Manicure a customer’s nails outdoors?

Sacramento area nail-salon owners aren’t embracing the idea.

Although Gov. Gavin Newsom declared this week that nail salons could operate outdoors during the coronavirus pandemic, salon owners say the governor’s overture is unworkable.

They say working outside, in a dusty and windy environment could pose significant health hazards to themselves and their customers, given the array of volatile chemicals that are part of the manicurist’s trade.

That’s not all. The outdoor heat could prove taxing for clients, particularly the elderly. Plus there’s the matter of getting permission from landlords and insurance companies, and simply finding the room outside to do the work.

“Are they going to do it in the parking lot? Where are they going to go?” said Lui Nguyen, owner of two Top Coat nail salons in Natomas. Above all, he said, “We have a lot of concerns with the safety.”

Anh Voung, owner of Angel Nails in Little Saigon, said doing her work outdoors would expose her and her customers to criminals who ply the area. “The salon is in a high-crime area,” she said through an interpreter.

Nguyen and roughly 100 other Asian-American owners have formed a group called the Sacramento Nails Association to push state officials for the right to reopen their salons — indoors.

Nguyen said roughly 90% of the salon owners in the association say they don’t plan to venture outdoors. As for his own shops, “if people want to try it, I’m open to it,” he said. “I’ll give it a try for a few hours before the heat reaches the 100s.” But he said he remains highly doubtful that an outdoor salon is feasible — for his shops and most others.

Newsom’s administration laid out a host of rules salon owners must follow outdoors. Among other things, they have to use portable tubs or bowls to perform pedicures, for instance, and they have to go back indoors to clean the tubs afterward.

Because only one employee can work at a station at the same time, a customer can’t get a manicure and pedicure simultaneously. Owners also are being urged, but not required, to install plastic partitions between workers and customers, with spaces cut out for hands or feet.

“They’re confused, they don’t know how governor came out with this decision,” said Mai Nguyen, a former salon owner and executive director of the nonprofit Community Partners Advocate of Little Saigon Sacramento. “This puts more burden on them financially, they’re in survival mode. This is not a solution.”

Vera Worlds-Arnold, president and CEO of Ebony Nail Salons on Florin Road in Sacramento, said working outdoors would present a slew of logistical problems not encountered inside, including finding sockets for plugging in electrical tools and figuring out how to dispose of water used in pedicures.

“I have to run back and forth, dumping water. Where do I do it?” she said.

While working outdoors “is not something that I’m rushing to do,” she said she’d consider it if customers continue urging her to reopen the business. “You can make anything work,” she said.

But at some point, California is going to have to figure out how to allow nail salons to operate indoors. Being outside “is not sustainable,” she said. “Winter is coming.”

Newsom mistakenly blames salon for ‘community spread’

Susie Wong, a Sacramento public affairs executive who is working with the salon owners’ association, said the logistics alone are difficult to overcome.

“Most salons don’t have a sidewalk to work on. Their insurance doesn’t cover parking lots,” she said. “It’s not the professional image they want to project — sitting in a parking lot surrounded by buckets.”

Wong said the salon owners in Sacramento, who are largely Vietnamese-Americans, realized they needed to band together as the pandemic has worn on.

She said they’re motivated in part by a sense that hair salons are being treated more leniently. Hair salons and barber shops are also limited to outdoor operations but in general, they’ve reacted more favorably to Newsom’s directive.

Their anger started when Newsom, speaking at a press conference in May, said the first “community spread” of the coronavirus in California took place at a nail salon. “This whole thing started in the state of California, the first community spread, in a nail salon,” he said.

The governor’s staff then told a group of salon owners that Newsom had been mistaken, according to NBC Bay Area and other media outlets.

In the meantime, salon owners started taking to the streets, staging a boisterous yet peaceful rally in June outside an Asian-American shopping mall in Orange County to demand that Newsom allow them to reopen their shops.

“Frustration at the time; we needed a voice,” said Lui Nguyen, who was one of several Sacramento owners who attended the rally.

The frustration has mounted as the pandemic has worsened. Nail salons were allowed to reopen in mid-June but now have been forced to close again as infections and hospitalizations have spiked in many areas of California.

Newsom’s shutdown order on nail salons affects about 80 percent of the state’s population.

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