A Vacaville barbershop owner who gained national attention for opening up his shop during California’s shelter-at-home order now has his barbering and business licenses on the line.

Juan Desmarais, owner of Primo’s Barbershop on Dobbins Street, received a letter from the California Attorney General’s Office advising him the state would request a legal hearing to consider revoking his licenses for not remaining closed when other barbershops were during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Desmarais said he was disappointed but not surprised.

“I’m disappointed in the leadership (at all levels),” he said. “I’m disappointed that the state won’t admit that this whole pandemic shutdown was an overreach of power… Not only is it gonna hurt the economy — it has hurt the economy — but they’re gonna continue to hurt the economy in order to save face.”

On May 1, Desmarais reopened Primo’s, which had been closed since mid-March due to the state’s prohibition on keeping barbershops open to stop the spread of the coronavirus. In the lead-up to the reopening, Desmarais gave interviews to several local news channels as well as national outlets such as CNN and Fox News Channel.

The same day, Desmarais received a cease-and-desist order from the city advising that he could face fines and possible imprisonment if he continued operating. He kept his shop going, even as barbershops were ordered to close again in July after being allowed to reopen with modifications in late May. As of September, barbershops and salons are now allowed to be open again.

The cease-and-desist order, Desmarais said, is serving as the “smoking gun” for the hearing.

“That’s what the state is utilizing against me,” he said.

Desmarais pointed out that other salons and barbershops were open, but he was the only one served with a cease-and-desist.

“If they would have been fair, then it wouldn’t just be me being targeted,” he said.

Desmarais said the letter informed him he had defied the state’s order and cited the cease-and-desist order, his public discussions with news outlets and 33 complaints from citizens as well as other barbershop and salon owners. A remote hearing has been set for 9 a.m. Oct. 23, but Desmarais said he was trying to get it extended so it could be done in person.

“If you’re gonna accuse me and you’re gonna take away my licenses, you’re gonna strip me of a way to provide for my family, then at least do it in person,” he said.

Desmarais said he plans to get a lawyer and wants to be able to call witnesses as well as those who filed complaints. He wants to ask why House Speaker Nancy Pelosi — who visited a salon in San Francisco in August  — was able to get away with the act, and subpoena Gov. Gavin Newsom to see why the shutdown has taken so long.

Desmarais said he did not set out to be a symbol of rebellion but he wanted to stand up to an order he felt was unjust.

“Nobody in this community had a backbone,” he said.

He said he understood the decisions for other barbershop and salon owners to remain closed but wanted to take action when it became clear the shutdown would not end soon.

“Nobody was bailing any barbershop or salon out, so I feel sympathy for all owners, but it’s not my fault that their fight-or-fliight mechanism made them fly,” he said. “I’m a fighter, and I’m not going to be bullied, told that I’m not allowed to make a living for my family or that my barbers who work for me aren’t going to be able to provide for their families.”

As a former Marine and police officer, Desmarais said he was trained to see right from wrong and he knew there would be consequences for his actions. Based on the politics of the state, he said he was not expecting to win his case, although he would continue to appeal until all options are exhausted.

However, Desmarais said if he did lose his license, he would pursue other options including going to people’s homes to cut hair.

“The one thing they can’t strip me of is my ability to cut hair,” he said.

Additionally, Desmarais said if it came down to it, he would sell his shop in Vacaville as well as additional Primo’s locations in Dixon, Winters and Eureka to keep his staff employed.

“Primo’s Barbershop is gonna stay Primo’s Barbershop,” he said. “It might not be owned by me anymore, but this shop’s not going anywhere. We’re not going to back down, and we’re gonna continue to stick around.”

A group called Patriots for Primo’s posted on Facebook that they planned to stand in solidarity with the shop by organizing protests in front of Vacaville City Hall at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Oct. 17 and 22 respectively.



By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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