Cuts on the sly: Barbers, salons open illegally
As shutdown drags on, violations are on the rise
Carmelle Harris saw the man standing at the open front door of her house.
“Are you here for the haircut?” she asked.
He was, so Harris, wearing an N95 face mask, handed sanitary wipes to the man and led him to a makeshift barber’s chair in the living room.
Soft music played as the customer, John Batinovich of Hollywood, settled into the barber’s chair. “You’ve got a great setup here,” he said.
It’s also illegal – and during the coronavirus pandemic, the hair industry is drawing legal scrutiny across the country.
❚ In Texas, Shelley Luther was arrested after she defied an order to close her salon during the COVID- 19 outbreak. She spent two days in jail and was fined $ 7,000.
❚ In Michigan, Karl Manke’s professional and business licenses were suspended after he refused to close his barbershop. Manke, 77, was charged with two criminal misdemeanors for defying the governor’s stay- at- home orders.
❚ In California, the state threatened disciplinary action against open salons and said it was investigating 651 related complaints. Los Angeles filed criminal complaints against four hair salons and one barbershop – along with 55 other businesses – that were open in violation of the city’s safer- at- home orders, City Attorney Mike Feuer said last week.
❚ Also last week, the Ulster County Department of Health and Mental Health in New York announced that a barber tested positive for COVID- 19 after cutting hair after the state put shutdown orders in place.
The number of hairstylists setting up shop at home or coloring and cutting hair at customers’ homes is on the rise
as stay- at- home orders have stretched beyond eight weeks, more than a dozen hair stylists and industry experts told USA TODAY.
Financial pressure is cited as the chief reason hairstylists such as Harris of Compton, California, put their cosmetology licenses at risk.
“Do I take a chance and get turned into a criminal because I decided to work and pay my bills on time?” said Harris, 38. “Or do I just sit and watch my bills pile up, so when the economy does open up, I’m thousands and thousands of dollars in debt?”
There is no legal ambiguity in the state. “California law requires that all services be performed in a licensed establishment,” Cheri Gyuro, public information officer for the Department of Consumer Affairs, told USA TODAY. Similar laws are in effect in every other state, said Steve Sleeper, executive director of the Professional Beauty Association.
Last week, the Center for American Liberty filed a federal lawsuit against California Gov. Gavin Newsom on behalf of the Professional Beauty Federation of California to try to get hair salons reopened statewide.
Stylists are worried
In Connecticut, salon owner Odete DaSilva said she is among thousands of hairstylists and salon owners urging Gov. Ned Lamont to push back the May 20 date when salons and barbershops will be allowed to reopen. She said they fear the risks of getting infected with COVID- 19 are too high to go back to work and allowing them to do so would end their ability to collect unemployment benefits.
“It’s such a divisive issue, right?” said Steve Sleeper, executive director of the Professional Beauty Association. “Our members are the same way that the rest of the country plays out. Half are thinking, ‘ Hey, it’s too soon, let’s wait and make things safe.’ And the other half is, ‘ Let’s go- go- go- go.’ ”
One Southern California hairdresser created in her garage a makeshift salon, complete with a hood dryer and a shampoo bowl. She spoke on the condition of anonymity because she said her cosmetology license could be revoked.
Upon arrival, the hairdresser said, her clients text her rather than ring the doorbell to keep her two dogs from barking and eliminate noise that might draw attention from neighbors.
After Luther was released from a Dallas jail, Sen. Ted Cruz, R- Texas, got a haircut at her Salon à la Mode. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick announced he would pay Luther’s $ 7,000 fine, although the salon owner has ample money to handle it.
She received more than $ 500,000 from a GoFundMe campaign started a day before she reopened her salon, and Luther started a nonprofit group called Courage to Stand.
On May 14, Luther told USA TODAY that she was driving to Michigan to offer support for Manke, the barber who faces jail time after refusing to close his barbershop in Owosso, a town of about 15,000.
“My attorneys have been in touch with his attorneys,” said Luther, 46. “Even if it’s just showing my face, I need to go out there and support this man.
“Right now, I want to speak with actions and make sure everybody in the United States realizes that we’re getting our rights and freedoms taken away, and we need to take them back immediately.”
Manke did not reply to interview requests.
‘ Everything is super clean’
Harris said she completed two online courses and received COVID- 19 certification from Barbicide, a company that sells products designed to clean and disinfect salons.
One of Harris’ roommates helped her disinfect between customers.
“Everything is super clean,” Harris said of her makeshift salon.
It’s unlikely the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology will be impressed, based on a warning it issued May 1 by social media.
“The Board urges licensees to follow the stay- at- home orders,” the post read. “If businesses continue to put public health and safety at risk by not following the guidance provided, and if circumstances warrant it, the Board may pursue disciplinary action against their license. This will not be taken lightly.”
In Brookhaven, Mississippi, Dedra Edwards said she’s worried for hairstylists and barbers going back to work. Her brother Eugene, a longtime barber, died of COVID- 19 in April at the age of 46.
Edwards said her family thinks Eugene, 46, was infected with COVID- 19 during a hair show in Jackson, Mississippi, on March 15. He was not wearing a face mask because the hair show was held before the stay- at- home order was imposed, according to Edwards.
She said safety should be paramount as salons and barbershops reopen.
“I know they’re using masks,” she said. “But you don’t know the client you’re working with, and you can carry COVID- 19 and not have any symptoms.’’
Safety was part of the motivation when the Center for American Liberty filed the lawsuit on behalf of the PBFC, said attorney Fred Jones, counsel for the group representing the beauty and barbering industry.
“Tell me what’s safer,” Jones said, “having ( hairstylists and barbers) go from one kitchen to the next kitchen? Or having all of those ladies and men come into the controlled environment of the salon, where they maintain cross- contamination controls?”
“Do I take a chance and get turned into a criminal because I decided to work and pay my bills on time?” Hairstylist Carmelle Harris
Carmelle Harris uses a sanitizing wipe on her barber chair. Even haircuts are complicated by the coronavirus. ROBERT HANASHIRO/ USA TODAY