Shelley Luther went to work Friday morning — an action that would have been routine just two months ago before the coronavirus pandemic.
But these are not normal times, and this was no ordinary Friday. That day marked the first time since March 21 that Luther’s business Salon A la Mode in Dallas opened for the public. However, it wasn’t just members of the general public who stopped by her salon.
Video recorded by Empower Texans shows a handful of Dallas police officers dropping by the salon to issue a citation to Luther for operating in violation of the city’s shelter order. She was later visited by city officials who had a cease and desist letter from Dallas County Judge, Clay Jenkins — which she ripped up at an “Open Texas” (a group of Texans advocating to reopen the state economy) rally in Frisco the next day.
That letter from Jenkins — which she received at 3 p.m. — stated that Luther had to cease business by 1 p.m. otherwise criminal and civil charges would be filed against her.
She was fined for “social distancing” violations — as her hairstylists were within six feet of the customers they were servicing — and for violating the business closure order. The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) was responsible for the citation.
Luther stressed to The Texan that every law enforcement official that paid her salon a visit “was very gracious and respectful.”
“I don’t in any way disparage them as they are just sent when others want to hide,” she continued.
Luther said the only communication she has received from either the county officials or governor’s office was the cease and desist letter from Jenkins.
She also received word from the business’ property owner, from which she rents, asking her to close down and that either the city or county was naming them in a lawsuit in addition to Luther.
They temporarily resolved the issue by sending a 15-day notice letter to Luther to “fix the non-compliance or leave the building” — hoping by the fifteenth day her salon would be permitted to reopen.
Dallas County is one of the numerous polities across Texas that has implemented stricter regulations and limitations on public conduct and business operation than the state has. But the state has also limited business operation, of which salons are prohibited.
On April 21, Dallas County commissioners extended the shelter order until May 15, further increasing the length of time most businesses must be closed to foot traffic.
Luther’s doors closed on March 22 after the county’s adoption of the shelter in place order. “We were led to believe this would only last a week or two,” Luther said. But it has lasted far longer than that, now stretching into its fifth week.
Her business was deemed “non-essential” while the pet groomer next door is considered “essential” which, Luther said, has been in operation the entire time.
Governor Greg Abbott, who is announcing on Monday the first set of business openings in the state, has permitted retail stores to operate to-go vending. It has been reported that the Governor’s announcement today will, in part, pertain to hair salons and other similar businesses.
But many businesses, such as Luther’s, are not retail and are still prohibited from operating — and thus from earning money.
Luther could not hold out any longer.
But Luther has not been able to get a cent from any of those programs.
She is not alone in that. In fact, stories abound of large companies receiving loan money meant for small businesses — some of which have graciously returned the money. But now the money Congress authorized is running near empty.
“The most frustrating thing about it,” Luther said, “is that they don’t even get back to you one way or the other.”
Luther further added that she applied for every possible loan program the first day(s) they were available. To date, she has heard nothing.
She hasn’t even been able to get ahold of the Texas Workforce Commission, which has been overwhelmed with the vast increase of unemployment claims, despite using an auto-dialer on her phone that one day dialed over 500 times.
Like so many business owners, Luther was faced this month with a choice: either pay her business rent or her mortgage. She chose the former.
With no financial help from the governments who shut her down nor a definitive end to the closures in sight, Luther decided she had to reopen.
At first, she stated, it was solely a decision motivated by self-preservation.
But it turned into something more: a proxy fight on behalf of all business owners and their employees who have had their livelihoods deemed “non-essential.”
“I’m of the mind that we either stand up to this now, or the politicians continue to think that they can continue to issue these unconstitutional ordinances.”
These orders are derivative of disaster powers allotted to the governor by the legislature, which in part exist at the local level and the use of which has been encouraged by the governor. But some argue, Luther included, these edicts have gone beyond the purview of those powers.
Throughout this fight, Luther said fellow salon owners have reported her to TDLR and advocated for her license to be revoked. This confused Luther, since in her mind, “This entire fight is for them.”
Luther said she had heard Abbott, after hearing of her non-compliance, said that the state has the authority to revoke her business license “forever.”
She responded in a Facebook post, saying, “How dare you threaten my license and assume that I’m not practicing strict, CDC recommended, guidelines for my business when you’ve never been there. Please show the data you claim to have of salons spreading the virus and how salons are the most dangerous places to be.”
After a few weeks of closure, Luther’s stylists received requests from their customers to do house calls. But Luther did not want that happening and instead wanted them to operate in a sanitary space meant for that service. She deep cleaned the entire salon herself and opened up.
Since becoming a statewide name, Luther’s salon phone has been ringing non-stop and customers are lined out the door. Before, her clientele largely consisted of regulars who had their favorite stylists on speed-dial.
Currently, her salon is only providing haircuts and walk-in appointments to save time and ensure service to as many customers as possible.
With only two to three of her 19 stylists working, Luther’s salon has had non-stop business. One of her stylists provided 56 haircuts in one day.
To accommodate the city’s priorities, Luther only allows one person in the salon at a time to be serviced. Those waiting sit outside in chairs Luther has placed six feet apart and disinfects herself before every new person sits in one.
Inside, her stylists wear masks and sanitize everything — as they were already accustomed to doing during regular operations. Luther said every one of her stylists has two years or more of sanitation training, which is a requirement not only for the job but also for her operating license.
“It is frustrating to see these other businesses that are not accustomed to maintaining these high sanitation standards — such as Walmart or Home Depot — be deemed ‘essential’ but ours is not,” Luther lamented.
She added, “The fact is, every business is essential to the livelihoods of those who own them and work there.”
“Now if customers don’t want to patronize, they don’t have to, but it’s not the government’s right to shut us down and prevent people from coming in if they don’t want to,” she emphasized.
Luther said her business itself, like many others, saw some depressed traffic before the government’s edicts were instituted due to people making that decision themselves.
And since opening, only a few stylists have decided to work because of the reports to TDLR and the death or arson threats they have received.
Since reopening, however, Luther said she has received loads of support from people not only in Texas and around the United States but throughout the world. Her salon’s Facebook page currently has a rating of 5.4 stars out of five.
But Dallas is not the only locality enforcing this law. In fact, it’s not even the one most strictly enforcing it. Officers with the City of Laredo executed a sting operation against two women who were doing salon house calls.
If and when Governor Abbott permits salons to open, Luther said then hers will be able to expand their services to all they offered before.
Luther said she has received numerous messages from people who are “getting depressed and sad in thinking there’s not much for them in life because they don’t think their business will survive.”
To them, she said, “Hang in there, we have your back and don’t give up yet.”
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Brad Johnson is an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad watching and quoting Monty Python productions.