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Second round of COVID-19 closures causes frustration, anxiety for Santa Maria small businesses
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Second round of COVID-19 closures causes frustration, anxiety for Santa Maria small businesses

When seasoned Santa Maria salon owner Bambie Ruiz Padilla was finally able to open the doors of Coiffure Society Salon on June 8, she and co-owners Mary Davila and Pauline Halop were eager to create a safe and clean environment, to prevent being shut down for any violations. 

Although Padilla said they met all the stringent COVID-19 safety standards, five weeks after opening the Orcutt salon was instructed to close Monday under a sweeping state mandate requiring the re-closure of several sectors in counties with increasing virus spread.

The mandate requires Santa Barbara County to re-close all indoor operations at hair salons, personal care services such as nail salons and tattoo parlors, fitness centers, non-essential offices and malls.

On Tuesday, the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department released a modified health order echoing the state's requirements, with closures effective from 5 p.m. Tuesday through 5 p.m. Aug. 12, unless otherwise rescinded or extended. 

After waiting three months to open the salon due to the initial state shutdown in March, Padilla said it was crushing to be closed down immediately afterwards. Many salons, she said, will not survive this uncertain time. 

"There are brand-new salons being shut down, and it's like, how much longer can this go on, with new businesses shutting down daily?" Padilla asked. 

While the state and county permit the continuation of outdoor operations at affected businesses, Padilla said this is not an option for her sector, under the policies of the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology. 

"We contacted the Board of Cosmetology about cutting hair outside, and they said 'absolutely not,'" Padilla said.  

According to county Public Health Department spokeswoman Jackie Ruiz, although the county may permit outdoor operation, licensing agencies such as the Board of Cosmetology have the final say. 

Tattoo parlors, which had to re-close this week after being permitted to reopen June 25, are left with similarly few options due to the health and safety guidelines of the industry.

Sabin Brock, owner of Captive Hearts Tattoo, said he anticipates that many artists will begin tattooing "underground" to make ends meet, or simply remain open in protest.

"I think the most damaging part is allowing people to get their hopes up and then telling them to shut down again. I think there’s going to be a rebellion ... I think the underground scene is going to start coming up, and some places are going to stay open," he said. 

Some industries, however, are able to be more creative with their reopening, such as KT's All-Star Gymnastics in the Santa Maria Town Center, which offers children's gymnastics classes. 

According to owner Katey Eckenrode, the gymnastics gym will be able to continue operating outdoors by moving their mats, flooring and small equipment from their indoor location to one of the vacant parking lots at the mall.

"We have a meeting today to get the logistics down, and we're trying to be out there tomorrow with the first class. Our coaches are ready, it’s just figuring out how to move equipment in an efficient manner," Eckenrode said.

Although she is grateful to not have to close completely, she said the mandate is still upsetting, having taken a great deal of time to ensure the gym was clean and following guidelines, even sealing the mats to the floor to ensure that no dust would gather underneath. 

"It’s frustrating because these are our lives, we’re not huge companies where they can be closed but they have money coming in from different things. We go from income to zero," she said. 

Moving forward, business owners said announcing some closures with some warning, rather than out of nowhere, would help people to prepare better rather than leaving them out to dry. 

After finding out about the mandated closures, Brock said he spent hours Tuesday re-contacting clients to reschedule their appointments, and was met with anger by some who wanted the parlor to continue operating as normal, a move which could cost his parlor its credibility.

"No one really knows how to navigate this, and you can't look to any one person and say 'they’re doing this right,'" Brock said. No one knows how to respond to the situation. Last time we shut down four months and some businesses almost lost everything." 

At Coiffure Society Salon, Padilla said she wants to ensure that other salons are up to speed on the mandated guidelines, since many salons were not following the requirements for mask-wearing or specific sanitation prior to the shutdown.

"We want to be able to pass the information on to other hair stylists… so we don’t have to deal with going to work one week and being shut down the next. The only way that’s going to happen is if we come together as a community and educate each other," Padilla said. 

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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