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Kern business owners deem new restrictions unworkable

Bakersfield business owner Becky Burum was thinking Thursday about what she would have to do to keep her downtown salon open amid new state restrictions expected to be imposed on Kern County starting Friday.

All salon operations would have to be moved outdoors into the summer heat, for one thing. Burum figures she'd have to rent an expensive tent, secure a new city permit and hope clients will continue to come knowing they can get a haircut but not a shampoo, hair-coloring or much else.

"It's ludicrous for us to do it outside," the owner of Protégé Hair Designs on Truxtun Avenue concluded. "Customers aren't going to come sit outside, either. They're just not."

The state's offer allowing certain establishments to remain open as Kern County locks down again has come as little consolation to local business owners.

Restaurants may be able to serve customers outside — and in recent weeks some have. But owners of gyms, salons and barbershops in the county say there's no practical way for them to continue operating.

WATER, ELECTRICITY

The owner of True Standard Barbershop on California Avenue said if he were going to stay open he'd have to find a way to deliver running water and electricity to a parking lot, neither of which seemed feasible to him, especially considering his shop is located between two restaurants whose customers might not appreciate freshly cut hair blowing into their food.

"It just doesn't make any sense at all," owner Justin Kuster said, adding he's already spent much time and money modifying his space so he could reopen in June.

There's a strong chance some businesses won't ever reopen after the new restrictions take effect, said Nick Ortiz, president and CEO of the Greater Bakersfield Chamber of Commerce.

"This is fundamentally a heartbreaking situation for many local businesses," he said by email Thursday.

‘SHORT SUPPLY’

One problem is the state's new guidance for Kern businesses doesn't set aside regulatory and legal considerations regarding the outdoor use of chemicals, Ortiz said. Businesses need clarity and certainty but "both have been in short supply," he said.

"It is now up to all of us to do what we can to reduce the spread of COVID — only that will get our local economy reopened," he wrote.

The outlook is better for businesses like Greenlawn Funeral Homes and Cemeteries that can interact with the public outdoors without too much trouble.

President Jim LaMar said the company already offers livestreams of funeral services, among other social distancing measures. In addition, he said, services not already scheduled will have to take place outdoors and any crowd exceeding 40 people will have to stay at least 10 feet from the main gathering.

"They've already faced a tragedy of losing a loved one and we don't want to do anything to disrupt that further," he said, adding "it's a fine balance" between helping people feel support during their grief and keeping them safe from COVID-19.

STAYING OPEN

Also expecting to stay open after the imposition of new restrictions is the Outlets at Tejon.

Marketing Director Becky Swiggum said that the outdoor retail center will continue to offer a clean, safe and enjoyable shopping experience.

But she also advised customers to check the mall's website, TejonOutlets.com, "as individual stores may have their own set of rules and guidelines established by their respective corporate offices governing their operation.”

Leigh Pozas, owner of Truxtun Avenue fitness studio FitZone Bakersfield, said she hasn't dismissed the idea of offering some exercise options outdoors. After all, a gym she co-owns in Ventura does.

"I can probably take the spin bikes outside. They're portable enough they can be moved outside," she said. "But is that going to be healthy to be spinning?"

"I'm not ruling it out now ... but it's just so hot,” she added.

‘LAST MAN’

The owner of Strength & Health Gym on 21st Street, Mark Pacheco, plans to make no such concessions. He called the idea of moving a portion of his operation outside "completely unrealistic."

His plan is to avoid conforming and instead become the "last man standing."

"I'm getting tired. It's getting to be trying and very overwhelming," he said. "They're trying to put us out of business. It's basically them against us."

Over at Via Bella Salon & Spa on F Street, front desk worker Brenda Johnson was more measured but similarly pessimistic.

No, she said, customers she knows wouldn't consider getting their hair cut outside because it's too hot this time of year. Many require a more private setting anyway, she said.

Her guess was that many local salons simply won't reopen.

"It's just a bit ridiculous, I think," she said. "I believe that the sickness is real and I believe it's dangerous. But I don't think closing Kern County is going to stop it or ever slow it down."

Follow John Cox on Twitter: @TheThirdGraf.