Beatriz Ochoa cutting a customer's hair at her East Oakland shop, Latina Salon. Credit: Ricky Rodas

California Governor Gavin Newsom lifted regional stay-at-home orders this past Monday, after a statewide drop in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. As a result, Alameda County reentered the purple tier, which means restaurants can resume outdoor dining and certain businesses—including scores of small and independently-run barbershops and hair salons in Oakland—are again allowed to serve customers indoors, with some safety modifications.

Newsom was criticized by some for the decision, which many saw as being politically driven, and there are sure to be more than a few Oaklanders who feel uneasy about taking part in indoor activities like getting a haircut. But the lifting of the stay-at-home order is a boon to local hairdressers and barbers, who’ve been riding the ups and downs of the pandemic for months.

Beatriz Ochoa, who owns Latina Salon on 10308 International Boulevard in deep East Oakland, said she’d already served a dozen customers by early Wednesday afternoon and was expecting more. “Everybody is happy for us and welcoming us back now that we’ve reopened,” Ochoa, 36, told The Oaklandside.

Outside of Latina salon, which is owned by Oakland native Beatriz Ochoa. Credit: Ricky Rodas

Throughout the pandemic, barbershops and hair salons have had to shift between long periods of closure and shorter stretches of being allowed to operate in a limited capacity. On May 26, Governor Newsom allowed barbershops and salons to reopen for the first time since the shelter-in-place order was made in March but then announced mandatory closures in July. Salons were again allowed to reopen on August 31 and enjoyed a few months of steady business, before the state issued its most recent regional stay-at-home order on December 5.

When it comes to the health risks of reopening her business, Ochoa said she isn’t too concerned given the precautions she’ll be implementing, which include wearing a mask at all times, taking her customers’ temperature, sanitizing her equipment after each use, and only allowing her clients to come inside. “A lot of people around me are taking precautions,” she said, “and I also do my part.”

After being closed for so long, Ochoa was beaming with excitement when she spoke with The Oaklandside. Cutting hair, she said, has been her lifelong passion. “I’ve been braiding and cutting people’s hair since I was 13 years old, and at 15 I was doing people’s hair for their quinceañeras,” she said. “I was born to be in this industry.”

When Ochoa isn’t tending to her own shop, she’s teaching and mentoring younger hair stylists at the Greater East Bay Barber Shop Cosmetology Apprenticeship, a beauty school based in San Leandro. According to Ochoa, the school is financially struggling due to a decline in enrollment since the start of the pandemic. “A lot of our students had to drop out and get other jobs in order to provide for their families,” she said.

Several blocks up from Latina Salon on the corner of International Boulevard and 73rd Street, Emarosa “Rossy” Marquez and her one employee were tending to customers at her shop, Rossy’s Beauty Salon. Rossy opened the business in 2007 after studying cosmetology in her home country of Mexico and attending barber school in Oakland shortly after moving here two decades ago.

Emarosa “Rossy” Marquez and an employee at her beauty salon in East Oakland. Credit: Ricky Rodas

According to Rossy’s husband Guillermo, who spoke to The Oaklandside while his wife tended to a customer, Rossy was prepared to reopen her salon as soon as the state deemed it safe to do so. “The beauty industry has always worked very safely, and she has always used a lot of disinfectants in her work,” he said. “She’s also been following all of the government guidelines.”

Before the pandemic, Guillermo would help out at the shop by operating the cash register, sweeping the floors, and keeping the salon stocked with hair products and other necessary supplies. Now, he works full-time at a hotel in San Francisco to make extra money.

Closing and reopening multiple times, and never knowing when they’ll need to pivot, has been tough on the couple and they’ve had to dip into their savings to keep Rossy’s Beauty Salon open, said Guillermo. Currently, they are relying on his hotel income to pay the bills, but Guillermo believes that if they can remain open, Rossy’s Beauty Salon will again become profitable.

“We’re optimistic that things are going to turn around.”

Ricky Rodas is a member of the 2020 graduating class of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. Before joining The Oaklandside, he spent two years reporting on immigrant communities in the Bay Area as a reporter for the local news sites Oakland North, Mission Local, and Richmond Confidential. Rodas, who is Salvadoran American and bilingual, is on The Oaklandside team through a partnership with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities.