'I had no income': Michigan barber, 77, refuses to close, has licenses suspended

Minyvonne Burke
Image: Karl Manke (Jeff Kowalsky / AFP - Getty Images)

A Michigan barber who opened his shop in defiance of the governor's coronavirus shutdown orders has had his licenses suspended by the state.

But the barber, Karl Manke, told NBC News on Thursday that he has received no notice from officials about the suspension and has no plans to close his shop in Owosso, about 37 miles northeast of Lansing, the capital.

"If we wait until we're absolutely perfectly safe, we'll never have the freedoms that we had," he said.

Manke, 77, owner of Karl Manke's Barber & Beauty, has been in the business since 1961, and he opened his own shop four years later. He said that in March, when Gov. Gretchen Whitmer first issued a stay-at-home order and closed all nonessential businesses, he shut down his shop.

The order was supposed to have ended in mid-April, but it has been extended. NBC affiliate WDIV of Detroit reported that the order has been extended to May 28.

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Manke, who writes novels on the side, said that because bills and other expenses are piling up, he couldn't remain closed.

"I had no income. There was nothing coming in," he said, adding that places where he did book signings were also closed.

On May 4, he opened up his barbershop — a decision that has led to criticism. A commenter on the shop's Facebook page accused Manke of caring "more about your money than lives." Others have left messages telling him to stay home.

State Attorney General Dana Nessel said Manke's actions put the public at risk.

Nessel said that local police cited Manke for violating the order and that the state's Department of Health and Human Services issued an order requiring Manke to close his barbershop but that he didn't comply.

"Anytime you have a barber or other professional providing services to numerous citizens in close proximity to each other and those citizens are then returning to their various residences, there is a risk of contracting and spreading the virus," the attorney general said in a news release Wednesday. "It is paramount that we take action to protect the public and do our part to help save lives.”

Manke's professional license and the license for his shop "were summarily suspended and an administrative licensing complaint was issued," Nessel said.

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Manke said he wears a mask and uses hand sanitizer regularly while working. He encourages his customers to wear masks and to practice social distancing guidelines. He said he isn't worried about getting sick.

"I've been through so many of these things. I remember as a kid my mother used to make us sit in the basement because of the polio virus. I've been through the Hong Kong flu and the swine flu," he said.

Since he opened his shop again, business has skyrocketed, and a lot of people support his decision, he said. One customer drove from California just for a haircut, Manke said.

"I've met people from every place across the country. Here in Michigan, they're coming from all over the state," he said.