Local salon workers took to the streets Friday morning to protest state rules that have barred them from cutting or styling hair indoors during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Morning commuters honked in support as about 50 protesters chanted "Open our salons!" at the corner of Truxtun Avenue and Mohawk Street. Many stood at the corner hoisting signs with slogans such as "We are essential" and "Bad air + heat = no outside salon."
"People are very supportive" of the message being delivered Friday, Bakersfield cosmetologist Vallie Lamas said, adding that the real target of the demonstration is Gov. Gavin Newsom, whose administration doesn't see the precautions she and others take to keep indoor conditions sanitary.
"I believe it's safer than grocery stores. It's safer than going to a gas station," she said.
Later in the day, it appeared their voices had been heard. During a Friday afternoon news conference, Newsom introduced a new statewide COVID-19 monitoring system that included a reopening of salons, barbershops and shopping malls starting Monday.
Throughout pandemic shutdowns, state regulators had threatened to fine and pull the licenses of salon workers who defy official guidance, though no instances of such punishment were reported in Kern.
People in the business locally said some stylists and barbers have defied the ban, giving haircuts in their garages or customers' backyards — or even blacked out their salons' front windows and let clients in the back door to avoid detection.
A spokeswoman for the California Department of Consumer Affairs sent an email Thursday saying the state Board of Barbering & Cosmetology understands times are hard for licensees and is sympathetic to their dilemma.
"These are unprecedented times," she wrote, "but the board strongly encourages licensees to remain in compliance with public health orders and remain closed or take operations outdoors. The Board’s primary goal is to protect consumers and is looking out for the health and safety of consumers and licensees."
Several workers at Friday's protest asserted conditions inside salons are highly sanitary, a result of the extensive training and testing cosmetologists and barbers go through before they can be licensed.
Longtime hairstylist Peggy Hargrave said the majority of customers felt safe coming in for haircuts and other work during a period earlier this summer when salons reopened and were allowed to operate indoors — until the state shut them down again.
Other clients worried about the possibility of contracting COVID-19 and those customers haven't gotten a haircut or had their roots colored since February, she said. Others came in and were vigilant about reporting people who came in and removed their masks even briefly, she said.
A bicyclist pedaling through Friday's demonstration took a simple view of the situation.
“Let ’em cut hair outside," said the bike rider, Ronnie Spitzengel. "One way or another, we'll work it out."
But former salon manager Daniel Beer, who stood with the demonstrators, said clients in Bakersfield don't want to sit outside in poor air quality and triple-digit temperatures.
What's a shame, he said, is that many salon owners still out of work are their families' primary breadwinner. Echoing Lamas, he thought it would help if Newsom came to witness how diligently salon workers strive to shield their customers from infection risks.
Beer said one woman who drove past Friday's demonstration stopped to share her personal experience.
"I take my dog to a groomer," he said she told him. "Why can't I go to a salon?"