The debate over reopening businesses in Connecticut has been sometimes stormy, with various protests becoming a semi-regular occurrence in Hartford. One of the most visible signs of discontent has come from the Connecticut Restaurant Association and 130 of its members, who are pushing for indoor dining, at 50% capacity, to be allowed starting June 3.
In addition, the tribal operators of the state’s two casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, have declared they will reopen on June 1, despite Gov. Ned Lamont’s repeated warnings that maintaining appropriate safety measures will be nigh impossible.
Another sector – hair stylists – is also unhappy. Not, however, that they are being allowed to reopen on June 1, but that they are feeling pressured to do so.
Odete DaSilva, who owns a salon and spa in Westport, and Shelton salon owner Alison Valsamis started the Facebook group Connecticut Stylists for Late Stage Openings in May, when it became apparent that salons and barbershops would be among the businesses allowed to reopen on May 20, during Connecticut’s first phase of easing restrictions.
The outcry by the group, which now numbers over 3,500, was sufficient for Lamont to push back the sector’s reopening to June 1 – better, the women say, but still not ideal.
In a statement, the group lauded Lamont’s May 18 change of mind, “even if the partial reprieve he offered was not entirely responsive.”
“Safety is still our big concern,” DaSilva told the Business Journal. “The state promised us some PPE and disinfectant, but it wasn’t an adequate supply. Having one bottle or two is great – it’s nice that they’re contributing – but it’s not enough for us to stay open. We have to have at least a 30-day supply and the ability to reorder.”
That stylists work so closely with clients – often in close, face-to-face situations where masks are less likely to provide adequate security – is also worrying, DaSilva said.
“Some salon workers are so petrified that they just quit,” she said.
DaSilva further said that Zoom calls with Lamont and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman revealed their “surprise” at that fact.
“You can’t cut someone’s bangs from behind,” she pointed out, adding that a representative from the beauty sector should have been included on the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group.
“The information wasn’t there so that the governor could make a sound decision,” she said.
While the reopening guidance is not a mandate, DaSilva said it amounts to the same thing. “If you don’t open, and a salon across town does, how does that affect your bottom line? It’s not a fair choice — you’re being asked to choose between your health and providing for your family. And if you do go to work, you’re running the risk of infecting your family every time you come home.”
For further proof, the group cites a recent study that calculates the risks of contacting COVID-19 by profession. Out of a potential 100 (highest risk), hairstylists and barbers received a score of 62.1.
With many salons owned and mostly staffed by women — as much as 90%, DaSilva said — questions about child care have also been at the fore of the group’s concerns. “They’re still homeschooling their kids, and camps don’t open for another several weeks (June 29). Some salons’ entire staff is moms.”
The group would have preferred to be a part of Phase 2 of the state’s reopening plan, which goes into effect on June 20. “That way schooling is done, most stylists can go back to work, and there would be more time” to get all the safety measures in place, she said.
Moving forward, the group — along with its affiliate, the Connecticut Beauty Association, which is still being formally organized — plans to pursue official recognition as an organization in order to offer better representation for all beauty industry professionals.
However, not everyone in the hairstyling and haircutting business is united. Cat Thibodeau, owner of Modern Barber and Shave in Pawcatuck, went ahead and opened on May 20 and soon received a cease and desist order from New London County’s public health department. She has submitted a legal complaint and a temporary injunction to prevent the state from keeping her business closed.