Two of the small businesspeople seeking a relaxation of coronavirus economic restrictions held a rowdy press conference Monday in the Michigan barbershop that has become a national symbol of the swelling conflict between small businesses and state officials keeping their economies locked down.
To chants of “Karl! Karl! Karl,” Owosso barber Karl Manke spoke to a group of supporters in his barbershop, which also has become the center of a court battle between him and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
“Michigan — all of you business owners, open up your stores!” Mr. Manke said. “Stand up and show up!”
Just before the press conference, Ms. Whitmer announced retailers could reopen starting Friday in Upper Michigan and northern Lower Michigan.
The announcement did little to assuage the anger evident in Mr. Manke’s shop, however. Shelley Luther, a Texas hair salon owner who was briefly jailed for refusing to abide by prolonged shutdown orders in her county, joined Mr. Manke and others at the conference organized by Stand Up Michigan and Mr. Manke’s attorneys.
One of them, molecular biologist David Skjaerlund, argued the prolonged shutdown is no longer achieving any positive public health result in a state where the COVID-19 death curve has flattened. Rising cases are more linked to more widespread testing than a raging epidemic at this point, Mr. Skjaerlund said.
“It’s not up to the governor to trickle out freedoms like she did today,” he said.
Ms. Whitmer has flexed her muscle repeatedly against Mr. Manke since he defied the shutdown order and reopened May 4. Last week a Shiawassee County judge ruled against the Whitmer administration’s request for a temporary restraining order that would have closed the barbershop. The county sheriff declined to enforce a shutdown order.
In response, a state board stripped Mr. Manke of his license without holding a hearing, a restriction that went into effect when he was served with it last Thursday night.
Mr. Mank’s barbershop has been closed since then, although his lawyer, David Kallman, said Monday they are fighting in court on two fronts: A response to the attorney general’s appeal on the temporary restraining order; and an emergency request to reinstate Mr. Manke’s license.
Ms. Luther, who was freed by the Texas Supreme Court ,wasted no time blasting Ms. Whitmer.
“A lot of people wondered why I stood up on this, me, too,” Ms. Luther said. “Stop being a tyrant! Gretchen, the state of Michigan will vote you out!”
Asking why Ms. Whitmer’s shutdown permitted marijuana, liquor sales and abortions but not hair cuts, Ms. Luther said an underground economy in which customers seek haircuts is far less sanitary than one in which she and Mr. Manke operate with social distancing and other guidelines in place.
The Michigan battle has been joined by the legislature’s Republican majority, with lawmakers filing suit against the governor’s extensions of the emergency closures.
Mr. Manke closed the raucous conference with a vow to “be open tomorrow.”
“Two weeks ago, I walked into that barbershop with a mixture of fear and courage, fear and courage,” he said. “And I finally had the courage to put that fear away when I walked into that door.”
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