State reverses course on barbershops, salons

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By Andreas Yilma and Paul Hughes, Staff

New Era Barbershop owner TJ Palmieri stands in the barbershop on Church Street in Naugatuck May 20. Palmieri was ready to reopen May 20, but Gov. Ned Lamont pushed back the reopening of barbershops and hair salons to June 1. –ANDREAS YILMA

TJ Palmieri was all set to reopen the doors at New Era Barbershop on Church Street in Naugatuck after about two months of being closed due to state restrictions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Palmieri spent about $800 on additional supplies, including paper towel dispensers, hand sanitizers, soap dispensers, masks, rubber gloves and washable capes, to get ready for the reopening.

Then on May 18 — two days before the state moved forward with the first phase of its reopening strategy — Gov. Ned Lamont pushed back the reopening of hair care businesses to June 1.

“We’ve been hearing a lot of feedback from many owners and employees, and at this time I think the best approach is that we hit pause on the reopening of hair salons and barbershops, take a step back, and allow some more time as preparations continue to be made,” Lamont said the day of the announcement.

Hair care businesses were originally part of the first reopening stage, which included retail stores and shopping malls as well as outdoor dining at restaurants.

“When I first heard the news, I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been out of work for roughly two months,” said Palmieri, who has owned the barbershop for nine years; the last four in the borough.

Palmieri said barbers are certified and well-versed on sanitation and should be able to get back to work.

“We’re licensed for it, that’s what I’m mad for,” Palmieri said “We study about pathogens, viruses and bacteria. We know the different sanitation, disinfectants and sterilization.”

The Lamont administration issued reopening directives for barbershops and salons that include no walk-ins, no waiting, and limits on the numbers of customers inside the premises. Customers must wear face coverings, and barbers and hair stylists must be masked and gloved, and they will need face shields or wear eye protection.

Barber’s chairs and styling stations must also be 6 feet apart or partitioned, and cleaned and disinfected after every use, and scissors, combs, brushes and whatever else barbers and stylist use, too. Hand sanitizer and clean wipes must be available at entrances.

Palmieri said he spaced out the chairs at the barbershop and is asking everyone to make an appointment, as there’s no waiting area anymore. He said the majority of his customers were walk-in clients before the outbreak. He feels taking away walk-in clients may disrupt business.

Palmieri also runs a barber school in the barbershop, which is on hold until further notice.

Opinion in the hair care industry is divided. The 3,600-member Connecticut Beauty Association had organized a drive-by protest May 18 of the Executive Residence in Hartford to object the governor’s original reopening date.

Lamont acknowledged during a coronavirus briefing May 18 that his decision to reset the reopening date to June 1 is likely to make some owners of barbershops and hair salons unhappy.

“Look, I apologize because I know some of you were all set ready to go on May 20. Give us a little bit more time for all your peers to get up and operating, and to make sure your employees feel confident and comfortable going back if appropriate,” Lamont said.

The governor also recognized some customers will be frustrated, too.

“In terms of May 20 ready to go, we just heard overwhelmingly from a lot of the folks who work in these salons that they want a little more time,” he said. “Child care was another big issue for many of them. Many are moms and they just said we need a little more time to find a safe place for our children, and we said we’ll give you a little more time.”

The Republican-American contributed to this article.