By Johnny Carvajal and Vivian Sequera
LA GUAIRA, Venezuela (Reuters) – Barber Franklin Iriarte had to get creative to survive when Venezuela, reeling from a long-running economic collapse, imposed a nationwide quarantine during the COVID pandemic.
Inspired by YouTube videos of barbers in other countries, the father of two sold his car in August to buy a van that he turned into a mobile barbershop.
“I wanted a storefront, but right now what they ask for in rent is equivalent to everything you have,” said the 38-year-old. “I couldn’t swing it.”
Iriarte, who has worked at several barbershops during his decade in the business, learned new skills to soup up the van.
He repaired, refurbished and painted it himself over several months, adding chairs and mirrors inside and installing air conditioning.
“It wasn’t easy because there were moments when there was no food in the refrigerator,” he said. “It was between keeping food in the house and keeping the project going.”
He started to park it around La Guaira, about 30 kilometers (18.64 miles) from Caracas, in December, and now works Monday through Saturday from around 8 a.m. until as late as 9 p.m.
Venezuela’s economy has been faltering for years from high inflation and sanctions against its once-prosperous oil industry, though the government has relaxed some foreign currency controls.
While public employees earn a monthly minimum wage of just $3 a month, Iriarte is able to charge $5 a cut because private sector workers generally earn more and many people receive remittances from relatives who have migrated abroad.
Even so, Iriarte said he sometimes offers free haircuts to those who cannot pay.
So far, business is good, he said. “Thank God (the business) has been well-received.”
(Reporting by Johnny Carvajal and Vivian Sequera; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Richard Chang)