‘It’s Really Unfair:’ Sunset Park Salons React to Cuomo COVID Cluster Closures

By Claudia Irizarry Aponte, originally published by THE CITY

Logo for THE CITYThey don’t know if they made the cut.

Brooklyn barber shop and hair salon owners still reeling from prolonged closures during the spring were left confused and concerned Wednesday over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s shutdown of such establishments on the fringes of coronavirus outbreak zones.

Many said they weren’t sure what side of the zone boundaries their shops fell on, as others noted that some nearby businesses could still operate while they’ll be forced to close.

“It’s really unfair. What is going to stop the customers from going down the block to the ones that can stay open?,” said Raymond Lei, who owns a hair salon in Borough Park, not far from the Sunset Park border.

Cuomo’s new mandate closed schools, while shutting or strictly limiting non-essential gathering and businesses in a large swath of southern Brooklyn and in central Queens and Far Rockaway.

The state has imposed a color-code system, where red zones designate blocks at the heart of coronavirus clusters where non-essential businesses must shutter for at least two weeks beginning no later than Friday.

Surrounding red zones are orange-coded areas, described as “buffer zones” by Cuomo, where most non-essential businesses may remain open — but “personal care services” cannot.

That will leave barbers, stylists, manicurists and others out of work again, just three months after being allowed to reopen in Phase Three of Cuomo’s COVID-management plan. The shutdowns will hit hard in Sunset Park, an area to the west of Brooklyn’s COVID cluster zone in Borough Park.

‘Doesn’t Make Any Sense’

The state’s map shows the Sunset Park orange zone stretched from Ninth Avenue to Fourth Avenue, and 36th Street to 65th Street, swallowing most of the heavily immigrant neighborhood.

Phoned by THE CITY on Tuesday, owners of grooming businesses in the area were not aware about the new restrictions and their impending closure.

Helen Yu, who owns and manages Color Lab hair salon on 8th Avenue near 63rd Street, wondered why her business had to close while others just two blocks to the south, on the other side of 65th Street, could remain open.

“If I have to close, I’ll follow the rules and close,” Yu said Wednesday.

But she added that she didn’t understand how shutting her down but not some neighbors would help curb the spread of the coronavirus.

“If the customer can just go to another salon down the street and spread it there, this doesn’t make any sense,” she said.

A spokesperson for Cuomo did not respond to questions about the rollout.

Oblivious to Impending Shutdown

On Wednesday, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced measures to inform people in the orange and red zones about the new restrictions.

Among the efforts: 1,200 city workers would conduct outreach in those neighborhoods, and robocalls would be made to every affected household.

The Sunset Park business owners who spoke with THE CITY had not received any robocalls as of Wednesday afternoon. Like Yu, all found out about the new measures when THE CITY called.

People shop along a busy strip of Eight Avenue in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Oct. 7, 2020. Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

Lei, who owns and manages the Made The Cut hair salon nearby on Fort Hamilton Parkway, responded with disbelief.

His salon, too, is in an orange zone.

“This is really bad for us,” Lei said. “It’s bad for business. I think we are going to lose customers.”

A spokesperson for de Blasio was not immediately available for comment.

Some establishments have vowed to go about business as usual until told otherwise.

The manager of F.R.G. Barbershop on 41st Street near 5th Avenue, who identified himself only as Roberto, learned his business was in an orange zone through his brother on Tuesday night.

Earlier that same day, upon hearing rumors that parts of the borough might shut down, he asked outreach workers handing out masks if a closure was imminent.

Those workers, he said, told him that a decision hadn’t been made yet. That was before Cuomo announced his zone program Tuesday afternoon.

“And as far as today, I haven’t received a phone call, nothing saying we’re supposed to close,” Roberto said in Spanish Wednesday.

“We’ll see tomorrow. If I walk around and see the other shops are still open, then I’m still opening,” he said.

THE CITY is an independent, nonprofit news outlet dedicated to hard-hitting reporting that serves the people of New York.

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