Saying, ‘The claws are out,’ demonstrators demand that the governor allow nail salons to reopen

a rally and march at the Asian Garden Mall on Monday
During a rally and march at the Asian Garden Mall on Monday, protesters plead with Gov. Gavin Newsom to immediately reopen nail salons.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Angry that Gov. Gavin Newsom inexplicably pushed back the re-opening of nail salons last week, even though they were previously scheduled to come back online during Phase 3 of California’s plan, industry workers staged a peaceful but forceful protest Monday at the Asian Garden Mall in Westminster.

“The claws are out,” an event flier read in both English and Vietnamese.

Nailing It For America, which in the last few months has rallied Vietnamese salons and restaurants around the nation to donate an estimated $30 million worth of personal protective equipment to medical centers and 52,000 meals to those in need, organized the Little Saigon march and press conference.

A group of eight — including Lam Nguyen of Contour Nails, Lui Nguyen of Top Coat Nails Salon & Spa, and Mai Nguyen of cPALSs (Community Partners Advocate of Little Saigon Sacramento) — drove over 400 miles from Sacramento to Orange County with only a day’s notice.

Nailing It For America’s Tam Nguyen, who is president of O.C.'s Advance Beauty College, said protesters also came from Fresno, Riverside and San Diego.

“That’s how passionate we are about this,” Lui Nguyen said Tuesday on his drive back to Sacramento. “We believe that we have been treated unfairly.”

“The biggest complaint I got from a bunch of nail salons was, ‘Can you give us more time next time? We really can’t drop everything in one day and come,’” Tam Nguyen said.

Tiffany Pham, a nail salon worker, holds a sign while joining fellow protesters marching to reopen nail salons
Tiffany Pham, a nail salon worker, holds a sign while joining fellow protesters marching to reopen nail salons Monday in Littin Saigon.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Last week, industry leaders met with Newsom’s senior staff on a call to discuss reopening after the governor’s May 7 comments that the first incident of community spread in California came from a nail salon.

There, they learned the governor’s office had made a mistake, that the assertion was unfounded. Despite implying that nail salons were inherently risky when it comes to the new coronavirus, there has been no public correction or apology.

“It’s completely false,” Lui Nguyen said. “It’s [expletive]. Excuse my language.”

Last Thursday, nail salon industry workers were feeling optimistic as the governor announced he would soon announce guidelines for the businesses that could open during Phase 3.

But when the guidelines were released, there were none for nail salons, effectively preventing them from opening without risking suspension of their licenses from the California Board of Barbering and Cosmetology.

“I feel very upset,” Lam Nguyen said. “We want to work. We’ll obey the laws and the guidelines, but … if we don’t open our businesses, who will pay the rent?”

Protesters chant, hold signs and voice their concerns as they demand that Gov.Gavin  Newsom reopen nail salons.
Protesters chant, hold signs and voice their concerns as they demand that Gov. Gavin Newsom reopen nail salons statewide.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Mike Vo, a co-founder of Pro Nails Assn., estimated that half of the nail salons in California are in danger of going out of business.

The Pro Nails Assn. — which began last year to provide the industry with education and advocacy, and during the pandemic has helped with financial assistance and labor/employment issues — released statistics explaining that there are about 11,000 nail salons and 130,000 licensed technicians statewide, with about 30,000 nail technicians in Southern California.

And roughly 80% of the industry employees in California are Vietnamese Americans.

Andrew Noymer, an associate professor of public health at UC Irvine, said that as long as everyone is masked, nail salons are “perfectly safe.”

“If anything, it’s less than the risk in a barbershop, because in a barbershop you have to take off your mask to have your whiskers trimmed,” he said.

But he thinks there could be some epidemiological logic behind opening similar types of business spaced apart.

Not to discriminate against one or the other, he emphasized, explaining that the government could have just as easily opened nail salons first and barbershops in the next phase. But he thinks it’s important to be cautious and slow.

“We’re playing with fire here and hoping we don’t get burned,” he said. “The logic of opening things in waves is that it gives us time to assess.”

The typical customer, he said, has little worry about if the salons are following best-practices to prevent transmission.

“But if the question is, ‘is it safe to go get my nails done?’ the answer is yes,” he said. “But for the love of everything that is good in this world, please wear a mask, some kind of covering over your nose and mouth.”

The guidelines Nailing It For America have been working on for months to plan for a safe reopening include recommendations that both employees and clients wear face coverings, as well as instructions for deep cleaning, sanitizing, screening, training and social distancing.

Protesters asking Gov. Newsom to #OpenNailSalonsNow march around Little Saigon on Monday.
Protesters demanding that Gov. Gavinb Newsom #OpenNailSalonsNow march around Little Saigon on Monday.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

As of press time, the government hasn’t released any new information about plans to open nail salons.

Jesse Melgar, Newsom’s press secretary, told the Times in an email Monday that the administration “continues to engage with stakeholders in the nail salon industry to gather feedback and participate in constructive dialogue about reopening — with a focus on public health and safety. We remain committed to keeping the lines of communication open as we look to modify our Stay at Home order.”

Vo, a lawyer from Irvine, plans to file a lawsuit next week on behalf of Pro Nails Assn. to put pressure on the government to issue the guidelines and provide a targeted reopening date.

“We’re not seeking monetary damages,” Vo said. “We’re not seeking anything related to the false assertion of community spread or looking for an apology or explanation. The complaint is specifically related to the reopening of nail salons.”

From left, salon owners Daisy Nguyen, Lisa Davis and Annie
From left, salon owners Daisy Nguyen, Lisa Davis and Annie pose after joining fellow protesters at Monday’s rally in Westminster.
(Allen J. Schaben/Los Angeles Times)

Mai Nguyen said that her nonprofit cPALSs recently hosted a seminar in Sacramento to go over guidelines for how to open up hair salons and restaurants safely — and many in the nail salon industry also attended.

“We need to give these business owners a platform to place their concerns and issues, especially during this pandemic,” she said. “The government needs to be open, transparent, give them a reason why and keep the communication going. Don’t just push them aside.”

Support our coverage by becoming a digital subscriber.