Owosso barber refuses to close shop amid Michigan’s stay-at-home order

Barber faces, ignores multiple citations prohibiting him from operating his business


OWOSSO, Mich. – Karl Manke, 77, of Owosso recently reopened his barber shop to the public, defying the state’s current stay-at-home order amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Multiple news sources report that Manke’s shop has been providing services since May 4 -- which directly contradicts Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s stay-at-home order, prohibiting “non-essential” businesses from remaining open amid the pandemic.

The stay-at-home order was recently extended through May 28 to continue to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the state.

May 10, 2020: Michigan coronavirus (COVID-19) cases up to 47,138; Death toll now at 4,551

In a Twitter post from Mid-Michigan NOW reporter Jonathan Deutsch, Manke says that he has no animosity toward the governor or the stay-at-home order -- he just needs to work to make an income.

Manke says he waited as long as he could to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but without unemployment he needs a way to make money. The barber claims he doesn’t see much difference between his work and those working at grocery stores like Walmart, saying he has social distancing protocols in place and accessible hand sanitizer.

Multiple sources report that the barber shop has attracted a large number of customers from all around the state in the last week. Crowds of people have lined up outside the barbershop to receive a haircut, which most haven’t had access to since the pandemic hit.

News stations report that Manke has received several citations for ignoring the executive order and operating his non-essential business.

Most notably, Manke received a Health Protection Order from Michigan State Police on behalf of Attorney General Dana Nessel on Friday. The order requires Manke to close his business by Monday or else Nessel will request an order from the Shiawasee County Circuit Court to close the barber shop down.

Nessel’s office released the following statement regarding Manke’s actions:

"It is without question that we are in the middle of a public health crisis. Both the Governor, through her executive orders, and the MDHHS Director, through his orders, are focused on protecting the public health of Michigan residents. Based upon our present knowledge of COVID-19, businesses that require close contact – like Mr. Manke’s barbershop – present one of the highest risks for spreading the virus, not just to the City of Owosso, but to the State of Michigan as a whole. According to recent new stories, the shop has received visits from Ann Arbor, Saginaw, Detroit, Jackson and other areas.

“Mr. Manke was given every opportunity to voluntarily comply with the Governor’s Executive Order and the order of the Michigan Department of Health & Human Services Director. As a result of his continued operation, today his business was deemed an imminent danger to the public health and ordered to be shut down by the MDHHS Director. If he refuses, the Department of Attorney General will request an order from the Shiawassee County Circuit Court on Monday to close his business. Mr. Manke’s actions are not a display of harmless civil disobedience. His actions are counterproductive to the collective effort businesses and communities everywhere have made to slow the spread of COVID-19, and by opening the doors to his business, he’s putting the lives of many more Michiganders at risk.”

Mid-Michigan NOW reports that Manke fully intends to return to work on Monday, despite the latest order in place.

If Manke does choose to disobey the order come Monday, police may have a difficult time enforcing it.

Members of the Michigan Militia have gathered outside of the barber shop on Saturday in support of Manke and his business -- promising to protect him from law enforcement should a situation arise.

“Yesterday six troopers came in to enforce the governor’s order or to issue a cease or desist order so we are here to make sure he doesn’t get arrested. We’re willing to stand in front of that door and block the entrance so the police will have no entry there today,” Owosso resident Daniel Brewer told Mid-Michigan NOW.

Officials say if the Shiawasee County Circuit Court orders the barber shop to close and Manke disobeys, he can be held in contempt of court.


About the Author:

Cassidy Johncox is a senior digital news editor covering stories across the spectrum, with a special focus on politics and community issues.