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Joined by defiant Texas salon owner, Owosso barber calls for business owners to 'open up'

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Owosso — A maverick barber on Monday called for workers across the state to reopen in defiance of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-home order.

"Michigan — all of you business owners, you beauticians, you barbers, you massage therapists, all of you — open up your shops, stand up and show up," 77-year-old Karl Manke said. 

The remarks came as Manke was joined under a tent outside his Owosso shop by other Michigan business owners defying Whitmer's order and by Shelley Luther, a Dallas salon owner who was famously jailed for reopening against her state's stay-home order. 

Whitmer's executive orders to address the state's coronavirus infections and deaths have been the subject of frequent protests in recent weeks. Manke's reopening on May 4 was one of several throughout the state in resistance of the governor's edict. 

Texas salon owner Shelley Luther makes her way to the podium for a news conference outside Karl Manke’s barbershop in Owosso on Monday.

Livingston County gym owner Jason Gray also urged others to reopen on Monday. Gray opened his Genoa Township gym on May 4 in Livingston County, where Sheriff Michael Murphy has said he won't enforce Whitmer's order and close down the gym. 

"We're not trying to put people in danger," Gray said. "We're trying to do the right thing. We're trying to provide for our families, and we're trying to encourage other people to do the same."

Erik Kiilunen, an owner of small businesses in Calumet that make insulation and flooring, said he reopened three weeks ago and has been encouraging others to do the same, buying billboards along the expressway that read: "All businesses are essential."

Whitmer announced on Monday the partial reopening of Northern Michigan and the Upper Peninsula slated for Friday. The plan would reopen retail businesses and offices in those regions, including bars and restaurants, which will be required to operate at 50% capacity. 

Kiilunen said Whitmer's plan announced Monday to partially reopen some of the state is “not good enough." 

"We’re going to take it all," he said.

Luther questioned why the governor would deem marijuana and liquor sales essential while salons and barbershops are not. She argued stylists were well-trained in sanitation and able to employ safety protocol needed to reopen. 

"All you can do to fix this is open up," Luther said. "Open up. Stop being a tyrant." 

Elizabeth Forlini was among those who attended the press conference. Forlini said her frustration with the stay-home orders has mounted as her salon, E. Forlini Salon, remains closed in St. Clair Shores. 

"I have clients in their 90s," Forlini said. "They're the first ones that want to be back in a salon. They don't care about all that."

Manke, meanwhile, has asked the Shiawassee County Circuit Court to stop the state from suspending his hair-cutting license for refusing to abide by Whitmer's stay-home order. 

Lawyers for Manke filed a motion Monday with Judge Matthew Stewart seeking a stay of the state's license suspension, said David Kallman, Manke's lawyer. 

Manke has not cut hair since being served the suspension license, which Kallman said was completed Thursday.

Without circuit court intervention, the earliest hearing Manke could get through the state's administrative appeal system is in July, Kallman said. 

"They just want to destroy this guy," Kallman said. "They are angry. They are vindictive. This is an abuse of power beyond the pale.”

The state Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs declined to comment. 

Separately, Attorney General Dana Nessel has filed an emergency appeal challenging Stewart's decision last week to deny a motion for an immediate restraining order that would have shut down Manke's business under the public health code. 

Kallman responded in the Court of Appeals Monday morning. 

eleblanc@detroitnews.com