Jacques: Want a haircut? You're still out of luck in Michigan
I hardly recognize my husband anymore.
His normally closely cropped hair has morphed into a curly, fluffy mane. And while at 41, he’s glad he still has hair, he is ready to see it go.
Yet thanks to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, that’s not an option in Michigan, even as 48 other states have given salons and barbers the green light for reopening in some fashion. New Jersey is the only other holdout, and at least its governor has set an opening date.
Even that certainly doesn’t exist here.
Last week, industry leaders put together a detailed plan for how salons could reopen while maintaining the safety of workers and customers, working in conjunction with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.
Whitmer ignored that plan.
On Monday, the governor announced she was largely lifting her stay-home order, and offered restaurants and retailers some much-needed relief, telling them when they could open their doors (with restrictions, of course).
Yet barbershops and salons were left off the list, without a satisfying explanation.
This has become the norm under Whitmer’s lockdown decrees, confounding business owners with their arbitrary and confusing nature. The same goes for the state's reopening plan. For instance, you can’t pitch a tent at a state park until June 22. Isn't camping the ultimate social distancing outdoor activity? And the governor seems to have gone against her own distancing and safety guidelines by participating in a crowded Highland Park rally Thursday.
Instead of letting stylists get back to work, Whitmer insulted them. At her press conference, the governor — who has somehow remained nicely coiffed — scolded Michigan residents to avoid heading to Ohio (or any of the neighboring states where you can enjoy the salon experience), and instead “Google how to do a haircut" and "get through the next couple of weeks.”
This tone deaf comment, along with her refusal to engage with industry professionals, has led them to speak out. It’s especially offensive since the state makes it so challenging to enter the vocation. Stylists face strict licensing requirements — barbers must put in more training hours than airline pilots, notes Jarrett Skorup with the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
Whitmer did offer an apology of sorts in a radio interview Thursday, and said she had plans "in the coming days" to open salons in northern Michigan.
That's not much comfort to Mike Sarafa, CEO of the Alline Group, which manages SuperCuts and Cost Cutters salons in Michigan and other states. He's also part of the of the Safe Salons for Michigan coalition, representing the interests of 100,000 licensed cosmetologists and barbers. He says Whitmer’s decision about making salons wait to open came as a shock.
If it weren’t for the businesses he runs in Ohio, he’d be much more in a world of hurt. Unlike in Michigan, Gov. Mike DeWine took the advice of industry experts and allowed salons to reopen May 15.
“Ohio saved what is a Michigan-headquartered company,” Sarafa says. And his Toledo-area shops have seen plenty of Michiganians looking for haircuts.
Michigan’s salon businesses generate about $1.5 billion in annual sales, according to an industry report. In addition, the industry in this state outpaces the private sector in women- and minority-owned businesses.
Whitmer should be championing this industry.
For three months, however, the governor has had nearly full control over the lives of 10 million Michiganians, and she seems hesitant to give up that power. And she definitely doesn’t like to be disobeyed.
Look at how hard the state has gone after Owosso barber Karl Manke. He’s managed to defy a court order, visits by police and other state officials, threats of fines and jail time and has kept cutting hair — a decision he made early last month out of financial desperation.
Other stylists and barbers showed their displeasure with the stay-home order in the “Operation Haircut” protest in front of the state Capitol. They cut the hair of willing participants, and some faced the wrath of the state for defying the governor.
“After unsuccessfully trying to make an example of Karl Manke by treating him like a modern day Al Capone and Michigan’s public enemy No. 1, the executive office is being very stubborn about lifting one of the last remaining restrictions,” says Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber.
As Sarafa has observed, “Today in Michigan, you can get your teeth cleaned, get your dog groomed, get a relaxing facial at the dermatologist and then join friends at a restaurant or bar for dinner and drinks [in northern Michigan]… all while you still can’t get a haircut in a sanitary environment.”
Doesn’t make much sense, does it?