Need a haircut? Michigan salons push to open 'immediately'

Tresa Baldas
Detroit Free Press

The right to a haircut may not be enshrined in the Constitution, though it's a pretty big deal in Michigan these days if the ongoing feud between hair stylists, barbers and the governor is any indication.

The stylists are pushing to reopen "immediately," arguing they can cut, color and shampoo hair safely amid the pandemic. But the governor has said it's still too soon. 

After nine weeks of no business, the hair cutters have grown impatient.

Karl Manke, a barber in Owosso, Mich., cuts Brandon Lamrouex's hair, while answering non-stop phone calls at his barbershop on Wednesday, May 6, 2020, defying Michigan Gov. Whitmer's order for non-essential businesses to be closed.

This week, two dozen salon, barbershop and spa owners sent a letter to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on behalf of 350 businesses statewide, urging her to lift the ban "immediately."  The letter includes a detailed, eight-pillar plan that lists the following COVID-19 safety measures for salons:   

  • Hair stylists' stations would be 6 feet apart from each other, or have barriers between them. 
  • Employees and customers will be required to wear masks or some type of face covering.
  • Clients will wait outside the salon until their appointment time.
  • Salons will keep visit records to help health officials with contact tracing should any customers or stylists become infected.
  • Every day at closing, salons will undergo deep cleaning with FDA-approved disinfectant cleaners.

“Michigan’s licensed cosmetologists, barbers and their team members are capable, ready, and excited to get back to work meeting the needs of our clients,” said Lisa Dennison, a regional director for Michigan Supercuts and Cost Cutters salons across the state. “Our salons have always met detailed health and safety standards, and we’ve developed a comprehensive plan to go even further to keep everyone who walks through the door healthy. We urge Governor Whitmer to lift her ban on our jobs immediately.”

The request to reopen Michigan's cosmetology industry comes in the same week that Missouri health authorities announced that a second hairstylist at Great Clips in Springfield is sick with COVID-19. That stylist potentially exposed 56 clients. Another infected stylist at the same salon served 84 clients over eight days while experiencing coronavirus symptoms.

But Michigan cosmetologists believe they are equipped to handle the pandemic.

Among them is Rosalina Altadonna, owner of  Salon Treuvis in Clinton Township, who had planned to reopen Friday until the governor extended the stay-home owner to June 12. 

But rather than be defiant, Altadonna got creative instead.

On Friday, Altadonna, who had spent weeks researching COVID-19 safety measures and guidelines, is holding an open house dubbed "Tips and Toes" at her salon  in an effort to convince Whitmer to reopen salons. She has invited nail techs, hair stylists, barbers and tattoo artists to show them how they can operate safely in the age of COVID-19.

The public is also welcome.

"Our industry is directly affected by the governor's orders to stay closed, with no definite date to reopen or any written guidelines for reopening," Altadonna said, stressing there is "a clear set of guidelines that show the science behind how our industry can provide beauty services" and protect clients and staff at the same time. 

Altadonna's event comes one day after an appeals court ruled against Owosso barber Karl Manke, who was ticketed and stripped of his license for opening his shop despite the stay-at-home order. A lower court had refused to force Manke to stop cutting hair, but the Michigan Court of Appeals overturned that ruling on and ordered the barbershop closed, concluding the state had the authority to shut him down.

Manke is not alone. Seven barbers were ticketed last month for cutting hair at a Lansing protest dubbed "Operation Haircut" on the Capitol lawn. And a Holland salon owner has repeatedly vowed to stay open, despite the order.

The Owosso barber was dealt another blow this week after an administrative law judge ruled that his business license remain suspended to protect the public’s health and safety.

“As public servants, we take no pleasure in prohibiting residents from being able to earn a living, but we are bound by our obligation to protect the public health, safety, and welfare of all Michiganders,” Attorney General Dana Nessel said following the court rulings against the barber.  “This pandemic has demanded we take appropriate measures to mitigate actions that pose a threat to the public. Protecting lives must now, and always, be the state's first priority.”

Studio II Salon and Spa owner Teresa Looks of Clinton Township cuts hair outside of the Michigan State Capitol building in Lansing on Wednesday, May 20, 2020 during "Operation Haircut". Barbers and hairstylists from across the state gave free haircuts in an act of civil disobedience in opposition to Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer's Stay at Home Order.

Meanwhile, with the curve of new infections flattening in Michigan, Whitmer has slowly opened up parts of the economy, including construction, manufacturing, real estate and outdoor industries. Golfing and boating are now allowed. And restaurants and bars reopened last Friday in northern Michigan.

As for hair salons, Whitmer has said:

“I would love to go get my hair done too,” Whitmer told Kalamazoo television station WWMT. “But the nature of that personal service is such that it’s intimate, it’s close. You can’t social distance and get your hair cut.”

She added: "It’s too early to say precisely when we will get there. We’re going to get there.”

Hair stylists, meanwhile, remain frustrated.

"We’re ready to get back to our salons – regulated, sanitary environments – to properly protect ourselves and our clients," said Caileigh Hoff, co-owner of Xclusive Studio in Brighton.  "We’re ready to get back to work.”

Tresa Baldas: tbaldas@freepress.com