A barbershop owner who had his license suspended after he reopened his business amid the statewide shutdown held a protest Wednesday and Thursday where he cut people’s hair for free in front of Vacaville City Hall.

Juan Desmarais, the owner of Primo’s Barbershop, had both his barbering and business establishment licenses suspended by the State Board of Barbering and Cosmetology on Oct. 29. The decision stemmed from Desmarais opting to reopen his business in May at a time when barbershops were forbidden by the state from operating in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Despite other barbershops and salons operating during that time, Desmarais said he was the only one who received a cease and desist.

“For whatever reason, the city of Vacaville chose to discriminate against me and my shops,” he said.

On the day of the reopening, Desmarais was served with a cease-and-desist order by the city. He remained adamant about continuing to operate Primo’s and continually spoke about refusing to comply with the state’s order to local and national news outlets.

In October, Desmarais received a letter from the California Attorney General’s Office advising him the state would request a legal hearing to revoke his license. According to a document provided by the California Department of Consumer Affairs, the hearing was requested following 33 complaints filed against Primo’s and two separate visits by board inspectors to the Dobbins Street shop, which found that none of the employees or patrons were wearing masks or engaging in social distancing during either visit.

Juan Desmarais poses for a picture with Logan Millard, 12, and his mother, Laura of Fairfield after Desmarais cut Logan’s hair during his peaceful protest Thursday in front of Vacaville City Hall.(Joel Rosenbaum — The Reporter)Desmarais appeared before the board on Oct. 29, which resulted in a suspension of his licenses. However, he decided he would offer haircuts for free in front of City Hall.

“This is my way of saying, Hey, Vacaville, you’re not gonna stop me and neither is the state,” he said. “You’re not gonna vilify my profession, and you’re not gonna stop me from providing for my family.”

Desmarais had a chair and table set up with scissors, clippers, brushes and even lollipops for the kids. Anybody who wanted to stop by and get a haircut could.

Desmarais said free haircuts were not regulated by the state.

“The state can’t take away my ability to cut hair,” he said.

Desmarais said the issue was not about making money, as he had enough in retirement funds from working for the California Highway Patrol and serving as a Marine.

“This is me taking a stand and not standing up for the tyranny our governor has put us through,” he said.

Desmarais is equally dissatisfied with Mayor Ron Rowlett for what he describes as an “inability…to lead this city without cowering to the higher politics of the state.” To that end, Desmarais said he is planning to run for mayor in 2022.

“Whether I win or not, it doesn’t matter,” he said. “I’m running for the fact that I can’t stand poor leadership, and that I believe leadership lead from the front and work for their constituents.”

Desmarais said he had cut more than 45 heads of hair Wednesday, and several others stopped by or honked their horns in support.

“It’s garnishing the positive attention I wanted to,” he said.

After all the haircuts were done, Desmarais said he “left the area cleaner than I found it.”

Ashley Jimenez-Pepper of Vacaville brought her 9-month-old son Jeffrey Pepper by for his second-ever haircut after hearing about the event on Facebook. She said it was unfair that big-box stores were allowed to remain open but smaller businesses had to close down.

Set up next to the Solano County Vietnam Veterans Memorial in front of Vacaville City Hall, Juan Desmarais, the owner of Primo’s Barbershop staged a two-day peaceful protest by cutting hair for free.(Joel Rosenbaum — The Reporter)“I have a lot of friends who were in the salon industry, and I’ve watched them struggle and wait for their unemployment,” she said. “There’s hundreds of people going through Costco and other stores daily.”

Trent Gardner said he had been going to Primo’s with his sons for the last few years and wanted to show support for Desmarais. He said lending his support to Primo’s went beyond the political debate.

“I consider Juan our guy,” he said. “I think it’s representative of more than just this particular industry but small business in general.”

Gardner said it seemed like the state was “trying to make an example” out of Desmarais since he has been the most vocal about his opposition to the shutdown.

“It’s very cool for him not to back down,” he said.

Desmarais said he was going to meet with legal counsel and try to appeal the suspension. If he is unsuccessful, he has an asset in Primo’s that he would be able to sell at any time. In any circumstance, he said he is going to continue barbering.

“I’m not going to cower and hide,” he said.


By Kelley Wheeler

Kelley Wheeler is a Metro reporter covering political issues and general assignments. A second-generation journalist, worked with all major news outlet, she holds a vast expeirience. Kelley is a graduate of USC with degrees in journalism and English literature. She is a recipient of Yale’s Poynter Fellowship in Journalism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *