Hair salons and barbershops reopened in New York City a month ago but one barber has been cutting hair for desperate New Yorkers since the middle of May.
Like millions of other Americans, Herman James was suddenly out of a job four months ago when everything had to shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. But the licensed barber with more than a decade of experience didn't let it stop him from helping people look and feel their best, even if it means giving out free haircuts.
Unable to work indoors, James went to Central Park with his tools, a chair, and he set up shop. Most days, you can find James under the shaded arbor near the park's West 72nd Street entrance.
"I waited for about 10 minutes and one person sat in the chair. The rest is history," James told NBC New York. "A lot of people were impacted financially by the coronavirus and the pandemic, so I wanted to come out here and provide the service for those that could afford to give and show their appreciation and those that couldn't."
Many clients who visited James hadn't their haircut in months. The barber says people felt safe to do so because they are outdoors and there's plenty of air to circulate.
Barbershops were only allowed to reopen in New York's Phase II because they're considered "non-essential business." But for James, a haircut can be essential in giving people who may be feeling down about the pandemic a boost of self-confidence.
Something as simple as a haircut can give people a sign, a semblance, of the return of normalcy.
"I understand the impact that a good haircut can have. When you look good, you feel good and it puts you in a more positive state," James said.
He's now working Tuesday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the same spot in Central Park.