This story has been updated.
Cat Thibodeau opened the doors of Modern Barber and Shave Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. -- as she had consistently advertised on social media.
And the line of at least six customers on her porch in Pawcatuck seemed to validate that decision.
“I’m feeling really good,” Thibodeau said. “I’m feeling excited to see my customers after a two-month hiatus, and catch up.”
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But because of the way events of the week unfolded, this reopening wasn’t so much a return to normal for Thibodeau as it was a small act of rebellion. On Monday, after weeks of signaling that hair salons would be among the first wave of businesses allowed to reopen, Gov. Ned Lamont did an about-face, and he pushed back their reopening until June.
“I was very confused,” Thibodeau said. “When we were first closed down, it was to flatten the curve. I think we’ve done that. It’s time to open back up, no matter what his buddies in Fairfield are doing regarding their businesses.”
When he made his announcement Monday, Lamont said he was reacting to feedback from employees and salon owners across Connecticut who said they didn’t yet feel safe returning to work.
Thibodeau said she’s spent thousands of dollars on personal protective equipment and has invested in booking software and touchless payment. Her 6-year-old business was previously a traditional, walk-up barber service with no appointments.
“I’ve had to completely turn my business on its head, but I’m willing to do anything I can not to lose it,” she said.
Ahead of her 9.30 a.m. opening, Thibodeau played host to State Sen. Heather Somers and Stonington First Selectman Danielle Chesebrough -- the latter said she was there to make sure the situation stayed under control. And Thibodeau’s premises were inspected by the local Ledge Light Health District.
“It’s a little unclear at this time who has the enforcement authority of the executive order,” said Katie Baldwin, the district’s supervisor of regulated facilities. “So today I wasn’t saying that she could not open, I wasn’t saying that she could open. I was simply stopping in to make sure that she was able to comply with the reopen rules.”
Thibodeau said she’s appreciative that the health district has done its best to work with her, despite her unorthodox approach to the reopening order.
The barber said she has bookings through June, one person at a time, with time for sanitation of her one working chair in between.
John Alfiero of Westerly, R.I., was the first customer in the chair Wednesday morning. He’s a regular here, and he said for him, today was about more than just a haircut -- it’s about supporting a local entrepreneur.
“I know what she’s done to build this business, I know what she’s done to keep it clean, and she’s put every practice in place,” Alfiero said. “She deserves this -- she really deserves this. These local businesses, if they don’t start opening slightly like this, they’re going to go bankrupt.”
But late Wednesday came the news that it looks as if the Pawcatuck barber's small rebellion may be over.
Ledge Light Health District, after consultation with the state health officials, announced that it did have the authority to enforce closure of businesses in violation of the Governor's reopen orders.
Ledge Light Director of Health Steve Mansfield told The Day that his agency informed Thibodeau late Wednesday afternoon that she cannot continue to operate. He said Stonington police will deliver a formal order of closure to her at 8 a.m. Thursday.
If she continues to operate, it will be a matter for police to enforce.