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Hair stylists, barbers protest Marion County restrictions as clients flock to salons in neighboring counties

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Hair stylists and barbers held a peaceful demonstration Wednesday outside the Indiana Statehouse to protest disparities across local reopening plans.

Gov. Eric Holcomb permitted salons to reopen May 11 with reduced capacity and new protocol aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19.

In Marion County, the state’s most densely populated locality, Mayor Joe Hogsett extended pandemic restrictions and ordered salons to remain closed until June 1 at the earliest.

Indiana law allows counties to impose emergency measures tougher than the governor’s executive orders.

“If they would have kept all salons and all barbers closed, I would be fine with following the rule,” said Rita Stevens, an Indianapolis salon owner whose business is located one mile from the Hendricks County border.

She employs 14 people and estimated her salon lost up to $3,000 in profit every day they stayed closed.

Stevens led the protest Wednesday afternoon in downtown Indianapolis.

The group of approximately 20 salon and barbershop workers marched west on Washington Street with signs that read, “How does COVID know where Marion County begins or ends?” and #CLEANERTHANASHOPPINGMALL.

Stevens felt it was ineffective and unfair to extend restrictions in Marion County while salons in surrounding counties reopened.

Marion County residents were free to travel outside the county for haircuts, exposing them to environments similar to what they would have faced at their home salons, she noted.

Another protester held a homemade sign that read, “99 problems [and] sanitation ain’t one.”

Indiana stylists and barbers are required to undergo 15 hours of training before receiving licenses from the State Board of Cosmetology and Barber Examiners; at least “several hours” are dedicated to sanitation and disinfection procedures, according to licensed salon workers.

Most retail workers permitted to reopen businesses at Indianapolis malls do not hold state licenses that require sanitation training.

Bryan Lomax, an Indianapolis barbershop owner who protested alongside Stevens, suggested their profession posed fewer exposure risks than some retail and food service establishments.

“The equipment that we use is sprayed [with disinfectant] before it comes in contact with any customers,” he told News 8. “You go to a restaurant, pick up a fork and put it in your mouth; you’re taking a chance.”

Lomax acknowledged it was impossible to maintain social distancing guidelines while cutting a client’s hair.

Despite their frustration with Marion County’s delayed reopening timeline, Stevens, Lomax and fellow protesters said they followed the guidelines and had not worked during the salon shutdown. 

Other stylists and estheticians, who feared penalties and requested anonymity in this report, admitted defying the mayor’s orders and servicing clients at home.

“People could be tempted to do anything because people have to feed their families. You do what you have to do,” said Amanda Fraker, an employee at Stevens’ salon who had not worked for nine weeks.

She believed allowing salons to reopen could be a safer alternative than extending restrictions that prompted some stylists to operate at home.

“At the salon, it’s safer, it’s more sanitary [and] you have more control of everything,” Fraker said.

The mayor had not yet issued a statement Wednesday night responding to the protest.

Hair stylists said Mayor Joe Hogsett appeared to have gotten a haircut while ordering Marion County salons to stay closed; it’s unclear if he trimmed it himself. (WISH Photo/Julia Deng)

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