STONINGTON — For the past two months, Pawcatuck business owner Cat Thibodeau said she has done everything she can to comply with state orders related to the COVID-19 crisis.
Thibodeau, who owns Modern Barber and Shave on West Broad Street, has complied with all of Gov. Ned Lamont's requirements, reduced her staff and shifted efforts so that she could find a way to pay her bills without her typical income. She is simply seeking to survive, and any further delays in operation will likely leave her without the business she'd worked so hard to build.
Like many business owners across the state, Thibodeau said that at the risk of losing everything, she can't wait any longer to begin working again. That is why she said she will "peacefully refuse to adhere" to the latest order from the state, which would keep her shop closed for approximately another two weeks.
"We have been working toward this for weeks, so to change the plan with less than 48 hours notice isn't fair, especially when all the numbers I've seen show that we are over the curve," said Thibodeau, 30, who has owned her business for six years.
"I will be reopening tomorrow, and I am prepared to face any consequences that may come with that decision," she said. "If I don't reopen, the consequence may be having to close my business."
Lamont announced Monday that after discussions with owners, employees and customers across the state, Connecticut would not be allowing barbers and hair salons to reopen as initially planned. The state is instead aligning its plans with neighboring Rhode Island to reopen hair salons and barbershops sometime in early June.
The decision came after members of the Connecticut Beauty Association, which has more than 3,600 members, expressed concerns over the weekend for members’ safety given Wednesday’s planned reopening. The association noted in their statement that the industry is composed of 90% women, many of whom are responsible for homeschooling their children.
“We’ve been hearing a lot of feedback from many owners and employees, and at this time I think the best approach is that we hit pause on the reopening of hair salons and barbershops, take a step back, and allow some more time as preparations continue to be made,” Lamont said in a written statement released Monday.
Stonington First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough said Wednesday that the governor's office has done a good job communicating with local officials, but that the decision was both surprising and disappointing.
She said the general consensus she's heard from owners in the region has remained that barber shops and hair salons should have been part of the phase 1 reopening. The town understands, however, that state officials are placing a priority on safety and asked local residents and business owners to comply with restrictions whenever possible.
"Through this process, we've tried to be an advocate between local businesses and the state," Chesebrough said. "It's not an easy call, and no matter what decision is made, you are not going to make everyone happy."
Thibodeau questioned the decision, saying it puts some businesses who have already gone above and beyond to provide a safe environment for their customers in a position where they would end up eating even greater costs.
For businesses such as Modern Barber and Shave, everything has changed since the crisis began. The hair salon had operated on an almost all walk-in basis before, dealing directly with people in a social setting.
When business resumes on Wednesday, Thibodeau said she will be doing things entirely different from the way they were before.
Modern Barber and Shave is stocked up on personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves, and they will be used and replaced between customers. The business will not allow walk-ins, instead doing everything by appointment only. And perhaps the biggest change, Thibodeau will not be working with any staff, instead handling appointments one at a time and cleaning thoroughly between every customer.
"I moved to my new location with a goal of having more chairs available. Now the business is back down to one," Thibodeau said.
Modern Barber and Shave may not be alone in refusing to comply with the latest orders, either. Several other barbers and salons across the state have announced similar plans to reopen across the state. In the Stonington Borough area, the Village Barber Shop has been preparing as well and has even spent money on advertising in order to draw back its customer base.
An answering machine message at the shop indicated that he would be open for business Tuesday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Owner Doug Radicioni could not be reached for further comment Tuesday.
Thibodeau said she can't speak for other barbers and salon owners, but said safety will still remain the top priority as she reopens.
"The governor is allowing (some) businesses to decide if they should open, so why are other businesses being forced to remain closed?" Thibodeau said. "We were asked to wait and we did. It's time now. Businesses need to get up and running to survive."