Despite completing thousands of hours of training including best sanitation practices and using the latest and greatest tools for disinfection, stylist Jennifer Hatcher, who normally rents a chair at Maven & Co. on Valley Avenue in Pleasanton, told the Weekly that the state has refused to let them reopen for outdoor service, much less inside.
"The problem is with the state (cosmetology) board, they're the ones threatening fines of up to $10,000 and suspending licenses for three years" if salons flaunt any regulations, Hatcher said.
Hatcher was among a small group of hair stylists and salon owners who protested to reopen their businesses at the Alameda County Public Health Department in Oakland last week. She said she hasn't cut a single strand of hair since the countywide shelter-in-place order amid the COVID-19 crisis started on March 16, which forced the salon to temporarily shutter.
Currently, Hatcher cannot even give any dry haircuts, which she estimates "makes up less than 15% of our clientele" at the full service salon, but has still disqualified her and other stylists from receiving unemployment.
"I just want it to be very clear from a hairstylist's perspective -- we're not throwing a tantrum. We feel we can do it safely," she added. "It feels like a need, it really does, and the disparity in that opinion is part of the problem. Hair stylists in general, our industry is not looked upon with the most prestige … but we're professionals and very clean and safe. We feel strongly we can provide for our guests."
Pleasanton has already seen popular hair styling businesses like Gary Patrick Salon draw to a close after more than 30 years in business because of the pandemic, according to a stylist who posted the news on social media this week. Opening first in Pleasanton in 1989, the salon eventually expanded to San Francisco before closing both locations and opening its current spot on Main Street in 2003, a downtown staple until the shelter order hit earlier this year.
When Maven & Co. does reopen, Hatcher wants to be able to offer clients a range of services including highlights and extensions in a proper setting instead of outdoors, as was briefly allowed in neighboring Contra Costa County until the end of June.
"A $55 haircut doesn't require getting sprayed down in a parking lot, it's not an appropriate offer," Hatcher said. "It chips away at the integrity of our professionalism and the quality of our services to where it's not feasible to offer them to our guests. It's not a fair act to ask that of them and then charge them what we need to charge them."
The state's proposed solutions for outdoor salons are also impractical, Hatcher argued, noting that conditions like the sun and wind make stylists' jobs harder. She also said the safety regulations issued "were, broadly- wear sunscreen, don’t trip on electric cords, and watch out for lightning storms. It was insulting and absurd."
"How is being outside in an uncontrolled environment more sanitary than our space," Hatcher said.
The salon has added station dividers and sanitation stations, removed its lounge area, and invested in air purifiers, blue lights and sanitizing wands -- all in the name of client health and safety. "That, to us, seems so much more sanitary than on a sidewalk in a lawn chair," she added.
Hatcher also said the logistics of "dragging our salon chairs down an elevator every day in 100 degree heat is just nonsense; it's just silly."
An underground market for illicit haircuts has also sprung up due to the extended closures, potentially exposing both stylists and their clients to the virus, according to Hatcher, who has received multiple requests for at-home services.
"I could probably count 10 stylists off the top of my head who I know are doing house calls," she said.
Following the July 22 protest in Oakland, Hatcher said the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology has scheduled a hearing on Aug. 3. The hearing's purpose is to receive input from stylists and salon owners about reopening, but Hatcher said local businesses need a strong advocate to help make that happen.
To that end, Hatcher and the other stylists at Maven & Co. have been trying unsuccessfully to connect with Supervisor Nate Miley and see whether he will go to bat for them.
The local economy "has remained at the forefront of my mind" since the start of sheltering in place but the county is at the state's mercy, Miley said in a statement.
"The current plight of hair salons and personal services reflects the difficult intersection between county and state regulation during this pandemic," Miley said. "While my office prioritizes this issue and has directly been in touch with Public Health multiple times for updates regarding when and how personal services will be allowed to re-open, Alameda County continues to currently be monitored by the state due to our rate of positive COVID19 cases as reported by Public Health."
Though there is no timeline "yet as to when the pause will end," Miley said he intends to "fully support reasonable and safe personal service practices" when the county is ready to move forward.
"There's a science behind what we do and how we do it," Hatcher said. "I don't think that information has been communicated clearly or has been understood (by officials). My hope is at the state board meeting, others within the county are listening so they understand."