Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. has introduced legislation in the City Council that would create a new system of letter grades for cosmetology businesses, including nail salons, spas, barber shops, beauty parlors, and other similar businesses throughout the five boroughs. The legislation is being sponsored by Council Member Rafael Espinal, chairperson of the City Council’s Consumer Affairs Committee. The new grading system would be modeled after the one currently in use by the Department of Health to monitor food service establishments and would likely be enforced by a new hybrid city government division under the Department of Consumer Affairs and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
“Unlike nail salons, each of New York City’s 24,000 restaurants is inspected at least once a year,” states a report by Sarah Walsh, assistant district attorney in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Walsh’s Brooklyn Law paper “Beyond the Polish: An Examination of Hazardous Conditions in Nail Salons and Potential Solutions for the Industry in New York City” appears to be the basis for some of the proposed Diaz legislation.
The proposal comes in response to that document and other reports of health and sanitation issues arising from dirty salons and spas; specifically, that hazards such as staph or MRSA, hepatitis, fungus, and other infections can be contracted as a result of visiting substandard salons. Of the roughly 5000 nail salons in the five boroughs, there are only 27 inspectors. Of the nearly 11,000 cosmetology business citywide, Queens county is home to 3,554.
Borough residents welcome the letter grade system. “It would definitely make me more or less likely to visit a salon,” says longtime Howard Beach nail salon patron Miriam Balot, 85. A cataract sufferer and legally blind, Balot can’t afford to rely on her vision to tell her what’s sanitary and what isn’t. “We don’t let them cut our cuticles or do pedicures because of [the lack of regulation] says Sherry Off, also of Howard Beach, adding, “I might consider it if they were to use a rating system.”
As for the businesses themselves, though Espinal foresees pushback, many view it as an opportunity to demonstrate their elevated standards, seemingly undaunted by the potential for extra scrutiny. At the European Wax Center on Cross Bay Boulevard, a staffer in the pristine, well-lit lobby said, “We don’t double dip.”
Of course, others are less enthusiastic about the Diaz proposal. A manager of a local nail salon, who didn’t want her name printed, expressed frustration at the prospect of more inspections. “Dealing with different inspections and inspectors isn’t easy,” she said. “It’s a different type of inspection every time. Sometimes they check drawers, sometimes awnings. Very strict, very confusing.”
John DeSio, Diaz’s communications director, says that the bill is still being fine-tuned, but that in all likelihood, some additional inspectors will be hired. “We’re not going to put a price on people’s health,” he said, but also noted that businesses would be given an opportunity to get “up to speed” on any new procedures implemented or restrictions enforced.
Diaz also introduced a resolution calling on the New York State Division of Licensing Services, which provides licensing for cosmetology professionals, to expand its health and safety training options. “The health and safety of this city is our top priority, and these bills will go a long way towards protecting New Yorkers from unhealthy, potentially dangerous conditions,” said Diaz.
by Eugénie Bisulco