Nail Salons in Oakland

September 18, 2009

According to the city's resolution, this addition barrier would be “necessary to preserve the public peace, health, welfare, or safety and to avoid a direct threat to the health, safety, and welfare of the community...." At first when I read that, I thought they were talking about the health and safety issues of the workers in nail salons because of the chemicals issue and lack of proper ventilation. But no, the reasoning behind it is because nail salons are not attractive, and would deter more high end businesses from moving in.

There are some interesting comments in the post at local blog A Better Oakland, which is the first place I have seen write about this (thanks to our creative director, Erica, for pointing it out). People are either appalled at the city council and rightly agree that nail shops and laundromats are things that local people use a lot, while a few others think there are too many nail shops as it is. It's true; in some parts of Oakland, along certain boulevards, there's probably an average of a nail shop on every former. But what type of business would go there instead? I really don't know. There are already many empty storefronts as it is.

However, very few of the commenters recognize that perhaps the bigger picture of nail salon proliferation is health and safety of the workers, and thus consumers and those who live around the shops. For example, an oversaturation of the business leads to more competition and driving down of prices, which could mean worse working conditions for employees. I have not been to the council meetings where they've talked about this issue, so perhaps there is more to this ordinance, but based solely on the way it's written, it seems like their reasons behind limiting these businesses is pretty weak. I mean, why? And is this ordinance really necessary? People who want to open nail shops are just going to open them in neighboring cities, like Alameda or Emeryville, which doesn't address the worker safety issue.

In my opinion, as the nail salon industry has grown, the people who work there have been made an easy target, and this ordinance is just another example. From the sketch by Anjelah Johnson, who makes fun of nail salon workers, to salons getting robbed, and now this.    

Anyway, here are some of the more interesting comments from A Better Oakland's post about Oakland's emergency ordinance: 

“Higher value stores” for whom? Nail and hair salons are among the few owner-operated businesses left. I think there’s a market for a combo laundromat, nail shop, liquor store for the multi-tasking women of Oakland (with wifi and coffee, of course)..."

"Over recent years my business has been located upstairs from a wig shop, a low-end auto insurance company, and two nail shops, among other retail businesses. My experience of nail shops is that they are the least troublesome except in one regard: ventilation. It is a serious health issue for the workers, patrons, and upstairs neighbors to be protected from toxic vapors, especially the workers (exposed all day). I believe that the ventilation, odor, and toxicity aspects are the things to focus on. The rest is a non-problem. The nail salon folks are going to have to compete on the leasing market. We don’t have to regulate them other than for health and safety."

"Nail shops are as American as barbershops. If a landlord wants to rent to a nail shop, let the City Council and Planning Department butt out. Emergency, my foot."

Thoughts? I'd love to hear from an API perspective and specifically from organizations that work with nail salon workers.  


Momo Chang

Senior Contributing Editor

Momo Chang is the Content Manager at the Center for Asian American Media, and freelances for magazines, online publications, and weeklies. Her writings focus on Asian American communities, communities of color, and youth culture. She is a former staff writer at the Oakland Tribune. Her stories range from uncovering working conditions in nail salons, to stories about “invisible minorities” like Tongan youth and Iu Mien farmers. She has freelances The New York Times, WIRED, and East Bay Express, among other publications.



Update:It looks like some local groups are mobilizing community members to speak out about the nail salon/laundromat ordinance. It sounds like some people will be going to the City Council meeting tonight to present their point of view. Here's an email I received:Nail Salon/Laundromat MoratoriumTake actions and help nail salon workers to have a voice in regulating the industry in Oakland!This Tuesday (today), the City of Oakland plans to pass a new law that seeks to deter and prevent people from opening up new Laundromats and Nail Salons.After the law is passed, if nail salon workers want to open a nail salon, they will have to get a permit from the city, which will cost you anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000. Additionally, before they can even open their shop, they have to make a presentation to the City's Planning Commission to tell them about their business plan in English.The city created these regulations on their own, without input from nail salon workers/owners. We need to act now and let the City Council know that the nail salon workers/owners need to have a voice at the table!This is the first step in a series of regulations that the city is going to do for nail salons. We do not know what the regulations will be in the future. We need to make sure that nail salon workers have a voice in the process now. In an economic time like this, how can the City do anything to stop people from opening up businesses that provide jobs for people?Take Action:Come out this Tuesday to City council meeting September 22, at 6p.m.Sign the Petition along with all nail salon workers/owners!Vote NO on the Ordinance