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Sonoma County barbers, hairstylists feel renewed financial pressure amid second closure

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Brien Jones, owner of the Avenue Barber Shop in Santa Rosa, knew it was only a matter of time before he’d have to close shop again.

He had seen the number of coronavirus cases rising in Sonoma County in recent weeks as the state and county slowly dropped restrictions on daily life first imposed in mid-March.

His wife, who works at a local hospital, also told him about a recent email from county officials warning of skyrocketing COVID-19 transmissions and what appeared to be an impending wave of new closures locally, he added.

So on Monday, when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Sonoma County would be one of 32 counties ordered to once again close down indoor businesses deemed nonessential, such as gyms, hair salons and malls, Jones wasn’t surprised.

“Whatever we’re doing now isn’t working. The numbers are rising,”Jones said. “I’d rather be safe than sorry.”

Other local barbers and salon owners didn’t take news of the renewed closures with the same ease, saying the previous three-month closure of their shops left them and their employees in poor financial shape.

While business was booming after they were allowed to reopen in June, that interval before the latest closure was not enough time to find their footing, they said.

“We feel like we just started to reopen and we haven’t gotten all of our clients back,” said Nicole Personeni, owner of Fringe salon in Penngrove. “It’s impacted us in a negative way, financially, for what I anticipate will be a long time.”

Jerry Herrera, owner of West Coast Cuts on Santa Rosa’s West College Avenue, said the toll of not being able to work will likely drive some barbers and stylists to make housecalls or work in other outdoor spaces, as happened when the first mandated closures came in this spring.

California law bars licensed barbers from cutting hair in areas not approved by the state Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.

“It’s kind of hard to be out of work for so long and getting $100 and $75 haircuts put in your face, to put that down,” Herrera said of the offers local barbers were getting from customers for house calls. “These barbers feel the pressure and the necessity to make an income and make a living.”

The quick rollout of Newsom’s order Monday meant handful of barbers who rent out chairs in his shop didn’t know to cancel appointments already made for the next day. Herrera allowed those barbers to work a half-day Tuesday before closing down.

A raffle for free haircuts at the shop in March has helped the business stay afloat, as did an agreement with the shop’s landlord that temporarily reduced rent in exchange for Herrera and a handful of employees painting the building that houses the business.

“If it’s a month or two, we’ll be OK, but if it’s longer than that, we’ll have to start putting our heads together and figure out how to get our rents paid,” Herrera said.

Personeni and her staff had adopted a host of safeguards to protect their customers and themselves from the virus before Monday’s order. They took customers’ temperatures at the start of every appointment, changed aprons after each client and did extra sanitizing work. Anyone entering the building was required to wear a mask.

Both Jones and Herrera described adopting many of the same protocols at their shops.

“We really made sure that we were on top of it before we were open,” Personeni said. “For me, I personally feel like it’s safer than going to Target, where you don’t know who is touching what.”

While the sharp rise of local infections has been traced back to a number of sources — social gatherings and outbreaks in skilled nursing homes are two prominent ones — the largest group of workers contracting the disease are those in service industries that put them in close contact with others, such as waitstaff and cashiers, county data shows.

But Herrera pointed to the rigorous sanitation training that was needed to earn a barber’s license as a sign that the trade was better equipped to stay in business than most.

“We’ve followed the guidelines and even though I didn’t feel like it’s completely necessary, we were still willing to play ball so we can get back on the ball,” Herrera said.

You can reach Staff Writer Nashelly Chavez at 707-521-5203 or nashelly.chavez@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @nashellytweets.

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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