NEWPORT — Add to the pantheon of great American dissidents a working mother of five from Toledo, Ore., who reopened her hair salon against pandemic lockdown orders with a defiant question for Governor Kate Brown.
“Where does she get HER hair done?” wondered Kristen Savage as she snipped the locks of a longtime customer at Cutting Edge Hair Salon Tuesday, May 12. “She’s looking good — it’s pretty obvious someone’s cutting her hair. She hasn’t missed a beat.”
Savage, 34, opened after calling a couple of state agencies, OSHA (occupational health) and the salon-licensing bureau, which told her they had no jurisdiction over a one-person shop that otherwise followed administrative rules. Announcing the event on her Facebook page, she opened at 10 a.m. and was working on her fourth customer at 2 p.m.
“I’m doing everything right,” Savage said, taking a hair dryer and brush to her client’s bangs behind a colorful surgical mask and DEQ-approved gloves. “Everything is sanitized for 10 minutes before use. I wash my hands, use a glove and a mask and space it out between appointments.”
Outside, a Newport police vehicle cruised by slowly as the officer peered inside the clean two-chair salon in a mall behind Newport Café.
“They’ve been by five times but never stopped,” Savage remarked. “I’ve had some people who have struck out at me on Facebook, though. For the most part, people are supportive.”
Savage cited the shifting goalposts of the lockdown as one reason she couldn’t wait a day longer to reopen her business, shuttered since March 23 by Gov. Brown’s order to shut down “non-essential” businesses, schools and parks. County officials have gone even farther, closing the tourist industry with a ban on motels, RV parks and vacation rentals.
“The governor said she would allow businesses to reopen May 15 if the county was approved, but I have personally called the (Lincoln County) commissioners and they say we can’t open until June 1 and only if they meet some kind of nebulous requirements,” she recalled, saying it now appears the lockdown might continue well into July.
State and county officials who are still collecting paychecks have failed small businesses like hers, allowing citizens to shop unfettered in big-box stores and pot shops while they suffer, Savage noted.
“When we originally got the order on March 23 to close down I had two to four weeks of finances, but two months is a death sentence for my business,” she said. “I’ve got bills to pay and children to feed, and I want to keep everything I’ve worked hard for.”
Lincoln County has a high proportion of bra-burners and herbicide protestors, but it takes a special kind of courage to stand alone against dawdling government ineptitude and overreach. Later that day, however, the police stopped circling and closed in.
“Our police department made contact and explained that under the governor’s order she was not allowed to be opened, and she refused to close,” reported Newport City Manager Spencer Nebel on Tuesday afternoon after Savage’s phone went silent. “The way the process is set up, we’re supposed to make contact and educate the person, then refer them to the Oregon Health Authority.”
It’s hard to say what Kristen Savage’s civil disobedience will cost. This is a weird time, when governments are on edge, whistleblowers disappear and all the worst divisions in America — race, class and religion — are being stirred and stretched by politicians from the city councils to Congress. All I know is her phone continues to ring, unanswered.