Northern California massage shops, hairdressers struggle to survive their extended coronavirus lockdown
With the coronavirus outbreak upending the world as we know it, it's also turned Kila Gomer's hairdo into a split-end nightmare.
“I'm just wearing my hair up in a messy bun,” said Gomer, who just came home from the hospital after delivering her second child.
Still, the problem is, her Santa Rosa hair stylist Danielle Molkenbuhr is unable to work on her client's hair, as the result of a shelter-in-place order for the industry that California Gov. Gavin Newsom said could last “months, not weeks” for high-touch businesses such as hair- and nail salons, massage therapy and gyms that fall into stage 3 of the state's reopening strategy.
These North Bay businesses are not happy this order cuts into their livelihood in dramatic fashion.
“I got lucky I did see her two weeks before (the state shutdown). We'll see how long it goes,” Gomer said, laughing about the prospect of doing it herself.
Newsom's comment sparked an outcry from these industries, with the Professional Beauty Federation of California threatening on Thursday to take legal action within days.
“We knew when we heard ‘months, not weeks,' we knew we'd have to file a lawsuit,” said Auburn attorney Fred Jones, who represents the Federation's 500,000 individual barbers and cosmetologists as well as 50,000 establishments licensed through the state Board of Barbering & Cosmetology.
Jones told the Business Journal the Federation board tried to negotiate in good faith with the state but reached an impasse after sending a letter claiming the shutdown has “financially squeezed a huge number of students, stylists and salon owners, which will only grow if this lockdown on our industry is extended.”
“The Board of Barbering and Cosmetology acknowledges and is sympathetic to the ever-changing environment that the COVID-19 pandemic has created for licensees. Our role is to ensure the health and safety of California consumers by promoting ethical standards and by enforcing the laws of the barbering and beauty industry. For the safety of our consumers and our licensees, the board continues to urge licensees to abide by the governor's stay at home order,” read the state's letter to the industry, obtained by the Journal.
Licensees who violate the order may face “disciplinary action,” it said.
The state Secretary of Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency Lourdes M. Castro Ramirez hadn't responded to the Journal by Friday morning.
Veronica Harms, deputy director of the state's consumer affairs division, spoke on behalf of the board, explaining the state is unable to comment on pending litigation.
“The governor is not going to open them. He's doubled down (on the closure),” Jones said.
The Federation, which was established in 1999 to provide a unified voice for the industry, has indicated it garnered 60,000 signatures on a petition insisting they get back to work.
The Auburn industry advocacy group contends its thousands of members already practice professional-level hygiene and sanitation.
Molkenbuhr noted how her training to be a licensed hair stylist involves 1,600 hours, with a significant segment dedicated to the body's anatomy, along with the threats of bacterial, fungal and viral transmissions.
The stylist of 15 years has worked hard to develop a solid list of clientele at Halo Salon in Santa Rosa. These customers are calling her and teasing about circumventing the rules.
“People are desperate. They'll ask me to do (their hair) jokingly and say ‘I'll meet you anywhere,'” she said, adding one client suggested meeting at a gas station.
As weeks to months go by, Molkenbuhr admitted her clients may not be the only desperate ones. Her husband is working full time since his medical-related job is considered essential, but she calls the income a “Band-aid” in comparison to the overall finances necessary to run the household and her contract work at the salon.
She and her colleagues filed this week for the special Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PAU) established for independent contractors.
“I never thought it would get to this level. In the first several weeks, I didn't sleep at all,” she told the Journal.
Crisis cutting into more industries
Massage therapists are also feeling the pain of receiving no income in the state's imposed waiting period for them to see clients, who they stand over in close proximity as they work on the muscles.
“It's going to be increasingly financially difficult,” said Stacy Desjardins, who has operated Santa Rosa Medical Massage Therapy for a decade. It closed on March 15.