Hard-Working Back Bay Barber Now Faces Uncertain Future

Abdou Benouardia, owner of Anfa Barber Shop, which has locations on Gloucester Street in the Back Bay and in Dedham, now works seven days a week, often putting in 10-hour days as the sole barber at both shops. But despite all this hard work, he is now faced with an uncertain future, including the potential closure of his Dedham location.

“It’s better than 2020, but not enough to pay the bills at all,” said Benouardia. “I’m just collecting debt.”

Since opening in 2010, Benouardia had enjoyed considerable success at the original location of Anfa at 33 Gloucester St., so he made the ambitious decision to expand his business. He then spent about year and half looking for an ideal spot for a second location of Anfa before signing a five-year lease for a space at 702 Legacy Place in Dedham, which eventually opened Oct. 2, 2020, during the height of the pandemic.

Since then, the landlord for the Dedham location has been understanding, allowing Benouardia to pay a portion of the rent each month, even though he’s still on the hook to pay back the remainder of the balance down the road.

But now, because of the barbershop’s central location in the Legacy Mall, his landlord is insisting that he stay open there seven days a week, putting Benouardia as the sole barber now working at both Anfa locations in an untenable situation.

“I’m thinking about maybe shutting down the one in Dedham soon,” he said.

Like Anfa in the Back Bay, the Dedham barbershop has four barber’s stations, but the space is slightly larger at about 575 square feet, compared with around 560 square feet on Gloucester Street.

Just before the pandemic struck, Benouardia had three barbers working for him at his Gloucester Street location, but when COVID came, all three went on unemployment and never returned to work. Benouardia has reached out to them and asked them to return to work on multiple occasions to no avail.

Around October, Benouardia  hired a barber with previous experience at a barber’s shop in Downtown Crossing to work at Anfa’s Dedham location. The barber quickly grew tired of making the trek from his East Boston home, so Benouardia would buy him coffee or lunch during his shifts as an added inducement. But after a few months, the barber left, and Benouardia again found himself as the sole employee at both of his barbershops.

Benouardia also placed a help wanted ad seeking barbers on Craigslist a couple of months, but so far that has proven fruitless.

He has spoken with a few job candidates, but they always find an excuse to beg off coming to work: Dedham was too far a commute for a couple of would-be barbers he spoke with, while one prospective Back Bay barber declined because of parking concerns.

Since the pandemic struck, the only time off from work Benouardia has taken was one week last July when he traveled back to Morocco for his father’s funeral.

If he’s lucky, Benouardia said maybe he’ll be able to take a week off this July, but that largely hinges on whether he can find another barber to come work for him.

Last month, Benouardia, caught a much-needed break, however, when he signed another one-year lease for 33 Gloucester St. as an at-will tenant, and his landlord “took off the taxes,” which will amount to significant savings in rent at that location.

And with more people expected to return to the office in April, Benouardia is optimistic that business will soon pick up at his Back Bay location. But even so, he expects business will only be “50 percent” of what it was during pre-pandemic times.

But if another COVID surge comes along, Benouardia said that could be what puts him out of business entirely.

“If we have another COVID and more restrictions, I’m going to have to file for bankruptcy,” he said.

Anfa Barber Shop at 33 Gloucester St. can be reached at 617-267-0605 or via email at [email protected], or visit them online at www.anfabarbershop.com.

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