A barber cut out of the business at an Atlanta shop by the pandemic took his services to the streets of Buckhead May 11, snagging clients for sidewalk haircuts at a good enough clip he intends to do it again.

With only a chair and a box of wireless clippers and other gear — but no COVID-19 protective equipment, and, according to the state, no license — Sean Wimbush set up the impromptu barber shop along Peachtree Road, first on a median at East Paces Ferry Road, then in Charlie Loudermilk Park.

Sean Wimbush cuts a man’s hair on the sidewalk outside Charlie Loudermilk Park at Peachtree and East Paces Ferry roads on May 11. The photo was taken by resident Fred Wooten, who was passing by.

“I felt like it was a good marketing plan to go out there and cut hair, and I actually picked up six clients,” Wimbush said in a later phone interview. “…And people like the hustle, you know? They were like, ‘Yo, that’s dope.’ A lot of people were honking their horns. Even a firefighter came up to me and he was like, ‘I’m gonna take your number, man. I need a haircut.’”

Wimbush worked at a Midtown shop called the Anguished Barber before the pandemic closures, where he appears on the website’s staff list. The shop did not immediately respond to a comment request. Since then, like many barbers and stylists, he’s been surviving on house calls.

Wimbush does not have a required barber license from the Georgia State Board of Cosmetology and Barbers, according to Ari Schaffer, press secretary of the Secretary of State’s Office, which oversees the board. Wimbush said he recently moved to Georgia from New Jersey and was in the process of transferring his license, which he speculated may have been delayed by the pandemic. His name does not appear in New Jersey’s online database of licensed barbers and Schaffer said there is no record of a Georgia license application for Wimbush.

During the Buckhead haircuts, Wimbush lacked anti-COVID-19 protective gear for himself or the clients, which he blamed on his “impulsive” idea after a couple of house calls in the area. Face masks and disinfectants are required for barbers and stylists under new state regulations for shops and salons, which do not appear to address the possibility of outdoor haircuts.

“I should’ve brought one [mask]. And I should’ve had gloves as well,” Wimbush said, adding that he has them for his house calls. “And definitely next time I go out there I’m gonna have [them]. It was such a random thing.”

Due to the close-quarters nature of their work, barber shops were among the first businesses ordered to close during the early stages of the pandemic. And they were among the points of controversy when Gov. Brian Kemp allowed them to reopen April 24. Some shops leaped at the chance, while others have yet to reopen, and some in the profession have expressed fear about returning to work. Many barbers and stylists relied on gray-market house calls during the pandemic.

Wimbush performs a haircut in a median on Peachtree Road in Buckhead on May 11. (Fred Wooten)

Wimbush said he started doing house calls because, due to his recent move to Georgia, he did not yet qualify for unemployment. “I got a stimulus [check], but it’s like, we need another one,” he said.

He said he has some COVID-19 concerns, but the house calls “seemed like less of a risk than going into a Walmart.” And, he said, no one close to him has died from the disease, “so it’s like I’m kind of afraid of a ghost right now.” The more pressing concern, he said: “I just know $1,200 wasn’t going to allow me to eat for two months.”

Wimbush said he is considering not returning to the shop even if it opens, partly due to safety concerns, but also because of the money, especially as the house call business looks to becoming a new standard rather than a luxury. Shops, he said, take a cut that can amount to $250 to $300 a week.

In normal times, a house call haircut would be about $85, Wimbush said. He now charges house call clients the shop rate of $45, or $50 with a beard trim. “I’ve had a day during the quarantine where I’ve done 13 haircuts in a day at like $45, $50,” with no cut going to a shop, he said.

Wimbush also makes music under the name Sean Artest and brought a performer’s sensibility to the attention-getting — even, he said, traffic-stopping — sidewalk cuts. Part of the idea was to drum up house call business. But it made him some money on the spot, too. He said he cut the hair of three customers — as long as his wireless clippers would last — and made $170.

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.