Hair care businesses move into first phase of local reopenings

By , Daily Memphian Updated: May 05, 2020 2:45 PM CT | Published: May 04, 2020 11:55 AM CT

Hair salons and barber shops across Shelby County can reopen as early as Wednesday, May 6, under a new Shelby County Health Department directive issued Monday, May 4, after a weekend of conflicting declarations among the eight mayors in Shelby County.

The directive announced Monday does not allow other “close contact” businesses like massage businesses, spas and tattoo shops to reopen as some suburban Shelby County leaders had originally intended.

It only applies to those businesses that cut or style hair. And the reopening comes with lots of conditions, including a log book for appointments that are 15 minutes apart, face coverings for customers and work stations that are at least six feet apart.

Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris says the new directive was agreed to by all of the mayors whose jurisdictions cover all of Shelby County.

That follows a set of differing directives going into the past weekend in which the mayors of several suburban towns and cities said they would follow state guidelines for reopening instead of the Shelby County Health Department directive.

“The health directive does apply to the entire county,” Harris said after learning the city of Germantown posted a notice Monday on its website saying all “close contact” businesses there could reopen starting Wednesday.

None of the other mayors appeared at the Monday press briefing to announce the changes for barber shops and beauty shops.

Germantown sent out a clarification several hours later confirming that only hair-related businesses could reopen starting Wednesday under the new directive.

“The governor threw us a bit of a curveball last week,” Harris said of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee changing state directives to allow all close contact businesses to reopen in the first phase of the economic reopening that began Monday.

Conflicting reopening plans poised to end countywide alliance on pandemic

Lee had said previously the statewide plan does not apply to counties like Shelby County with an independent health department. But the changes he announced last Wednesday applied to those counties as well.

In addition to the phase one reopening of “close contact” businesses, the changes included allowing the return of elective medical procedures at hospitals and medical practices and a decision that gatherings at places of worship would not be regulated by any state or local decrees. Religious leaders are instead encouraged to abide by social distancing standards.

“This change … caused some visible disruption toward the end of last week,” Harris said. “In Shelby County, we need to continue to work in unity even when it gets tricky.”

All of the mayors had been fielding vocal complaints from hair and nail salon owners specifically, whom Harris said had been more vocal than other types of business owners.

“We are not stopping people from getting their hair cut,” Harris said. “The problem is that they are likely not following safety protocols. We need some way to regulate this and move it out into the open.”

Lee cited a similar outpouring of comments from those in the hair industry statewide in moving close contact businesses into phase one of the state’s three phase reopening grid.

Governor heard the call to open barber shops and salons

Harris said the push from the business arena into the political realm reflects the unique nature of the small businesses.

“I think what really drives it is that that group of people has really been devastated by the economic consequences of the public health emergency that we are in,” Harris said. “They are independent contractors. So they don’t ordinarily qualify for some of the social safety net like unemployment insurance. That’s the group that would have a hard time getting an SBA loan … because they don’t have that depth of relationship with a bank or financial organization.

“Whatever appointments that they miss during this public health emergency – they, unlike other kinds of businesses, will never be able to recoup those kinds of losses,” he said.

But the push on the business end has also reopened existing differences along the urban-suburban divide in Shelby County.

Local leaders face ‘challenge’ of how and when to reopen economy

Arlington and Collierville leaders said last week they intended to allow all “close contact” businesses to reopen starting this Wednesday because of the expiration of the health department directive.

But Shelby County Health Department Director Alisa Haushalter said the directive was being modified and not withdrawn and that the new directive might not allow such reopening.

Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland issued an amended city state of civil emergency Friday that reflected Lee’s statewide order. The city of Memphis amended decree also addressed the phase one reopenings beginning today in the city. But those reopenings in Memphis do not include “close contact” businesses.

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COVID reopening Lee Harris close contact businesses

Bill Dries

Bill Dries covers city government and politics. He is a native Memphian and has been a reporter for more than 40 years.


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