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An O.C. Barbershop Says Choice Was 'Open, Or Let Our Dream Die'

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The following article was originally published May 4, 2020, and republished through a collaboration with KPCC and LAist.

Story by Lisa Brenner

The battle of the beach is only part of what's happening in Orange County right now.

On our newsroom's public affairs show — AirTalk with Larry Mantle on 89.3 KPCC — the co-owner of The Barberhood barbershop in Laguna Hills spoke about reopening her shop while the state is still under stay-at-home orders.

Christine Wood started the interview by saying police officers had just done a check of her establishment, praised her safety efforts, and asked if they could come back around 4 p.m. for a haircut.

Wood said police have come a few times to observe how the shop is conducting business, which she categorizes as "utilizing every possible protocol we can think of to safely run a business in the new world."

She said precautions at the shop include: barbers wearing N95 masks which are replaced every few hours, rearranging chairs to comply with distancing rules, customers must wear masks, only the person receiving service is permitted to enter the shop, and "sanitizing between each client."

What about keeping a six foot distance — the precaution most effective in stopping transmission of the virus?

"No, we cannot get six feet away from each other," she said. "We're cutting hair. It's a very close proximity."

According to Wood, all of the stylists wanted to come back to work despite the risk because "none of them received any assistance. Neither did our business."

It was coming to a point, she said, "where I either had to do a GoFundMe, or I had to start tapping into my retirement fund"

"I'm 56 years old," she said. "My husband is 60. We've worked our whole lives, and we've never taken any assistance from our government or any kind of handout. And it made us very uncomfortable to do a GoFundMe when so many people are suffering right now."

She also said "we're constantly getting messages" from "first responders. pilots, emergency room doctors" about getting haircuts. There were "56 people waiting on the first day I opened," said Wood, adding, "if you can wait, you should. If you're immunocompromised, you shouldn't come get a cut."

Her message for other business owners thinking about shutting down for good: "do your homework like we did and understand your rights."

A screenshot shows the empty interior of Barberhood in a promotional video on their site about the reopening
A screenshot shows the empty interior of Barberhood in a promotional video on their site about the reopening

POTENTIAL LIABILITY

When Wood was asked if she was concerned about potential legal liability and whether she's considered trying to get immunity from liability lawsuits, she responded, "We certainly have. Not only did we consider it, we paid and contacted an attorney."

That attorney helped Wood draft a liability notice that's posted on the shop door. Wood paraphrases the notice as saying, "COVID-19 is highly contagious. And we do not recommend you getting your hair cut at this time if you are immunocompromised or in a high risk position. And that you are assuming the liability of contracting this by coming and getting your hair cut at this time."

The feedback she's received since opening is "resoundingly positive, like 97%," she said. "But the 3% who don't like what we're doing — and granted, they're hiding behind their computer — I'd much rather than come down to the shop and talk to me."

She said she also doesn't "condone the shops that are just opening as if nothing ever happened. I think we all have to really take this seriously, and adhere to every possible precaution and protocol we can to keep our community safe."

When asked if the reward was worth the risk, Wood said, "Yes, we put our heart, and soul, and savings into this business ... And given the percentage of fatalities from this virus in our county, we felt we had no choice but to either open, or let our dream die."

After Wood was off the line, a listener who said they're a registered nurse in an ER wondered about the shop's mask usage: "We can't even do that. Where are the N95s coming from? They're supposed to be reserved for healthcare workers."

O.C. SUPERVISOR WEIGHS IN

Also discussed on today's show was a restaurant in San Clemente that reportedly opened its inside section, and was not practicing physical distancing requirements.

Orange County supervisor Lisa Bartlett, also a guest on the show, was asked if she would allow businesses not following distancing rules, and in clear violation of Orange County Public Health's order, to continue operating that way.

She repeated the governor's order regarding take-out and delivery only. She bemoaned the financial stress of local business, and talked about wanting to work with the state on a reopening plan. She did not answer the question.

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