As celebrations go, this one is going to be somewhat muted.
In a perfect world, Sam Rivait and Caitlin Bousfield, the owner-operators of Good Fortune Barbershop at 555 Osborne St., would be toasting the one-year anniversary of their business this weekend, joined by members of the LGBTTQ+ community they tirelessly champion, along with residents of the South Osborne neighbourhood they enthusiastically promote.
Of course, things are decidedly imperfect these days.
So, no, the engaged couple won’t be doling out cake or blowing up balloons to mark the occasion. That and the January 2021 grand-opening date they’d originally circled on the calendar wound up being delayed over and over again, initially by provincially mandated restrictions, followed by supply chain issues that left their 960-square-foot premises, which they took possession of in November 2020, without a furnace for four bone-chilling months.
"With all we went through trying to get this place off the ground, I originally thought April 1, being April Fool’s Day and all, would have been the absolute perfect day to open, but we ended up waiting till the next day instead," Bousfield says with a laugh, seated on a couch in their waiting area, or what would be their waiting area if customers were allowed to linger ahead of a trim.
"COVID had already been a thing for almost 10 months when we signed the lease, so it’s not like we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into," adds Rivait, sporting a black Good Fortune T-shirt and matching face mask.
"It was disappointing not to have a true grand opening with friends and family — because of numbers, we couldn’t even let passersby inside who simply wanted to see what we’d done with the place — but it was definitely exciting when we were finally up and running and able to cut hair again."
Bousfield, 30, moved to Winnipeg from her hometown of Dryden, Ont., at age 18. She and Rivait, 32, who is originally from Windsor, Ont., met in Toronto in 2013. They lived and worked together there for about a year, until Bousfield expressed a desire to return to the Prairies. She missed friends she’d left behind, sure, but she was also yearning for "a yard, a dog… all the things you can’t have renting a tiny-ass apartment in Toronto that you pay a lot of money for."
The pair spent the next six years cutting hair at the same West Broadway barbershop. While Bousfield admits to having long dreamed about a place of their own — "It’s kind of like a rite of passage for lots of people in this industry," she says — that wasn’t necessarily the case with Rivait, who describes her chief focus back then as, "showing up for work, and being really, really good at my job."
Rivait’s mindset began to shift in the spring of 2020, when she and Bousfield found themselves unemployed for seven weeks, owing to the provincial government’s first of three code-red shutdowns to slow the spread of COVID-19.
"It wasn’t even so much about getting a place of our own after COVID struck. It was more, what did we want our lives to look like, going forward?" Rivait says. "Because you spend so much of your life working, we started asking ourselves if we really wanted to be putting so much of our emotional energy into somebody else’s business."
The seed for Good Fortune was planted one crisp, fall morning when Bousfield was out walking their two Dachshunds, Carl and Louie, and spotted someone tiling the entranceway to a boarded-up property near the corner of Osborne Street and Morley Avenue, a block from where they live.
Bousfield had always thought the spot, neatly tucked between a restaurant and a bakery, would be an ideal fit for a barbershop. The second she noticed new activity going on there, though, she was afraid opportunity might have passed them by.
"I had left my phone at home so I literally ran back with the dogs to call the landlord to ask if he had rented it out," she says. "He told me there was another party interested, but quickly added, ‘We need to talk.’ ‘Yep, we sure do!’ I said."
Like they mentioned earlier, there were umpteen delays associated with the renovations, mainly caused by pandemic-related rules that limited the number of contractors allowed inside at any one time to refinish the hardwood floors, repoint the exposed brick walls and install a new washroom.
(In another life, Good Fortune, together with the Oxbow restaurant next door, served as Corner Boys, a popular watering hole/live music venue in the late 1980s and early ’90s, and, following that, as a dining spot specializing in Thai cuisine.)
They both chuckle, recalling how each dealt with their fair share of hair-don’ts versus hair-dos, when they finally got back to doing what they do best again. By April of last year, many of their regular clients hadn’t been to a barber in months, and had taken matters into their own, untrained hands.
"All the home haircuts were completely fixable, but what really proved interesting were the people who’d simply let their hair grow out (during the lockdown), and, because they had more length than they were used to, were super-open about trying new things," Bousfield says.
It didn’t take long for word to spread that Good Fortune, a feel-good tag they came up with around the dining room table one night, had a different vibe than most barbershops, which tend to be masculine in design, as well as approach.
Rivait had been responsible for organizing regularly scheduled LGBTQ+ nights where they worked previously, which saw her and her co-workers openly welcome anybody looking for a gender-affirming cut. Naturally, that atmosphere carried over to their new space.
"I’m not saying we’ll never do LGBTQ+ nights, ever again, but there isn’t really a need here because that’s what our expectation is, all the time: to be a safe, inclusive space, where, for example, a parent can book a cut for teenager who’s maybe exploring their identity without it being some intimidating experience," Rivait says, mentioning a client of Bousfield’s who, whenever they went to barbershops or salons in the past, were assumed to be a certain gender, and were almost always talked out of getting the sort of short cut they desired.
Another of their stated goals is to be a driving force in the neighbourhood. Since Day 1, a section of wall just past the front door has been reserved for works by local artists — photographs, watercolours, that sort of thing. Also, anybody who popped by before Christmas will probably remember having to step over a pile of games, toys and diapers they collected on behalf of North End women’s centre Wahbung Abinoonjiiag.
"We did a community cleanup last May that attracted over 100 volunteers; we’ll be doing that again this year, for sure, and since October, we’ve been donating a dollar from every haircut to Manitoba Underdogs (Rescue), close to $2,000, so far," Rivait says.
With the number of reported COVID cases rising daily, Rivait and Bousfield allow that they wouldn’t be overly surprised if they were forced to close their doors yet again. The thought of that weighs on their minds, of course, but they say they’re prepared for whatever comes their way in the days and weeks ahead.
"This time it’s not just us we’re worried about; it’s more the two people who work for us, and depend on us for their income," Rivait says, pointing out no matter what occurs, they won’t be postponing their wedding, originally scheduled for last spring and currently slated for July, again.
"We’ve been down this road before — "uh, yeah, three times," interjects Bousfield — and know that every shutdown has ultimately led to a reopening. So while another closure wouldn’t be welcome news, we know it won’t be the end of the world for the shop, either."
Dave Sanderson was born in Regina but please, don’t hold that against him.