Barber keeps cutting hair; they’ll have to ‘carry me out’

Evan James Carter
The Detroit News

Owosso – Nearly seven weeks after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ordered barbershops and salons in Michigan to close due to concerns about the coronavirus, a 77-year-old Michigan barber has hung out his open sign.

It could cost him.

Karl Manke cuts Isaiah Garza's hair on Tuesday at Karl Manke's Barber and Beauty Shop in Owosso. Manke re-opened his doors on Monday in defiance of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's executive order.

On Monday,  Karl Manke re-opened Karl Manke's Barber & Beauty on Main Street in Owosso in defiance of the governor's executive orders, issued in late March keeping nonessential businesses closed to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

"I'm not trying to prove some point," Manke said. "I needed to get back to work."

The barber's move caught the attention of people in need of a trim. They came from Warren, Port Huron, Grand Rapids and elsewhere for a $15 haircut, creating lines outside as patrons waited their turn in the chair.

The move was one of necessity, he said. He has to make a living. 

He said he worked 15 hours Monday and again Tuesday, wearing a mask, washing his hands between cuts and using an ultraviolet sanitizer on his tools.

"I was in despair," Manke said. "I don't have anybody paying me unless I'm doing work."

The barber has also gotten the attention of local authorities. Owosso police wearing masks cited him Wednesday for a civil infraction and two misdemeanors, said Lt. Eric Cherry. A court date is set for June 23. He faces a $1,000 fine or more. 

A crowd of people gathered outside of Karl Manke's Barber & Beauty as they waited for a haircut from the barber who opened back up Monday in violation of Gov. Whitmer's executive order

Carolyn Manke said her husband got fed up after not receiving his unemployment or stimulus payments and needed to reopen to pay the couple's bills. His gamble seems to have paid off, at least initially: the shop has been filled with customers since he reopened and the "last man Monday night paid me $500 for his haircut," she said. 

Jennifer Diegel came to the barbershop Wednesday with her husband and son from Warren after hearing about it reopening on the Facebook group "Michiganders Against Excessive Quarantine"

The Birmingham district school driver called Manke a "true American patriot" and said she wasn't worried about contracting the virus during the family's hair cuts. 

An Owosso police officer asks to talk with Karl Manke outside before ticketing Karl for being open at Karl's barber shop on Wednesday in Owosso.

"There's probably 20 to 30 people outside and 10 to 15 people in here ... they're all social distancing and doing a great job," Diegel said.

Paul Klinkenberger of Goodrich said he wanted to support Manke because the state is in the midst of a "non-legislative, non-lawful order." He said worries court the coronavirus "never really crossed my mind."

Manke, meanwhile, is firm about picking up his hair clippers again. 

"I'm not going to close up unless they handcuff me and carry me out of here," he said. "I'm making a living. If I have to spend it all on court costs, I'll do it. I'll recover."

The Associated Press contributed.

Twitter: @EvanJamesCarter