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The latest on COVID-19 in Arizona.

Yuma Barbershop Owner Among Those Ready To Reopen For Business
The Barbershop owner Jesse James and the Yuma business' barbers were notified by Yuma Police officers to shut down on May 1, 2020.

Arizona salons and barbershops can re-open Friday after more than a month of closure under Gov. Doug Ducey’s March Executive Order.

That will be a relief to barbershop owner Jesse James, who over the last week found he’d become the face of Yuma small businesses suffering due to the COVID-19 shutdown. 

In late April, James began posting videos online that highlighted the financial hit his shop The Barbershop and its workers were taking during the closure.  When Gov. Ducey extended his shutdown order to mid-May, James vowed to open May 1 anyway.

He did. And later that day the Yuma Police Department asked him to close. James posted a video online.

Some comments criticized James as selfish and said his actions put the public at risk. Others hailed James as patriotic and pro-freedom.

But James says his main concern is his co-workers. He says when the shutdown began in early April, after some initial confusion about whether barbershops and salons could continue to operate, he and shop staff went home without complaint.

"Because you know we kept hearing that they were going to give us, like, that we would be going on unemployment and, you know, the stimuluses and the EDIL or EIDL (Economic Injury Disaster Loan), I can't remember the abbreviation, and the PPPs (Paycheck Protection Program) and all this stuff," James told KAWC. "Right, all these promises of helping small businesses."

They thought they would get some help. James says he and his entire staff applied for unemployment but were denied.

"All of the staff that works in the barbershop, they're all independent contractors," James said. "So what that means is some of them pay me a chair rent to work there, others pay me a percentage of what they make everyday."

Independent contractors are not traditionally covered by unemployment insurance. James says that put his group into review status.

"They won't even start processing our applications until May 15," he said. "So they asked us to be unemployed from April 5 to May 15 with no help, no money, no nothing."

James says other programs like the PPP would only help him, but not his staff. And he says the money ran out anyway so the loans are smaller and his application is still being processed. He shared the email notification on his business Facebook page.

"Just to try to get people to understand, you know, that what I did was not in any way shape or form to try to build my business, try to get extra hype, try to be in the spotlight," he said.

James says wasn’t trying to be controversial.  He just wasn’t sure people understood how the closure was impacting businesses like his.  He says it might have been wrong to open on May 1 but he thought his reasons were good.

"It's not about being defiant. It's not about speaking out against the governor. It's not about taking a stand against Yuma PD or the Yuma County Sheriff's Office or Mayor (Doug) Nicholls," James said. "I opened out of desperation. Was what we did wrong? Yes. But we made the wrong choice for the right reasons and I stand by my choice. I don't regret opening the shop."

James say he understands that upset some people. Public complaints are why the police showed up to warn James and his staff Friday. But he says there were also members of the Yuma Police Department getting haircuts that day.

"And these are people that obviously knew the situation they were going into," James said. "And they knew we were openly defying the governor's rules. But nobody can ever give us an answer on what to do."

With new rules in place to open this Friday, James and fellow barbershop and salon owners in Yuma and La Paz counties may have some answers now.  On Wednesday, Somerton city officials met with business owners there to give them masks donated to the city and go over the new regulations.

Barbershops and salons must go by appointment only, with no customers waiting. Masks are recommended to be worn by stylists and customers. Cleaning procedures should be followed.

But opening businesses will still need public support.

"We just encourage people that when we do open up, you know, they could show their support by, you know, coming down to the barbershop, getting a haircut. Giving us an opportunity to earn our wages again."

Victor is originally from West Sacramento, California and has lived in Arizona for more than five years. He began his print journalism career in 2004 following his graduation from Georgetown University in Washington D.C. Victor has been a reporter for the following daily newspapers: The Monterey County Herald, The Salinas Californian and the Reno Gazette-Journal, where he covered stories including agriculture, education and Latino community news. Victor has also served as a local editor for Patch, a national news organization with hyperlocal websites, in Carmichael, California in the Sacramento area. He also served as the editor for The New Vision, the newspaper for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Tucson, which includes Yuma and La Paz counties. Victor lives in Somerton. He enjoys spending time with his family and friends and following most sports.
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