California salons say new closures threaten their survival

HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. (AP) — At the start of the year, Luis Lopez moved his barbershop to a bigger location with three more chairs and more than twice the rent. Then, when the coronavirus pandemic hit, he had to close, plunk down more cash for upgrades to health safety standards and wait for officials to allow salons to reopen.

Now, Lopez owes $10,000 in monthly rent for the coveted space in Southern California’s downtown Huntington Beach and says he can only keep paying it if he can cut hair at his Orange County Barbers Parlor. But Gov. Gavin Newsom said that isn’t allowed under new closures this week to curb soaring numbers of infections.

“With all due respect, I can’t close my doors. I just really can’t,” Lopez said. “I am going to have to shut my business if that is the case.

“People say work from home or do house calls, but people are still getting fined to do that, so what’s the difference?” he added. “If they come in and shut us down, then that’s what is going to have to happen.”

The closures hit salons in the nation’s most populous state especially hard. The industry is filled with mom-and-pop shops and independent stylists — many still struggling after a monthslong shutdown that began in March. While restaurants and retail stores are encouraged to set up on sidewalks, regulators have barred salons from moving outdoors. That’s something Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson and industry representatives on Thursday urged Newsom’s administration to reconsider to keep shops afloat.

Like many businesses, salons nationwide have been walloped by closures in states seeking to slow the spread of the virus. New York City only recently allowed nail salons to reopen.

Many owners feel like they’re being unfairly punished with the new California shutdown. Unlike at bars or restaurants, workers and customers at salons wear masks constantly and groups don’t typically gather. They say they have ample training on sanitizing procedures and don’t understand why they’re lumped in with other businesses.

“We were temperature checking, we were doing everything to the letter, no one was getting in without a mask,” said Ben Daidone, who has closed his Santa Monica salon. “It reminds me of my grade school teacher punishing everybody for chewing gum when we couldn’t find out who the perpetrator was.”

The strife comes as California grapples with a rise in infections and hospitalizations after allowing many businesses to reopen and as people gather in warmer weather. This week, Newsom shuttered bars and indoor dining throughout California and halted indoor religious services, gyms and salons in most places after virus-related hospitalizations jumped 28% in two weeks.

Many salon owners say they understand the severity of the pandemic, have followed state guidance and haven’t seen cases of viral transmission linked to their shops.

The state has received nearly 2,200 complaints of salons failing to follow sanitizing measures but hasn’t issued citations, said Cheri Gyuro, a spokeswoman for California’s Department of Consumer Affairs. Salons can’t operate outdoors, but the state board of Barbering and Cosmetology is considering options, she said.

San Diego County’s health director, Dr. Wilma Wooten, reported Wednesday that a hair salon and a barbershop were linked to community outbreaks, in which people from at least three different households got infected in a single setting. State health officials say they don’t know how many outbreaks have occurred in salons.

In Michigan, health officials recently reported as many as 75 possible exposures at a salon. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that no additional virus cases appeared tied to a Missouri salon where two infected stylists had contact with 139 customers in May, likely because people wore masks.

In Palm Springs, Nathan Rickel said he closed his Tiny Bubbles salon this week because he needs to keep his license. The pandemic threatens to upend the dream he and his partner built in the desert resort community, but he is heeding the order.

“Fighting it is not going to help,” he said. “We work as a team to fight the disease — not fight each other.”

The closures have spurred mixed emotions. Tam Nguyen, president of Advanced Beauty College in Orange County, said he’s concerned about the rise in virus cases but also the well-being of 11,000 nail salons that are largely owned by Vietnamese immigrant families.

“We’re from an industry that wants to work. We’re from an immigrant community that wants to work,” he said.

Many salon owners are looking for ways to offset soaring bills. Lisa Ann Bowles, who owns New Nail Creations in Clovis, said she’s determined to find a workaround to the latest shutdown, especially for diabetic customers who depend on her for foot care. She said she may start working outdoors in the mornings and that she isn’t barred from providing free care to those buying her nail care products.

“If I am not charging, I am not doing a service,” she said. “When I get put in a corner, I look for a way to get out.”

George Garcia, whose family has owned a barbershop in the seaside community of San Pedro for three decades, said he couldn’t have made it through the first shutdown without his landlord’s generosity. They were open only three weeks before the new closure.

He said he will need to take single haircut appointments to sustain the business he runs with his father and son.

“If we really close completely, I think we won’t be able to come back after this,” Garcia said.

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Associated Press writer Julie Watson in San Diego contributed to this report.

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