How a Dallas salon owner changed Texas’ reopening debate

Dallas salon owner Shelley Luther reopened Salon A la Mode April 24 in violation of state and local guidelines and was issued a citation when she refused to close. She later was sent to jail by a Dallas County judge. (AP Photo/LM Otero)
                  <h1>How a Dallas salon owner changed Texas' reopening debate</h1>

                  <p class="byline">
                    <span class="byline--item">By <a href="">Emma Platoff</a>, The Texas Tribune</span>
                    <time class="byline--item" datetime="Fri, 15 May 2020 06:00:00 -0500"
                          title="2020-05-15 06:00">May 15, 2020</time>
                                            <p>"<a href="">How a Dallas salon owner changed Texas' reopening debate</a>" was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

                  <div class="content">

                    <p>By April 27, when Gov. <a href="">Greg Abbott</a> announced that hair salons and barbershops would have to remain shuttered, Shelley Luther’s Salon a la Mode had long since opened for business.</p>

Her stylists trimmed and chatted as Abbott said that restaurants could partially reopen, but not salons, where he said the risk of spreading COVID-19 was higher because of close quarters. As for enforcement, he reminded the news cameras, violators faced a $1,000 fine and up to 180 days in jail.

Luther knew she was operating in blatant defiance of emergency orders from the state and county. She had already torn up a cease-and-desist letter from local authorities, winning loud cheers onstage at an Open Texas rally in Frisco.

But when the governor’s team reached out to her that week, it was not to demand that she close or to threaten the jail time he had warned about. Instead, his advisers sought her guidance: How could they open salons sooner? What safety measures did she recommend?

Just over a week later, Abbott had done what Luther wanted, allowing salons to reopen sooner than anticipated, and Luther was in jail — a Democratic judge in Dallas issued the sentence when she repeatedly refused to close her salon.

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She wasn’t the first beautician to find herself in legal trouble for violating coronavirus orders; two Laredo women, Ana Isabel Castro-Garcia and Brenda Stephanie Mata, were arrested in mid-April for offering cosmetic services. But unlike in those cases, Luther’s arrest prompted widespread, sustained outrage on the ideological right, and Abbott joined a cluster of GOP officials in all three branches of government clamoring for her release. After an emergency request from her prominent Republican attorneys, the Texas Supreme Court ordered it.

But while she’s out of jail and her salon is free to operate, Luther’s spotlight hasn’t faded.

She has become a cause celebré on the right and persona non grata on the left. Supporters see a crusader whose protest changed minds at the top levels of government; skeptics see a privileged business owner whose refusal to follow the rules forced a weak governor to change them. And both recognize the emergence of a new quasi-celebrity, appearing on “The View” and headlining rallies across the state, bolstered by half a million dollars in crowdfunded support and a new press team of prominent GOP consultants, whose star shows no sign of fading.


In March, as the new coronavirus was just starting to cause widespread concern in the U.S., Luther drove with her boyfriend, Tim Georgeff, from Dallas to Galveston to board a cruise.

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“I have a real good friend who’s a doctor,” Georgeff told a local news station reporting on virus-related fears. “It’s really nothing more than a severe cold.”

As panic ramped up through the end of the month, Luther was at first willing to tolerate the stay-at-home orders that shuttered businesses across the state. But in April she changed her mind, insisting she had to reopen out of economic necessity. She began to make the rounds on local media, telling news anchors she would institute safety protocols like face masks but that she had the right to earn money. (Luther would learn later, in early May, that she had been approved for an $18,000 loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program.)

Shelley Luther, owner of Salon a la Mode in Dallas, was issued a citation after reopening her business in violation of local and state stay at home orders.
Shelley Luther, owner of Salon a la Mode in Dallas, was issued a citation after reopening her business in violation of local and state stay at home orders. REUTERS/Jeremy Lock

Luther, who was not available for an interview but submitted written statements in response to The Texas Tribune, said she was always more focused on helping her stylists get back to work than on sparking a movement.

“Reopening my salon wasn’t a political statement, it was a necessity for the people that rely on it,” she said.

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Whatever her intentions, Luther quickly made a splash in political circles.

Her media appearances drew the attention of Rick Hire, who, like Luther, was a member of the Open Texas Facebook group that had agitated for a faster, more complete reopening of Texas businesses. Hire, who runs an IT business near Houston, had once been temporarily suspended from the group and launched a fledgling conservative group called the “Woke Patriots,” a platform for likeminded people to gather “during a period in our nation that has been overshadowed by governmental overreach, and rights infringement.”

He offered to use the website to support Luther, writing that she was the group’s “first patriot cause.” He launched the crowdfunding page April 23.

On April 24, Luther opened her business to a media maelstrom. Cameras and customers waited outside. Online, donations poured in.

So did a letter from Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, directing her to shutter the salon immediately. Luther ignored him. In the Open Texas Facebook group, she asked if anyone could help custom print a T-shirt that said, “Cease and Desist Jenkins!”

“#Rememberthealamode,” she wrote, retooling the favorite Texas phrase to play on the name of her salon.

The case against her advanced, with the city of Dallas asking District Judge Eric Moyé to order the salon closed. Moyé, a Democrat elected to his bench in 2008, issued the order April 28. In a Facebook video, Luther said that if she had to “go to jail to prove a point that what they’re doing is totally unconstitutional, then that’s what happens.”

Abbott had warned it could be dangerous to reopen salons, but he also said he wanted to do so as soon as possible. Luther was one of the salon owners his team reached out to that week in an effort to gather information on how they might do so safely. By the end of the week, Luther was on the phone with James Huffines, the head of Abbott’s task force on reopening the state.

Luther said she and Huffines “had some disagreements,” but “I was happy to see the state open up more businesses earlier than they had intended.”

“They have a state of nearly 30 million people they have to think about,” she said. “I was glad they got to hear from people struggling to make ends meet in Dallas.”

Meanwhile, an increasing number of Abbott’s fellow Republicans were growing outraged at the Luther case and more broadly impatient with the delay in reopening salons. The group included several members of the Texas House who do not typically go out of their way to disagree with Abbott.

“Respectfully, ENOUGH!!! You are the only one that can STOP this!!! ENOUGH!!!” state Rep. James White, R-Hillister, tweeted at Abbott that Wednesday, referring to the Luther case.

Montgomery County Judge Mark Keough, claiming Abbott’s directions had been unclear, said he would allow all businesses to reopen. Attorney General Ken Paxton quickly reiterated that Abbott had ordered salons to stay closed, a directive his office said was “neither vague nor unenforceable.”

On May 5, two Texas House Republicans visited a Houston-area barbershop — also open in defiance of emergency orders — for illegal haircuts. One of them, Briscoe Cain, who is a member of Luther’s legal team, called it an “act of civil disobedience.”

Under pressure, Abbott announced hours later that salons could reopen the following Friday.

“I am not going to shut the salon”

But Luther’s staunch supporters had fresh cause for distress: Moyé had sentenced her to seven days in jail. Before doing so, he gave her an opportunity to apologize, telling her if she pledged not to reopen her salon until emergency orders were lifted, he would consider levying only a fine and allowing her to avoid jail time.

Days before the hearing, Luther had received $18,000 in government loans, a sum that could have helped cover costs during the pandemic. But she would later say she wasn’t sure how she was allowed to spend it and felt she couldn’t risk closing.

“I am not going to shut the salon,” she told the judge.

By the first week of May, Luther had retained two well-connected GOP lawyers: Warren Norred, a member of the state Republican Executive Committee who typically focuses on intellectual property disputes, and Cain, one of the state lawmakers who had goaded Abbott by visiting a barbershop.

As the two attorneys fought for her release in court, ultimately appealing to the Texas Supreme Court, Republican officials issued an outpouring of support. Paxton wrote an unusual direct appeal to the Dallas judge, claiming Moyé had abused his discretion and should immediately order Luther’s release. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, for his part, offered to pay Luther’s fine and serve seven days of house arrest in place of her jail sentence.
<img alt=”Luther spoke to a crowd of