News Story

Salon Owner Reported For Facebook Post, Gets State Inspection

Small town entrepreneur learns value of keeping quiet

Cristy Gutierrez, a single mom and business owner in the rural mid-Michigan town of Gladwin, thinks of herself as a good citizen. One devoted to her family, her customers and her community.

But she says the disruptions of a pandemic and, more directly, the myriad complex, contradictory, and burdensome government edicts it has generated have left her at wit’s end.

The tipping point came early this month when her recently reopened salon received an unexpected visit from an inspector with the Michigan Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs. The inspector was investigating rumors that she was flouting Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s pandemic-related executive orders.

It seems the salon had been reported to LARA after Gutierrez said in a Facebook post that she seldom donned a face mask while serving her customers. The small business owner wrote that most of those customers were comfortable with her other precautions, and that a medical condition makes it uncomfortable for her to wear with a face covering.

Gutierrez says she asks each person in for an appointment, “Do you need me to wear a mask?” The overwhelming majority, she says, reply “No.” She sanitizes everything at every step of the process, and avoids speaking to or even breathing on her clients. The governor’s executive orders limit the shop to one customer at a time, with the door locked between appointments.

The inspector — who Gutierrez said was very nice — ultimately determined that her operation was safe and met the standards required by government orders. But Gutierrez is bothered that it took a single Facebook post to triggering the visit.

“It irritates the hell out of me,” Gutierrez says. “The governor is putting out these executive orders that are pitting people against each other.”

Whitmer is making it a top priority for regulators to enforce her COVID orders, Gutierrez said, at the same time police made a large methamphetamine bust in Gladwin in July.

“That kind of thing is going to bring problems to my kids in high school. Maybe that should be a top priority,” Gutierrez said.

Like many Michigan residents, Gutierrez initially suffered a setback from the pandemic. Her children’s schools closed. She shut down the salon and avoided contact with people.

“I was afraid we were all going to die,” she says.

With the salon closed, the small business owner had trouble paying her bills, property taxes, car payments and insurance. Her savings evaporated.

In the middle of the crisis, Gutierrez, a member of the Gladwin County Emergency Response Team, spent hours addressing the devastation resulting from the collapse of dams on the Tittabawassee River.

Then, as the state authorized businesses to open on a limited basis, came all the restrictions on dealing with clients and sanitizing the salon.

Gutierrez has not been able to bring back a pair of stylists who leased space in her building; her income is approximately 50% of what it had been.

And then came the LARA inspector. Gutierrez says the official determined she was following all the COVID protocols, but advised her not to post comments about her practices on Facebook.

She’s not sure she will heed that advice. Instead, she is participating in the effort to repeal a law that gives the governor open-ended authority to declare and address an emergency.

“The most important thing I’ve learned is that we need to let our (legislative) representatives be a voice for us,” she said. “The people pitted against each other need to remember they are members of a community. You have to take care of your family, your neighbors, your community.”