Associated Press

The mop of black hair was getting into Nathan Vick’s eyes. His friends begged him to keep it; his girlfriend wanted it gone. She won.

As soon as Vick saw a barbershop near him was re-opening, the 28-year-old highway worker from Huntington Beach — who’s out of work due to the virus crisis — was among the first to get in Wednesday. His temperature was taken, a masked barber wiped down the seat, and soon, his thick locks fell to the floor.

“Six months without getting a haircut, I start to look like a caveman,” Vick said. “It’s just like toilet paper — who would have known it was so essential to life? It really is.”

The day after California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced hair salons could re-open, Vick was among those who quickly made appointments to get themselves back in the chair. What for some might seem an occasional luxury or whimsy is a vital service for those who get regular cuts to meet work requirements or to just feel like themselves.

Louie Ruvalcaba was another customer at Orange County Barbers Parlor, a shop decorated with photos of baseball players and Kobe Bryant. The 30-year-old firefighter had been coming in for a haircut every couple of weeks for the past three years until the closure.

One of his fellow firefighters had been trimming his hair to keep a clean look for work, Ruvalcaba said. But he was quick to nab an appointment with his regular barber to get a cut and renew acquaintances with someone who has become his friend as they chatted about baseball and music.

“We just hang out and chill and it’s good,” Ruvalcaba said. “It’s like a man cave in there.”

The camaraderie of the barbershop and salon is part of regular life for many Californians that was shut off as people retreated into their homes in March under the state’s orders aimed at preventing the spread of the virus.

For weeks, salon owners lobbied for local and state governments to let them reopen. The owners argued they already must meet detailed health safety requirements to be licensed in California and they provide an essential service.

On Tuesday, Newsom announced hair salons could reopen in the 47 counties that have been cleared by the state to move faster on lifting virus restrictions, a surprise to many who had expected a longer wait. Newsom, whose well-coiffed hair grew noticeably longer during the shutdown, also revealed that during the weekend his young children had trimmed his “mullet.”

When Susie Smith got the news Tuesday afternoon she took down the curtains at her Huntington Beach salon to wash the windows in preparation for reopening. Customers immediately came knocking, asking for a haircut.

She said she’s fielded calls these past two months from men nearly in tears offering to pay her double to cut their hair so they felt like themselves again.

On Wednesday, when she reopened her Makin Waves salon blocks from the beach, four women were eagerly waiting to get in. Because of state regulations Smith can only use half of her eight chairs and walk-ins aren’t allowed.

But she said it’s good to be back.

“We’re just happy to have light back in the salon,” she said. “Our hands were really tied.”

That’s not to say hair cutting wasn’t happening. Some stylists were making illegal house calls or allowing haircuts in their homes or on an individual basis behind closed doors at their shops.

Under rules for reopening, physical distancing of at least 6 feet (1.8 meters) must be maintained except during hair cutting and other close-contact services and appointments must be staggered to reduce congestion and allow for cleaning of chairs and implements between visits.

To comply with the state’s rules, Country Club Barbers in Escondido, north of San Diego, left two of its five chairs empty. A bottle of Lysol and pair of surgical gloves lay next to shaving supplies. Stylists wore black face coverings, and a customer lifted the elastic from his own mask off his ear so he could get his sideburns trimmed.

But the men didn’t mind the changes and had no qualms about returning to their longtime shop. After watching his hair grow with each passing week of Zoom calls, high school teacher D.J. Goodwiler said he was glad to finally do something about it.

“It’s good to get some of the bulk off your head and feel cleaner,” said Goodwiler, who wore a black mask as his barber snipped his hair. “I trust my stylist. I trust the shop.”

Associated Press writer Julie Watson and photographer Greg Bull in San Diego contributed to this report.

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