TAMPA — Gas is almost $4 a gallon. Rice is being rationed. Milk prices are soaring, and miso soup costs more to swallow.
But here at Artistic Nails & Beauty Academy, a haircut is $1.
That's right. A buck.
To catch a glimpse of these slumping economic times, look no further than the 50 hair-cutting stations at this beauty school on Adamo Drive.
The place is packed with people taking advantage of dollar-haircut days. Some evenings, an overflow crowd has to sit on the floor to wait turns: a woman with two children; a college student on a budget; a retiree on a fixed income.
"Gas is expensive," said Robert Rosenberg, owner of the beauty academy. "People are looking for ways to save money."
Rosenberg declared Thursdays $1 haircut days about six months ago to generate more business for his students. They must put in hundreds of hours of hands-on practice to graduate and working on mannequin heads just wasn't cutting it.
"The mannequins don't talk to you," he said. "And all their hair is straight."
Word spread, the economy soured, and more and more people started showing up. They had to turn customers away, Rosenberg said.
About six weeks ago, he marked haircuts down to $1 on Tuesdays, too, resulting in a 40 percent jump in business.
His customers include Rory Fuller, a 20-year-old college student.
"I work only 20 hours a week," Fuller said. "I'm on a budget, so a haircut for $1 really helps."
Fuller, who is studying biology at the University of South Florida, said he once paid $25 for a haircut at a salon.
"It's worth the drive," he said. "I still save money in the end."
Others, like retiree Joseph Skinner of Tampa, go even further. He takes the city bus, setting aside four quarters for his haircut.
"It gives the students the opportunity to practice and saves the public some money," said Skinner, 43, who is on disability. "It's great."
So how good are the haircuts?
"We strive for perfection," said Carlos Gonzalez, whose customers include a woman with seven children. He snipped away at Skinner's hair under the watchful eye of instructor Kevin Alston.
The haircuts may take longer since they are being performed by students, Alston said. But be assured of a good haircut, because all of the students are supervised by instructors.
Kimberly Johnson, 36, said her sons get better cuts at the hair academy than at the barber shop. She used to pay $15 per child for a haircut but can't afford that anymore. Now, she collects the loose change from the bottom of her purse and comes up with enough for two haircuts.
"Can you believe that?" she asked. "I used to pay $30. Here, I pay two."
And what do the customers talk about while getting their haircut?
"The price of gas," said Julius Howard, a barber student. "What else is there?"
The hairstylists feel their customers' pain, said Howard, who drives a 1979 Chevy Impala with a V-8 engine. "A gas guzzler," he calls it.
"It costs me $50 to fill up my tank," said Howard, who works at Bay City Plywood when not pursuing his barber license. "It doesn't last me a whole week."
Howard takes Thursdays off from Bay City Plywood to cut hair. He does about 20 cuts a day, he said. And the students get tips, too.
Amber Lozano, 23, received a $6 tip for a dollar haircut Thursday. But sometimes, customers don't tip at all, "even if you do a great job," she said.
"Sign of the times, I suppose," Lozano said. "Or they're jerks."
Dong-Phuong Nguyen can be reached at (813)269-5312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.