Maura Petrosino, owner and stylist at JoBella Salon in Branford, didn’t expect to be at a rally on New Haven’s State Street Tuesday morning among a group of 150 fellow hair salon owners and their employees.
Her plan instead was to put the finishing touches on the new signage enforcing social distance, the spacing between work stations, and the physical barriers that she’d added to her Cedar Street salon to comply with state guidelines and ensure the safety of her clients.
Then, on Monday afternoon, came word from Gov. Ned Lamont that the state’s phase one reopening set for May 20 would not include hair salons and barbershops.
The abrupt change came as a result of “feedback from many owners and employees,” Lamont said. He added that Rhode Island’s decision to push back their own state reopening of hair salons and barbershops played into his decision.
“You can’t change the rules of the game two days before reopening,” Petrosino said, amid some three dozen protesters holding signs reading “Don’t Blow Us Off and “Let Us Work,” and the blare of cars sounding in support, as she stood in front of Jason Bunce’s Skull & Combs under the warm May sun.
“We’ve been preparing for weeks to get ready, we’ve deep-cleaned and sanitized everything, we’ve invested thousands of dollars to follow the guidelines, and now we have the rug ripped from under us.”
Elizabeth DePrey, owner of L A Styles in Farmington, drove 45 minutes with salon owners Stephanie Sassu-Wozniak of Ahhh, Bella Hair Design in Plainville, and Kate Rodrigue to rally against the delay.
“We are hurting financially,” she said. “Some of us are having to decide between paying rent on our salons or putting food on the table.”
Like Petrosino, she said she’d “spent lots of time and money hunting down wipes, hand sanitizers, and disinfectant to be ready to open” on May 20.
“Just give us a date and stick to it,” she said. “We’re all just trying to survive the coronavirus.”
Both DePrey and Petrosino maintained that Lamont bowed to pressure from the Connecticut Beauty Association, a group of business owners that staged a rally for late phase openings in Hartford on Monday.
In a statement, that group, led by business owner-stylists Odete DaSilva and Alison Valsamis, argued that, given the inability to social distance and the long exposure times stylists have to their clients, “opening our businesses at this stage is unsafe and dangerous to the public’s health.”
They also expressed concern about finding childcare in light of school and anticipated summer camp closures, and insisted that salons and barber shops don’t have enough personal protective equipment to shield them from contracting the virus and bringing it into their homes.
To Petrosino’s suggestion that the reluctance of some salons to reopen shouldn’t stop those that are ready from doing so, the group contended that “all salons and barbershops should open at the same time to assure a level playing field.”
That argument did little to sway Petrosino, it seemed.
“Those of us here made the investment to follow the rules, and we will go above and beyond to keep our clients’ safe,” she said, from behind her JoBella face mask. “This is our livelihood, this is what we love to do.
“Let us work.”
JoBella Salon, 63 Cedar Street, Branford. 203-488-5911. jobellasalons.com.