chad Avery, president of the N.S. Dental Association.

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Avery says the association provides clinics with a fee guide, but it is up to individual offices to determine what is reasonable for them.

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“I think it’s important to remember that, you know, we are private businesses we’re not supplemented by any taxpayers’ money,” Avery says.

“Ultimately, we do have to run a safe business for both our patients and our staff, and the cost associated with doing that needs to be passed along to the folks that expect that service,” he says.

Avery says that he expects COVID-19 surcharges, or increased fees, to be implemented for as long as strict operating regulations are in place.

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It’s not just dental clinics that have been advising staff of changes to pricing.

Dana Sharkey, executive director of the N.S. Cosmetology Association says a COVID-19 surcharge helps businesses stay on top of extra cleaning costs.

“Many of them went without income for two months,” Sharkey says. “It’s to help them recoup their losses.”

The association represents businesses including hair salons, aestheticians, make-up artists and nail salons, among others.

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The average cost of reopening for these businesses was around $4,000, and bigger businesses spent much more, Sharkey says.

Sharkey says a surcharge or increasing prices might be the only way for some businesses to stay on top.

“The question isn’t do we, the question is how much,” says Fred Connors, owner of Halifax-based hair salon FRED.

“In order for businesses like mine to be sustainable long term, with a reduced capacity and increased costs, the only solution is appropriately increasing our prices so that we can continue to service our clients.”

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Due to COVID-19 public health restrictions, Connors’ salon reduced capacity by 40 per cent. He says they can only care for one client at a time now.

On top of that, high demand for cleaning equipment has led to significant markups.

“I was buying bottles of rubbing alcohol that would have traditionally been about $1.75, for $10 a bottle locally and $14 a bottle online,” Connors says.

“That cost absolutely has to be moved on to the consumer who is coming in, and essentially, needs to pay for all of those empty spaces and all of those empty chairs,” he says.

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Dana Sharkey says the association has not received any complaints about businesses implementing COVID-19 fees or increasing their service costs.

She believes most people understand the situation, and if anything, it can be an indicator of maintaining proper cleanliness.

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Connors says his updated prices did not receive any negative feedback and he has noticed people tipping more generously since the reopening.

“I think that is a way to offset the fact that for three months we were not open, for three months we did not ask clients for support,” he says.

Now that FRED. is open again, alongside other hairdressers, nail salons and estheticians, Connors says the best form of support from clients is a positive attitude.

“Pay the price and be nice,” he says.