Can San Diego gyms and salons just operate outdoors?

Outside workouts at The Movement Warehouse gym in Pacific Beach.
Michael Hamanaka, center, owner of The Movement Warehouse in Pacific Beach, works outside with clients after new COVID-19 restrictions on July 15, 2020 in San Diego.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

Gavin Newsom’s order to shut down all indoor operations for many businesses in San Diego has some wondering if they can move outside


The latest government order to shut down indoor operations at San Diego gyms, salons and other personal services has many locals wondering — will we soon be doing haircuts and bench presses outside? After all, the region has some of the greatest weather business owners could ask for, and summertime could be prime time for al fresco everything.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s new order to shutter indoor work came Monday for fitness centers, places of worship, non-essential offices, nail salons, tattoo parlors, hair salons and barbershops, among other personal care services. Indoor protests are also not permitted. The rules took effect Wednesday, just a week after local restaurants and bars faced similar restrictions designed to stymie the novel coronavirus rates statewide.

While many San Diego restaurants quickly expanded to parking lots and curbs in the days that followed — unfolding umbrellas, rolling out artificial grass and hanging twinkle lights — the same idea may not come so easily to other types of businesses. Especially salons, which have a regulatory hangup.

Aided by an executive order from San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer that waived permits for outdoor dining, restaurants have been thrown a rope to continue making money without delays. But it remains to be seen whether other businesses such as gyms and salons will get the same treatment. When asked if the county would waive permits for outdoor operations in its unincorporated areas, San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox deflected during Monday’s press conference, pointing business owners to the county website for more information on how to expand outdoors.

Faulconer, however, sent a letter to Newsom on Tuesday (signed by Faulconer and San Diego Councilman Chris Cate ) requesting that the governor to temporarily amend state code through emergency action to allow hair salons and barbershops to operate outside.

Haircuts on the curb. Wait, is that allowed?

After Monday’s announcement that indoor operations must cease at hair salons and barbershops throughout California, social media lit up with stylists and salon owners discussing plans for outdoor haircuts. In the first moments after hearing the news, Encinitas salon owner Gayle Fulbright imagined she might rent outdoor tents and sinks to continue work outside. It’s an idea that struck many salon owners early on, but their plans were soon thwarted by the California State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology, which is the government body that regulates these businesses.

Hours after Monday’s announcement, the State Board released its own statement.

“Effective July 13, 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered that specific businesses on the county monitoring list must close immediately in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. This applies to all hair salons, barbershops and personal care services (which includes nail salons, esthetic salons, and electrology offices) that are within the monitored counties. In addition, section 7317 of the Business and Professions Code requires that all barbering, cosmetology and electology services be performed in a licensed establishment. Therefore, establishments that are within the specified counties must close immediately and not offer any services (including any outdoor services).”

Fulbright owns Headlines The Salon, which employs 30 people who just came off unemployment six weeks ago to return to work. Fulbright was able to entice them back with higher wages after receiving the government-backed Payroll Protection Program loan, which she’s mostly drained in the first weeks of operations to cover payroll.

“Will the government help us again?” Fulbright said. “Because the first question out of all my employees’ mouth was, ‘what about unemployment?’”

She was devastated by the realization that the State Board may not budge on the outdoor rule and is working with a small group of San Diego salon owners to petition regulators for a temporary allowance during the COVID-19 emergency.

“Our clients want us to do their hair outside,” Fulbright said. “Let us do it legally, outside like restaurants.”

If regulators won’t allow it, Headlines The Salon will shutter again, Fulbright said. But she’s not so sure other salons will follow suit. There are rumors that some are papering their windows and continuing to operate inside. Others are making house calls to do their clients’ hair behind closed doors.

“If we’re outside with masks and sanitation, it’s way better than home haircutting,” Fulbright said. “If you don’t let them do it, people will sneak around.”

Fulbright said if salons and barbershops take to the streets against the wishes of the State Board, they could face fines and the loss of their licenses, especially if they are repeat offenders.

The State Board did not reply to the Union-Tribune’s request for comment.

“Local barbershops and hair salons have felt severe strain from the current public health orders,” wrote Faulconer and Cate in Tuesday’s letter to Newsom. “In the City of San Diego alone, there are over 1,500 barbershops and hair salons serving our residents. Due to yesterday’s amended order from your office, all local barbershops and hair salons face imminent closure and many of these establishments will not survive a second mandatory shutdown... We respectfully request your office review and temporarily amend state code through emergency action to allow hair salons and barbershops to operate outdoors.”

Some San Diego gyms better equipped than most to operate outside

Local fitness studios located in prime spots with large parking lots (assuming gyms will eventually get similar treatment as restaurants) will weather the closures better than others. Having access to outdoor private spaces is even better, but few gyms are so lucky.

Pacific Beach fitness spot The Movement Warehouse is one such lucky location. Owner Michael Hamanaka said the gym leased the space back in 2017 with an odd setup: 1,100 square feet of indoor space and 2,500 square feet of private outdoor space.

“It’s not a parking lot,” Hamanaka said. “It’s a space we transformed for outdoor workouts.”

The gym has been doing outdoor fitness classes for the past three years, but after hearing Newsom’s order Monday, decided to drag out all its indoor equipment to the yard space. Now, the site is loaded with bench presses, dumbbells, squat racks and more.

“The equipment will take a hit. It will get a little rusty,” Hamanaka said. “But if we can stay open and keep the revenue that’s pretty much OK.”

For those still interested in outdoor classes, Hamanaka has designed a circuit-style workout program that allows each member to use two pieces of equipment for a lengthier interval. Then the class takes a 1.5-minute break for sanitation and then switches stations.

Although he’s worried about the summer heat, Hamanaka said he’s lucky to have such a space, as he knows most gyms can’t shift to outdoor fitness so easily.

“We can lock up all our equipment outside,” he said. “We can lock our doors, leave our tires, sleds and sets out. We don’t have to carry in and carry out all this equipment. For other gyms, it will be a hell of a lot of work to set up classes for the day.”

Gyms situated in spots like downtown San Diego are in more of a pinch. Most have no parking lots to expand to, and very little likelihood of outdoor private space. Balanced Fitness and Health, a gym on the second and third floors of 7th Avenue, has nowhere it could go. The gym spent the last shutdown renovating its interior and setting up the location for indoor safety. After barely a month reopened, the fitness center faces another closure.

When asked Monday if the gym could shift any of its operations outside, owner Rodrigo Iglesias said, “I don’t have an answer for you on that one.”