In an act of defiance against Gov. Greg Abbott’s continued shut down of barbershops and other businesses, two Republican lawmakers sat in a Houston-area salon on Tuesday while getting illegal haircuts.
Rep. Steve Toth, from The Woodlands, and Rep. Briscoe Cain, from Deer Park, added fuel to the movement against state and locally mandated restrictions which are intended to slow the spread of COVID-19.
On Friday, a sliver of Texas businesses were allowed to reopen after Gov. Greg Abbott announced he would let Texas’ stay-at-home order expire. The multi-phase reopening plan currently allows some businesses — like retail stores, restaurants, movie theaters and malls — to reopen with limited capacity. But businesses including barbershops, hair salons, bars and gyms can’t reopen yet, because Abbott said a team of medical experts has advised that it is still unsafe.
As long as businesses can reopen safely and follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, “there’s absolutely no reason” why they should be kept from getting back up and running, Toth said in an interview with The Texas Tribune while getting his haircut.
“A little less on the sides,” Toth told the hairstylist in between reporters’ questions.
“Some of these people are being forced into bankruptcy, these are small businesses where the owners of these franchises have mortgaged their homes, they’ve gone into debt and if they don’t get some relief, they’re going to go bankrupt,” Toth said.
Toth said restrictions were in place initially to slow the spread of the virus and "it was never about being able to stop the spread of COVID-19." At-risk populations, like elderly and medically fragile, should be protected and isolated while everyone else goes back to work, Toth said.
Hailey Lankford, a stylist at Tune Up: The Manly Salon in Montgomery County where Toth and Cain got hair cuts, said it’s “essential” for her to go back to work.
“If I do not go back to work my car will be [repossessed], I will be evicted, I have no choice,” Lankford said. “I’m not getting the money from the government along with a lot of other hairdressers I know.”
The salon reopened over the weekend but was quickly shut down by local law enforcement who threatened to arrest Lankford and her colleagues if they didn’t close, Lankford said.
Tuesday was the salon’s first day reopening since the visit from law enforcement, Lankford said. About three other customers were in the shop while the two lawmakers got their cut, Toth said.
Cain said he wanted to set an example to other consumers.
"I think these businesses need to be open,” Cain said in an interview with a Fox 26 reporter while getting a haircut. “But I also believe that customers shouldn’t be afraid to go to these businesses and so I wanted to take a stand and lead and be in front to encourage other customers to go out and go to businesses that are deemed essential or nonessential and help them stay open."
A spokesman for Abbott did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Abbott has signaled that salons, barbershops and other businesses could open on May 18 or sooner.
The Houston area salon isn’t the only non-essential business going against official orders that shut down many businesses. The City of Dallas is suing the owner of Salon A la Mode for reopening despite local stay-at-home orders.
Shelley Luther, the Dallas salon owner, is facing a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 or jail time not to exceed 180 days, according to an order by Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.