August 14, 2020 at 9:00 am PDT | by Brody Levesque
Calif. salons, barbers set to defy state COVID shutdown

A protest was held Aug. 11 at the state capitol. (Photo courtesy of the PBFC)

One of the many business areas hit hardest by California’s ‘Stay-At-Home’ COVID-19 orders and rollback of re-opening of the state’s economy by Gov. Gavin Newsom has been the beauty, barber salon, and cosmetology sector.

Many of those affected are sole proprietorships that are now struggling to find ways to keep their businesses from disappearing altogether. The Los Angeles Blade spoke with several salons around the region, including LGBTQ owned and operated salons that have been severely impacted.

One out owner, who asked not to be identified, spoke frankly about his fears of facing permanent closure.

“Even with the ability to operate out in the open, which is ridiculous and cumbersome, I can only afford to keep one stylist working — that’s me, I’ve had to furlough my six other stylists and it is not fair,” he said.

“They have no idea what they’re doing; they [Public Health] do not even take into consideration the education we are required to have even in normal times for hygiene and sanitation. We are better prepared to interact with our customers and take greater precautions,” he added.

The steps that salons and the industry take is exactly the reason that Gov. Newsom’s orders make no sense says Fred Jones, legal counsel for the Professional Beauty Federation of California, (PBFC).

“We have growing data that our salons had nothing to do with the increased number of positives. Some creative salon suite chains, product distributors and others have developed a social media campaign to track and report how many services we performed during our six-week reopening and how little COVID contagions resulted,” Jones told the Blade this week.

Newsom and state officials are ignoring science and data in regard to precautions taken by PBFC membership and other salons to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

“The CDC just issued a report on July 17 that showed there was a low probability of transmission of COVID,” said Jones. “Newsom is not listening to the experts and the science and data he claims that his orders are based on.”

The state has nearly 621,000 licensed and registered salons and barbershops, Jones pointed out. The ongoing-shutdown-reopen shutdown cycle leaves many businesses facing a bleak future or in some cases no future at all.

“To be fair, in response to our lawsuit and concerted #OpenSalonsNow campaign, Newsom did briefly capitulate and allowed our shops to reopen back in late May, but he reimposed the latest round of lockdowns on July 13,” Jones said.

The owner that spoke to the Blade echoed Jones’ frustration.

“Since this began and I closed when I was instructed to, with the first shut-down then the reopening until last month, outside of the ridiculous modification where I can cut and style on the sidewalk, I have lost 25% of my yearly income. That’s going to represent a loss of nearly $100,000 or one quarter of my year,” he said. “Worse is that many of my stylists depend on those paychecks to survive and now they may lose everything they have including possibly being homeless, which makes no sense,” he added.

PBFC membership did their own ‘contact tracing’ by using customer data during the brief reopening period to see if there was any uptick in rates of infection that were verifiable and found that out of 100,000 customers, there was minimal to no appreciable positivity rates Jones told the Blade.

“The requirements that were spelled out by Newsom during that time our membership was allowed to operate had greater precautions mandated than the so-called essential businesses like say Home Depots or grocery stores and that was before his mandatory mask order,” Jones said. “Our stylists and even the barbers are required to follow procedures that are comparable almost to preparing for surgery right down to face shields and gloves.

Factored into the overall picture is that for those who may survive, ballooning unpaid rent and expenses threaten to close salons regardless, Jones pointed out.

“My landlord has deferred my rent,” the salon owner told the Blade. “The problem is that I have lost all of my staff, my income, and how am I going to repay the rent with limited funds when I open again?”

The building anger at Newsom and state health officials has spurred a proactive movement within the PBFC to defy the governor’s orders.

“That is why the PBFC has stepped up big time to defend our livelihoods from a heavy-handed, shoot-from-the-hip governor who is totally fixated on the impossible task of stopping COVID dead in its tracks and marginalizing a well educated, trained, licensed profession that he should be partnering with instead of kicking to the curb,” Jones said. “We have hundreds of hours of formal education in sanitation; implemented stepped up safety protocols in our shops and booths; gathered contact tracing data showing our effectiveness in preventing the spread; and now have the backing of the CDC. What more could our governor ask of his state-licensed professionals?”

Jones tells the Blade that on Monday, August 17, there will be a massive reopening effort in defiance of the governor’s orders.

“He can no longer ignore the science, or disrespect our training, our license and our ability to keep our beloved clientele safe. We will not allow him to continue to bury his head to the rampant and growing underground defiance to his lockdown orders. It’s up to us, as licensed professionals with a united and loud voice, to demand Newsom allows our heavily regulated and sanitary, safe businesses to reopen now,” Jones said.

Los Angeles Blade reached out to Newsom’s office for comment but received no reply.

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