Local business owners feel embattled by ongoing restrictions on service members


NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Athena Karn wonders about the reasoning behind the U.S. Navy’s list of restricted businesses and activities.

“I don’t understand what they are thinking as far as what they think a tattoo parlor is like,” she said.

Here’s where they can go: doctor, pharmacy, grocery stores or takeout locations, gas stations, and childcare facilities. The prohibited list, meanwhile, includes many kinds of businesses that are now open to civilians.

Karn and her husband Sean have operated Otzi Tattoo Agency in Ghent for seven years — with a lot of military coming through their door.

“75 percent or more of our clients are military,” she said.

The Navy says this week’s order — which bans tattoo parlors, barber shops, dine-in restaurants, beaches, and even indoor church services — is just a reminder of a policy that’s been in place since March.

The Navy also intends to warn military members that even though their home city or county might have relaxed restrictions, they must follow military rules.

But, as of Friday, Karn says she had military in her shop as recently as two days ago.

“I had two (military clients) that just canceled for tonight because of the rules. I had another cancel for next week. I can’t imagine how many others are gonna cancel their appointments.”

Karn says the staff takes the necessary precautions.

“We stagger our appointments. Each artist has two appointments a day, and clients are not allowed to bring guests, so we only have, at the max, eight people here a day. We’re cleaning every hour on the hour.”

The military ban paints a bleak immediate future for the shop, especially after the governor lifted state restrictions just last month.

“I’m a little worried. We just got back rolling with our business. We were already shut down for several weeks (earlier in the pandemic).”

Meanwhile, part of the buzz going around Rodney McKeithan’s barbershop these days is how his business is getting shaved away by military restrictions.

He says that’s where 90 percent of his business comes from at Custom Kutz.

“As of a day or two ago, it all ceased. That’s a tragedy for us,” McKeithan said Friday outside his shop on Hampton Boulevard.

Barber shops are on the long list of prohibited businesses.

“This is rough. It’s almost instantly there’s no income for (my staff) or me.”

A Navy spokesperson says the order is nothing new, rather a reminder of a policy that was already in place since March. But McKeithan says he had military clients in his shop as recently as this week.

And as retired Navy himself, McKeithan uses his time behind the chair to help rookies trim their sails when they start their military voyage.

“We get a lot of sailors that we help and mentor along. We mentor these guys big time here.”

“All we can do is wait now,” McKeithan said with noticeable concern. “And try and see when they’ll allow the sailors to come back through.”

A Navy email shows that military members have to sign an acknowledgment of the rules, although the initial response from a base spokesperson was that that was not the case. The rules carry the weight of a direct order and are in place until further notice.

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