Nichole Missino opened her Media barbershop Wednesday and said she has no plans to close it again, despite state orders mandating businesses like hers remain shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re pretty much rocking and rolling over here,” Missino said, taking a break halfway through a full day of appointments at Giovanni’s Media Barbershop. The opening went off as planned, she said, with everyone wearing masks and customers undergoing temperature checks at the door.
Reservations for Thursday and Friday were quickly filling up, she said, with customers telling her they’re grateful she is “taking a stand” against shutdown orders that are hurting small businesses and even forcing some to close for good. Missino said her shop could have been among them if she hadn’t taken matters into her own hands.
The barbershop’s reopening comes as coronavirus case counts show no sign of dropping in Delaware County, even as neighboring Philadelphia and Bucks, Chester, and Montgomery Counties see declines. Recent county numbers are high above Gov. Tom Wolf’s benchmark for the interim yellow phase of reopening, and Media has the second-highest concentration of cases in the county. Salons aren’t allowed to open until the least-restrictive green phase.
Health officials, including Pennsylvania Health Secretary Rachel Levine, say the governor’s gradual approach to economic reopening is saving lives and preventing the health-care system from becoming overwhelmed as it has been in other areas of the country. But some business owners and lawmakers say the economic toll of the months-long shutdown is dire, too, and people are capable of returning to work safely.
Missino hadn’t heard from state officials or local police Wednesday morning, she said. Media Police Chief Martin Wusinich confirmed none of his officers had contacted Missino.
“She’s made her decision,” Wusinich said, “and if there’s consequences, she’ll hear about it.”
He declined to say what those consequences could be.
When asked about Giovanni’s, the Pennsylvania Department of State said it hasn’t revoked any business licenses related to the emergency orders and it has instead been referring complaints to local law enforcement and the state Department of Health. However, a spokesperson said the department could suspend a license if an establishment is found to be risking public health and safety.
Missino had originally planned to reopen earlier this month but ended up having a rally instead after she said she had received threats. She said the state board told her it could revoke her business license, and the Media Police Department said it could revoke her occupancy license. Chief Wusinich said he had a cordial conversation with Missino and did not threaten anything.
Missino said she decided to open now because there would be less publicity in the days leading up to it. “I didn’t want the police to be calling me again,” she said. “I didn’t want the state board to be calling me again.” Over the last week and a half, she said, she’s also seen other nonessential businesses across the state reopen, seemingly without punishment, against the governor’s orders. “I am hoping they kind of let me be like they let them be,” she said.
At first, Missino said she agreed with the stay-at-home order and thought everyone should stay put for a few weeks to prevent surges in hospital admissions. But then Pennsylvanians did flatten the curve, she said, and the region’s hospitals weren’t overwhelmed.
“Are we going to stay inside the rest of our lives because we can’t get rid of the virus?” she said. "Now we’re going into the third month and we still don’t have a date to reopen. The governor has been dragging his feet. We need to get back to work.”
And barbers can do so safely, she said. She installed partition walls between chairs, stocked up on hand sanitizer, and ramped up cleaning procedures.
So far, no other nonessential businesses in Media have indicated they’ll follow suit and open before the governor gives the OK, according to the police and Missino.
“I hope they do,” Missino said. “I hope this has a domino effect.”