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Photo by Ronald Penh — Peter Chang Park, owner of the Seoul Barber Shop on South Western Avenue, brought his operations outdoors following the city's initiative.

By Ronald Penh

The city of Gardena enacted an initiative that allowed hair salons, barber shops, and personal care services to provide services outdoors as of July 30.

The initiative requires physical distancing, the use of face masks, and that outdoor operations remain on private property. It also requires that workers maintain proper cleaning procedures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

For Damon (last name withheld at his request), owner of Fred’s Barber Shop on South Western Avenue, allowing barbers to cut hair outdoors was a thoughtful effort from city officials, but falls short of being helpful towards his business.

“I think it’s a great move, but it’s not gonna pay the bills,” Damon said.

Damon’s business profits dropped about 60% since the initial quarantine. Although the guidelines for the outdoor initiative had only been available for a couple days, Damon reported that his business was continuing to not perform well.

“I think it’s an attempt, but I think a lot of customers are confused, and they just think that barber shops are closed because of the second closure,” Damon said. 

Damon also made pointers to the 1500 hour training that every licensed barber has to go through to receive certification, many of which consists of public health knowledge and processes to ensure cleanliness and sanitation. 

“Basically, I don’t know why we’re being shut down to begin with, because we’re already using clean methods to begin with, state-required clean methods,” Damon said. 

Other variables that make outdoor services more difficult include weather, Damon shared.

“Stylists and salon owners, I think it’s gonna be very hard and difficult for them, because they have to deal with long hair, and if it’s a windy day and their hair’s blowing around in the wind, how in the heck are you gonna cut that hair,” Damon said. “You can’t cut it, it’s blowing around in the wind.”

Peter Chang Park is the owner of Seoul Barber Shop on South Western Avenue who found the weather to be a huge obstacle to the success of his outdoor services.

“Weather, outside, sun shines, no wind, it’s okay,” Park said. “With the wind, the hair goes over there…no air conditioning outside.”

The variable of weather clashes with the operations of a barber which requires limited air flow. Park found the wind to be particularly troublesome because it would blow hair around and away from his shop. 

His shop is located in the Seoul plaza and is nearby many restaurants. Park recalled how the wind would blow hair around towards a nearby restaurant, causing them to make complaints. 

“Nobody likes it,” Park said. “The customers don’t like it.” 

Leo Bustillos, owner of Leo’s Clip Joint on West Redondo Beach Boulevard, was more optimistic towards the initiative.

“I’ll tell you one thing, it’s a blessing I can do it,” Bustillos said. 

Bustillos saw the initiative as an opportunity to be active and engage in productive work during this time of a pandemic. Financial matters such as paying rent and bills were not a concern to him.

His shop is only open three days out of the week, from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays but he thanks his loyal customers for being able to help provide him business which helps pay off the shop’s expenses.

Bustillos is 85 years old, which puts him in the vulnerable population category according to the CDC. It doesn’t stop him from working, but makes matters such as sanitization and practicing proper infection protocol important to him. The COVID-19 pandemic stands as an important issue to him.

“It concerns me and my wife, and I feel bad for the people that got it,” Bustillos said. “I just hope that people keep putting their masks on.”

The initiative is a reminder of the significant hit that many businesses took in response to COVID-19 closures. And despite efforts from city officials to counter the financial impact of the pandemic, many businesses will still take a hit. 

“I think that they have to realize that they cracked down really hard on small businesses,” Damon said. “For a small proportion of the population that’s being affected, a big proportion is being hit.”

High recovery rates for younger age demographics and the vulnerable population only consisting of those 65 years or older or with underlying health conditions can cause frustration towards those that see lockdown guidelines as something that is protecting only a portion of individuals while negatively impacting the majority of society. 

According to Memorial Hospital of Gardena infection control director Ravi Pallipamu, however, the increasing business closures in response to growing COVID-19 cases is more the result of increasing hospitalization rates and the fear of running out of hospital beds.

And the issue of COVID-19 will continue to affect people as long as individuals continue to not practice infection protocol such as wearing a mask, he shared.

“Of course the entire country is being affected because handfuls of people decide not to follow the rules,” Pallipamu said. “In public, everyone appears to be wearing a mask but then you have these close knit families or clandestine house parties which debunks mask wearing efforts.”

Individuals with questions regarding the outdoor guidelines for hair salons, barber shops, and personal care services can contact the Emergency Operations Center at 310-217-9583 or EOC@cityofgardena.org.