Downtown Fitness on West Main

Downtown Fitness owner Mark Floyd wipes down equipment last Friday as he prepares to reopen his gym on West Lindsey Street on Monday.

NORMAN — Norman businesses are preparing to reopen as the coronavirus pandemic winds down and while some won’t come back, others have filed a lawsuit against Mayor Breea Clark.

Several businesses were allowed to relax restrictions, such as fitness gyms, dental clinics and optometrists on May 1, while others such as salons and bars remain closed through May 15. If there are no surges in positive cases, all restrictions are projected to lift by June 12.

• Salons react: University Barber Shop announced on April 22 that it was excited to open, a statement on its Facebook page read.

“We are looking forward to opening ASAP. By orders from the mayor of Norman we have to wait at least until May 1. Hopefully she will let us open then?” the post reads.

Days later it was another story.

“We have put 14 years into serving Norman, and having fun along the way. I want to thank all of the families, students, and everyone who ever walked through our door. We appreciate everyone who reached out during this shutdown. Thank you Norman for letting us be a part of the community,” the statement read on Thursday, April 28.

Owner Josh Jewell did not return a call or email for comment. Other salon owners have made their frustrations clear.

Ashley Russell, owner of Lion Salon, Kathryn Morris, owner of Bodyssage, Inc., and owners of Polished Beauty, Susan C. Babb and Dana Bradley filed their lawsuit on April 30.

They are seeking a restraining order of the mayor’s proclamation from District Judge Lori Walkley. Court records do not show they are seeking restitution for financial damages.

Salon Essentials Owner Denise Lamb said she hopes the mayor will reconsider her order with consideration to the stringent sanitary conditions and board oversight that exists for cosmetology salons.

“We wash towels all day and have a fresh towel every time,” Lamb said. “Towels have to be behind a cabinet in case dust might get on it. We wash our towels so much they don’t have time to get dust and germs on them. If we drop a comb on the floor, we’re not allowed to pick it up while we’re cutting someone’s hair. We can’t even leave a comb out on a cabinet if we’re not working. We have alcohol at our stations and disinfectant that spray on our chairs between customers. We’re continually washing our hands.”

It was confusing to Lamb to learn dentists and optometrists, who have close physical contact with patients, were allowed to open while salon owners who can also wear masks and have more distance with customers could not open.

Clark told The Transcript dentists and optometrists were health providers.

“You’ve got to continue to have your teeth and your eyes,” Clark said Friday morning. “Getting your hair done isn’t necessarily a health thing.”

Manager of Phenix Salon Julia Burke was happy to comply with the mayor’s order as many of her stylists do not feel safe enough to return to their booths.

Burke, who said she had lost someone to the virus, hopes it will be safe on May 15.

“I’m up at night worrying about my (salon) girls, my guys that are going to be in here seeing clients,” she said. “It’s the new reality and we can open up and get clients in there and follow the rules. Hopefully we’ll set a good example and nobody will get sick.”

The loss of business has been painful for owners and stylists who are typically self-employed and unable to receive employment benefits from the state. Burke said their studio is lucky because the property owner has not required rent payments and neither has the owner of the studio of its stylists.

Lamb still has to pay her lease but has not “told anybody” to pay booth rent during the shutdown. Some have chosen to pay and others could not.

Ashley Russell, owner of Lion Salon, Kathryn Morris, owner of Bodyssage, Inc., and owners of Polished Beauty, Susan C. Babb and Dana Bradley filed their lawsuit on April 30.

They are seeking a restraining order of the mayor’s proclamation from District Judge Lori Walkley. Court records do not show they are seeking restitution for financial damages.

• Gyms open: While gyms are allowed to reopen with social distancing, sanitation and face coverings for employees, Downtown Fitness isn’t ready yet.

Owner Mark Floyd rearranged the gym for one-way in and another way out and turned off “every other treadmill” to follow the rules. He closed tanning and saunas for health concerns and as he runs a “skeleton” crew for the reopening.

He did not continue to collect memberships fees for some 2,000 members, which cost him tens of thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

“I’m not sure if I could have reopened if this had gone on another month or two,” the 16-year business owner said.

Floyd may also have to hire staff moving forward as some college students moved back home during the pandemic.

As he continued to pay remaining staff, the bills piled up. He was able to received help from the PPP portion of the Cares Act, the federal relief package, this week.

The shutdown was hard on clients too, including one with severe depression.

“The biggest thing for getting gyms open is for people, their mental health, their physical health,” Floyd said. “I had members ask if they could borrow dumb bells. One guy fights major depression and he was like, ‘man I don’t want to end up in a suicide ward.’

• Bounce back: While some businesses have closed like University Barber, city officials cannot speculate how many will follow.

The city of Norman conducted a business survey which received 381 responses when it closed on Thursday.

More than 35% said revenue had decreased by 75% and if the current restrictions remained in place, 26% said they would not be able to reopen if forced to remain closed for the next one to three months.

More than 30% of those surveyed employed 2-5 people and nearly 30% were sole proprietors. Approximately 60% leased their business and only 30% had an online sales presence.

The city council is considering a $5 million business relief package via a general obligation bond it hopes to pass in August. In the meantime, businesses continue to apply for federal relief programs.

Mindy Ragan Wood416-4420mwood@normantranscript.com

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