When San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg mandated last week that all local restaurants, bars, and other places people gather should close their doors, local business owner Nicki Murrell asked why not hair and nail salons, too.

“There’s no way we can service anyone three to six feet away from them,” said Murrell, owner of Man Up Nail, 4407 Walzem Road, which provides manicures, pedicures, and massage therapy for men and women.

On Monday, however, Mayor Ron Nirenberg and Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff jointly enacted a “stay home, work safe” order, closing all businesses, including the salons. The only exemptions are health care services, infrastructure and public works, construction and public transportation, information technology, grocery stores, child care, financial institutions, and the media. Restaurants may continue carry-out and delivery service.

For a complete list of businesses that are exempt under emergency order No. 5, visit the City of San Antonio website here.

In an attempt to control the spread of COVID-19, most public places, including restaurants, bars, and gyms, were closed by state and local orders March 18 and 19. On Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott also ordered massage therapy centers to close through April 3.

But essential services such as grocery stores, gas stations, banks, and some retail establishments remained open – along with hair and nail salons.

Though six counties in the state, and New Braunfels, had earlier added them to their closure lists, some San Antonio hair and nail salons were still open on Saturday.

In Bexar County, there are 1,100 barber shops, 1,350 salons, and 515 esthetician and manicure salons licensed by the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR).

“The main reason why they weren’t originally included is because normally those aren’t places of high congregation,” said Michelle Vigil, Metro Health spokeswoman. “They are asked to enforce the rule of [social distancing], but when it comes to nail salons, you can be only so far. So that may change.”

Upon hearing that salons were exempt from the order to close, Murrell called the mayor and TDLR to complain, and voluntarily closed her salon March 19, putting herself and two others out of work.

Man Up Nail was closed voluntarily on March 19. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

Murrell hopes social distancing will help protect her 90-year-old mother, but it comes at a cost.

“It’s a huge hit [financially],” she said. “But what do you do? You keep working until you get [coronavirus]? Because if you get it, you are definitely not going to be working.”

Tela Mange, a TDLR spokeswoman, said the agency does not have the authority to do an industry-wide, wholesale closure of the barbers, cosmetology programs, or massage therapy centers it regulates. Only the governor, a county judge, or local health authorities can do that, she said.

Instead, Murrell said she feels local salon owners and employees should close their shops and cope with the economic losses by working out payment arrangements with their landlords and the utility company and taking advantage of disaster relief loans provided for small businesses.

“You can’t just say, ‘Oh I got to keep working,’ without even trying,” she said, also acknowledging that in her case, her husband’s retirement check will tide them over.

The stay home/work safe order put in place on Monday starts at 11:59 p.m. on Tuesday and will remain in effect for nearly three weeks.

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Shari Biediger is the development beat reporter for the San Antonio Report.