California salons say new closures threaten their survival

California salon closings round two: ‘Heartbreaking is one way to put it’

Pigtails & Crewcuts Los Altos co-owners Reyna Patel and Sneha Bhavan have been working to maintain morale and their business since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. A look at how they are dealing with the second-round of business closures across California. 

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 state officials to allow salons to reopen.

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Now, Lopez owes $10,000 in monthly rent for the coveted space in 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 issued this week to curb soaring numbers of infections.

“With all due respect, I can't close my doors. I just really can't,” the 45-year-old shop owner said. “I am going to have to shut my business if that is the case.

A bottle of hand sanitizer sits on a counter as Edgar Gomez has his hair cut by George Garcia, owner of George’s Barber Shop, Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in San Pedro, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

“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.”

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The closures Monday 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 move outdoors and set up on sidewalks, regulators have barred salons from making the same move.

Many salon owners feel like they're being unfairly punished. Unlike at bars or restaurants, workers and customers at salons wear masks constantly and groups don't typically gather there. They said 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 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.”

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The strife comes as California grapples with a rise in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations following the state's decision to let many businesses reopen and as people gather in warmer weather.

This week, Newsom shuttered bars and indoor dining throughout California and indoor religious services, gyms and salons in most of the state after virus-related hospitalizations jumped 28% in two weeks. The move affects countless workers and businesses, including some 50,000 licensed salons.

Ricardo Rivera, left, has his hair cut by Anthony Acosta while Braunson McDonald has his hair cut by Luis Lopez, right, owner of Orange County Barbers Parlor, Wednesday, July 15, 2020, in Huntington Beach, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

While for most people the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms such as a fever and cough, it can cause more severe illness and death for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems.

Salon owners say they understand the severity of the pandemic. Many say they have followed the state's guidance and have not seen cases of viral transmission linked to their shops.

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The state has received nearly 2,200 complaints of salons failing to follow sanitizing measures but no citations have been issued, 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, Gyuro 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.

Edgar Gomez has his hair cut by George Garcia, owner of George’s Barber Shop, Tuesday, July 14, 2020, in San Pedro, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

In Palm Springs, Nathan Rickel said he closed his Tiny Bubbles salon 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 crisis has 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.

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“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. During the earlier shutdown, Lisa Ann Bowles, who owns New Nail Creations in Clovis, said she focused on selling nail care products.

Bowles 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 at 6 a.m. before the heat becomes unbearable. She said she isn't barred from providing free care to those who buy her 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 the generosity of his landlord. They were open only three weeks before the new closure.

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

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

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