• Atazia Hadjirouseva

Sizzling Crackers

Nestled in the heart of Rotterdams city centre, a bright and vivacious combined hair salon and vintage clothing store is bustling away. In accordance with the new rules, Angela and her team are keeping their doors open, maintaining the inviting warmth and lighthearted vibes despite all circumstances. Catching these ladies popping a bottle of cava on Fridays and passing a glass to their devoted clients is not uncommon for this crew, where the roars of laughter can be heard before even stepping inside. Sizzling Crackers. A curious name with a story as unique as it. "The idea originated from those holiday Christmas crackers," Angela, the owner, explains. "Our clients were brainstorming with us for the new name, and then came the idea of 'sizzling' from fireworks; a firework gift*." She tells how every year she hosts an annual holiday party for her team - the name seemed fitting. A store that has been standing for the last 30 years, under the ownership of Angela for the last seventeen. She has been here since the stores very beginning.

As I pop inside to meet with Angela, she greets me with her smiling eyes and offers me a coffee. This is the customary greeting here, with snacks and treats on the table generously offered to all who find themselves apart of the sizzling clientele. I wait for her to finish up with her current client, observing how Angela and the rest of her team attend to their clients with great care and attention. Everyone in this space is approachable. As I begin to shoot, I'm acknowledged warmly, while glitters of laughter fill the air. It's infectious. So how did Sizzling Crackers maintain it's spark during the first lockdown here in the Netherlands? "In the beginning we heard the news of how it was going in Italy and saw the news via other pages that we follow on Facebook, and we began to panic a bit. We decided to stay calm, until we had to close our doors. And then when that happened, that we had to close our doors, you're sitting at home wondering how long is this going to last. Two weeks? Four weeks? Which was a bit stressful. I was completely flabbergasted, and I found the uncertainty of the situation a bit heavy. When we could reopen, on the 11th of May, of course it was exciting - but then you have to think of the logistics of how this is going to go. The first few days were a bit hectic, as all of the girls wanted to work but we still needed to figure out our new system. After the first few days, you realise how the system is going to be able to work, and we knew we were simply going to have to go for it. I was relieved because my whole team was on the same page - that we were going to have to go hard at this to pull through. It really creates the atmosphere needed right now when your team can work together like this. We've worked together for a long time, and we missed each other when we weren't able to come to work. Because yes the work is very important, but so is the social contact with your friends and colleagues. Usually we have seven people on staff, however now we are working with five. And typically we each see eight clients per day, but now it's on average four or five. We are working longer days and working harder, because the thing is that the rent for our space remains the same - as well as the costs for everything. Including that our services also cost more time with having less staff to help each other; you have to plan well when thinking of the time it takes to do a haircut, hair dye, hair drying, styling - so at the end of the day you're tired, but really we're just happy to be able to open our doors and to be back at what we enjoy doing. We did have to purchase certain things to keep in accordance with the rules, such as protective screens between our sinks and our stations, while also trying to keep our space looking appealing. That was a bit tricky, but we've made it work.

Upon reopening, the support from our clients was overwhelming. They were so happy when they were able to be back in our seats, to be able to see us and to see that our store had survived. Immediately during the first week that we reopened our clients would do extra to support us - like purchasing a shampoo or extra products and things, which is really sweet to see happening as a store owner. It was even a surprise because we have clients that live in Brabant, who didn't dare to come obviously for quite some time, but eventually as the rules relaxed they made their appointments and the trip to be here. Our appointment book is now completely full until the end of September.

This experience showed me how loyal my clients and personnel are - which really gives you such a good feeling to have this.

The most important thing that I've taken from this experience is that I will never put myself into such a worried state again if this happens again - you really don't feel good from doing that. I find it unfortunate that I put myself through panicking. If this occurs again, I'd like to hold on with a little more willpower, and trust. I learned from the first lockdown that if another one were to happen, we will be able to pull through. It's not worth the stress. Yes, maybe it means we won't be able to build a financial buffer, but I know where to cut costs. And especially after the quarantine, I find it more important than ever to maintain the social occasions, such as Friday afternoon drinks as a team. Even with the 1.5 metre distance.

Business-wise this is the new normal. But I must say, I will find it very strange if the 1.5 metre rule remains as a new normal in our society for good."

Sizzling Crackers is located at Keerweer 12, 3012 KB Rotterdam, The Netherlands Check their website here: http://www.sizzlingcrackers.nl/ Instagram: @sizzlingcrackers and @sizzlingcrackersvintage Facebook: SizzlingCrackers

This interview has been translated into an English adaptation of its original version, which was recorded in Dutch. Therefore, the story may not be completely accurate to how it was originally told. *In The Netherlands it is common to see fireworks around Christmas and New Years being purchased for personal use by families and friend groups. photography by Atazia Hadjirouseva [@atazia.pavlina]