Salons Protest Removal from Optional Phase One Opening

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Frustration and anger spilled out Tuesday among salon owners and stylists gathered in New Haven. They met outside of Skull and Combs on State Street, some coming from Milford and Wallingford to stand in support of each other.

“You gave us the guidelines, you gave us the criteria, most of us were ready with what we needed to open. We booked 400 appointments in less than 72 hours,” said Skull and Combs owner Jason Bunce. “You had us ready to go and then you pulled it out from underneath us.”

Bunce spoke to the crowd who say they spent time, money and energy gathering supplies and making upgrades ahead of the optional “phase one” opening tomorrow for businesses, restaurants and salons that were ready.

But, Gov. Ned Lamont pulled the salons from the plans Monday, saying some shops needed more time to get ready.

“Yesterday that word ‘voluntary’ went into the atmosphere, and I’m very upset. Very upset,” said Norma Giannattasio, owner of Visions Hair Salon in Milford.  

“I don’t buy it. It’s not how it should have been done, especially two days before we’re supposed to open,” said Dino Fernicola, owner of Dino’s Modern Barber Shop in Wallingford. “All the hard work we put in place is down the drain, and now those bills are coming due of all the money I spent,” said Fernicola.

Some owners, including Bunce, told NBC Connecticut they’ve spent between $4,000 and $5,000 getting ready. Bunce says he’s replaced ceiling tiles, lighting, furniture, put a new coating on the roof and hunted down disinfectants for the salon and for their tools.

Many salons are self-certified with Connecticut under the COVID-19 reopening plan, and stylists are specially licensed for COVID-19 salon disinfectant procedures.

“We were all certified by the state, we followed the rules, we just want to go back to work,” said Tina Torraco of Shear Cut in Westport.

Bunce spoke with NBC Connecticut back in March when he decided to close Skull and Combs ahead of the executive orders. He said it was out of concern for his staff and customers. At the time, he recently opened a store in the SoNos collection in Norwalk.

Now he says the shutdown has put a financial strain on his businesses and cost him some staff who won’t return.

“Some are making more on unemployment right now with the stimulus than they would be at the salon,” said Bunce. "How long does the gravy train go?"

Some in the crowd say they may open before the new date in June, a violation that would fall under the jurisdiction of the New Haven Health Department.

“We will have to do enforcement on my end if necessary and it is my hope that that does not occur,” said Health Director Maritza Bond.

Mayor Justin Elicker says he understands the frustration but asks them to be patient.

“Nobody is perfect, these are not perfect decisions but the last thing we need right now is business owners going out and doing their own thing,” said Elicker.

But one question still remains for many who were ready to go.

“We were prepared and why should we be penalized for it,” said Fernicola.

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