California Salon Owners Are Urging Politicians to Let Them Reopen Sooner

Shannon Marlin is a Northern California-based stylist and owner of Maverique Style House and Spanish Fly Hair Garage. As the state begins the slow process of reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic, both of her salons are considered Phase 3 businesses, a categorization that includes what Governor Gavin Newsom considers “higher risk” businesses such as hair and nail salons, barbershops, gyms, and live sporting events without audiences. In late April, the Governor said in a press conference these businesses would be “months, not weeks away” from opening, but on May 8 he stated Phase 3 openings may actually not “be more than a month away.”

California entered Phase 2 in early May after the state saw its first week-over-week decline in deaths. The second phase allows retail stores to reopen with curbside pickup, as well as schools, childcare facilities, non-essential manufacturing, and offices where working remotely isn’t possible. However, this potentially shortened timeline isn’t confirmed and is confusing, as some epidemiologists predict Phase 3 is still several months away and Los Angeles County recently extended stay-at-home orders until July. It feels unfairly long to many cosmetologists, especially since proper cleaning and sanitizing is such a huge part of their standard training to become licensed in the state. Cosmetologists like Marlin are confused as to when they may get back to work, what they need to do to prepare, and feel there’s been little communication between licensees and the state board during the pandemic.

Marlin is responsible for a team of about 50 people spread across her two salons, with a career spanning nearly 25 years. She remains positive, wanting to support her team and give them a sense of security amidst not being able to work, but she feels anxious.

“We’re just working class people that really want to get back to work,” she tells Allure. “And do it in a safe and sanitary way, which we’ve been trained to do….We’re ready to take on the regulations to get us back to work. We don’t want to lose our salons, we don’t want to lose our team. Some of my stylists rely on that transaction that’s put in their hands to pay for their bills. Leases are not being forgiven. We want to exist and we want to exist as a team.”

Niccolo De Luca, Northern California senior director at Townsend Public Affairs, has ties to Marlin — his wife works at one of her salons — and after seeing how the pandemic has affected California cosmetologists first-hand, he offered to get a plea letter to Governor Newsom’s office on their behalf. Marlin and LA-based stylist Jonathan Colombini worked together to round up support of 48 salons in Northern and Southern California to sign the letter, which compliments Governor Newsom’s swift leadership in response to the pandemic, but also addresses the need for guidance, communication, and action on their behalf.

“As you know, small businesses, independent contractors, and hourly wage earners are encountering major financial difficulties as there are few to no work opportunities as a result of the stay-at-home orders,” the letter states. “Many of our hair salon and barber shop employees, who on average earn $19 dollars an hour, have filed for unemployment and the financial pressures are growing by the day.”

The letter is a request to partner with the state to get beauty businesses up and running in the most safe and sanitary way, while explaining how cosmetologists are equipped to reopen. (It is not associated with the lawsuit the Professional Beauty Federation of California is planning to bring against the Governor, which claims he is denying roughly 500,000 PBFC members their right to make a living by keeping salons closed, as many of them are 1099 contractors and are ineligible for the Paycheck Protection Program.) The estheticians, nail artists, and stylists we interviewed for this story acknowledge the risks associated with COVID-19 and that business can not return to how it was prior to closing, but they aspire to find a way to support their businesses, employees, and livelihoods in conjunction with their current standards in addition to updated protocol enacted by the state. The letter includes precautions they plan to take, including pre-appointment protocols like a client questionnaire and screening, temperature taking, pre-opening disinfection protocol, and modified behaviors for the salons such as getting rid of magazines, opting for cashless transactions as much as possible, and posting visible signage regarding protocols.

How Cosmetologists Are Trained

Salons, barber shops, and spas are considered higher-risk businesses because of the close proximity employees must be to customers to do their job. However, many cosmetologists assert that they believe they have been trained more than any other trade outside of the medical field on proper sanitation. To get licensed by the California state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, students must complete 1,600 hours of technical instruction and practical training for cosmetology, 1,500 hours for barbering, 600 hours for estheticians and electrologists and 400 for manicurists; it includes 200 hours of technical instruction in health and safety for all trades except for manicurists, which requires 100 hours. They cover laws and regulations, training in chemical safety, bacteriology and preventing communicable diseases, proper disinfection procedures for equipment, and health and safety procedures for both the client and the professional. By comparison, the state of California requires that all employees involved in food preparation, storage, or service pass a two-hour food safety course, and that at least one employee in every retail food facility have a manager’s food safety certification (obtained by passing an exam; an 8-hour training course is optional). Businesses such as childcare facilities require 8 hours of preventative health and safety training.

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