State orders Owosso barber to close, but he's still on the job

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Karl Manke cuts the hair of Tim Lundy, of Owosso, at the Karl Manke Barber Shop on Wednesday in Owosso. Lundy has been getting his hair cut by Karl his entire life.

Department of Health and Human Services Director Robert Gordon on Friday ordered an Owosso barber to shut down his shop after deeming its operation an “imminent danger" to public health, according to Attorney General Dana Nessel's office.

The Michigan State Police served the 77-year-old barber, Karl Manke, papers ordering the shop's closure Friday, but Manke said he has no plans to close.

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

Since then, customers from Ann Arbor, Detroit, Jackson and Saginaw have visited the location despite businesses like Manke’s presenting “one of the highest risks for spreading the virus,” said Ryan Jarvi, a spokesman for Attorney General Dana Nessel.

If Manke refuses to close, “the department of attorney general will request an order from the Shiawassee County Circuit Court on Monday to close his business,” Jarvi said in a statement.  

“Mr. Manke’s actions are not a display of harmless civil disobedience,” Jarvi said. “His actions are counterproductive to the collective effort businesses and communities everywhere have made to slow the spread of COVID-19, and by opening the doors to his business, he’s putting the lives of many more Michiganders at risk.”

Manke's, whose Monday reopening attracted national media attention and lines of supporters, said he turned the papers over to his attorneys and is still working. The barber has worked 75 hours so far this week and left his shop at 1:30 a.m. Saturday after working straight through the day Friday. 

He said there were lines of people awaiting cuts Saturday morning and he didn't plan on closing. 

"I've lived under 14 presidents and this is the worst depression I’ve lived under and I’m not going to live under it," Manke said. "I believe it's my right to work to make my living and that’s what I’m going to do.”

Earlier this week, Manke said he had yet to receive unemployment or stimulus payments and needed to pay bills.

Manke said he's worked during the week wearing a mask, washing his hands between cuts and using an ultraviolet sanitizer on his tools. On Saturday, he said it was discriminatory for the state to allow manufacturers and big box stores to operate with proper safety protocol, but not his barber shop. 

"I’ll be here until Jesus comes," he said. 

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.

Evan James Carter contributed.