For a week, Nichole Missino made her intentions clear.
She was going to open Giovanni’s, her barbershop in Media named after her son, on Saturday, in defiance of Gov. Tom Wolf’s stay-at-home order. She posted the plan on social media, gave interviews to local newspapers, and made appearances on radio and television.
But when Saturday came, her plans were dashed by threats she said she received from the state board that licenses her and her business, and the local police, whom she said promised to take action to have her occupancy license revoked.
She didn’t waste the day, however. Missino held an impromptu rally on her salon’s front steps. Her message, she said, wasn’t just an endorsement of civil disobedience. It was intended to be a reality check for people who don’t understand what she and other small business owners are going through.
“What happened to ‘Home of the free'?" she said at Saturday’s rally, her words carried by a bullhorn. “I don’t know where I live anymore.”
About 30 people stood in the middle of Olive Street, facing her four-year-old business and absorbing her words. Some held signs chiding Wolf or calling for the state to reopen. One man wearing a Philadelphia Fire Department hoodie waved a “Trump 2020” campaign flag attached to a length of PVC pipe.
“If there was money coming in for my employees, I wouldn’t do this,” Missino said. “If the government wants to drag their feet, my hands are forced to do this.”
Missino said her six-member staff, all independent contractors, have not received the unemployment benefits they applied for from the state. The delay is what gave her the idea to reopen, and she ate into her own savings to purchase hand sanitizer and masks and build partitions out of shrink-wrap to separate barbers’ stalls.
Her idea picked up traction online, and about 70 people booked appointments for what would have been the shop’s reopening weekend. She made a last-minute decision Friday afternoon to reverse course, and had to call each customer back, canceling their appointments.
“We wanted to go against this, today, but there’s too much pressure; this is bigger than our small shop,” Chris Cifelli, the shop’s manager, said at the rally. “If this continues, there won’t be a Media; this town is all small businesses.”
Missino first announced her intentions to open around the same time that a like-minded hairdresser was arrested in Texas for defying her state’s order closing small businesses. Shelley Luther became a conservative icon after opening her Dallas salon, with supporters from across the country rallying behind her. And on Thursday, just two days into her weeklong jail sentence, she was freed on the orders of the Texas Supreme Court and the governor, whose order she flouted in the first place.
The Media rally Saturday also came about 24 hours after a similar, larger effort in Philadelphia. A group calling itself “ReOpen Philadelphia” organized a drive-by protest around City Hall early Friday, featuring several dozen cars honking and calling for Wolf to reopen the state.
“In the beginning of all of this, I was totally against people keeping their businesses open. I swore not to leave my house for two weeks,” Missino said. “But the government is promising business owners and independent contractors all this money, and no one has seen anything."
Wanda Murren, a spokesperson for the Department of State, said Saturday that she could not comment on individual businesses licensed by the state. However, she confirmed that the state has not revoked any licenses as a result of Wolf’s shutdown order and is referring complaints about businesses trying to reopen to local law enforcement agencies.
“While the process to permanently revoke a license can take many months to play out because of due process considerations, the Department’s licensing boards have the authority to immediately suspend a license temporarily as disciplinary action is pending,” Murren said in a statement. “Licensees should be aware that continuing their practice or opening a business contrary to the emergency order does put their license in jeopardy.”
Media’s chief of police, Martin Wusinich, did not respond to a request for comment. In an interview with the Delaware County Times, he denied threatening Missino’s occupancy license, and said he instead had a “cordial conversation” with her.