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Hair salon owner denies House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was set up

The owner of a San Francisco salon where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got her hair done indoors in violation of city coronavirus pandemic rules denied that she had “set up” the Democrat.

Erica Kious, who owns e Salon in the Cow Hollow neighborhood, wept during a Zoom news conference Thursday as she responded to Pelosi’s charge that she had tricked her into receiving hair care that San Francisco salons are prohibited from offering.

“For the Speaker Pelosi to frame herself as a victim — (a) total false narrative — while small businesses and workers all over California, the state she represents in Congress, suffer and struggle just to survive, is beyond shameful,” Kious said.

Pelosi’s visit Monday went viral after Fox News posted security camera footage of the speaker inside the Union Street business with wet hair and no mask. In her news conference, Kious railed against the city rules that ban her from legitimately bringing customers indoors.

“The point of releasing this video was, and is: If a woman in a high-risk age group who spends much of her time on TV warning about the dangers of COVID-19 feels safe and comfortable in a San Francisco salon, and can be responsible for being cautious and mindful, why can’t the rest of San Francisco, and the rest of America do that too?” Kious said. “That was my point.”

Kious, who gave her first two interviews this week to Fox News and the network’s conservative talk show host Tucker Carlson, denied Pelosi’s assertion that she had “set up” the San Francisco Democrat.

On Wednesday, a Southern California attorney representing the stylist who shampooed Pelosi’s hair released a letter saying Kious had authorized her visit in advance. The letter also accused Kious of making “vitriolic and incendiary comments” in which she blamed the speaker for forcing her to close during the pandemic.

It went on to accuse Kious of having reopened her business in April, in violation of public health orders.

Kious said Pelosi’s representatives had asked the stylist, Joseph DeNardo, for hair service at the speaker’s home, but that DeNardo said “that this was not possible.” So he offered to let her into the salon on Monday, she said.

As an independent contractor, DeNardo books his own clients and has 24-7 access to the salon via the door code, Kious said.

“I have nothing to do with this and have never approved or rejected any particular client or service at the salon,” Kious said.

However, she said that during a tense phone call, she encouraged DeNardo to appeal to Pelosi to help clear a path for salons to open.

“The thing is, people need to understand, we haven’t worked. We have no income at all for six months. No money. So if someone went in and took a client to feed their family, or pay their rent — you know, I have no control over that.”

Republicans have used the incident as ammunition against Pelosi. White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany gave her press briefing Thursday in front of TV screens playing the few-seconds-long video of Pelosi in the salon on a loop.

San Francisco and Alameda counties are alone in the Bay Area in barring salons from having customers indoors. Other counties allowed the businesses to resume indoor service Monday.

Pelosi and her staff say she had been having a stylist come to her home during the pandemic, but that when that option was unavailable, she reached out to the salon. Pelosi says the salon told her the business was legally allowed to have one client inside at a time and accepted the appointment. San Francisco has no such provision.

“I take responsibility for trusting the word of a neighborhood salon that I’ve been to over the years many times,” Pelosi said at a news conference Wednesday. “When they said, ‘We’re able to accommodate people one person at a time,’ and that we could set up that time, I trusted that. As it turns out, it was a setup. So, I take responsibility for falling for a setup.”

In a short clip of the footage released by Fox News, Pelosi is seen immediately after having had her hair washed, with a mask around her neck. Pelosi says she removed it for the hair washing and otherwise always wears her mask when she is near other people. Pelosi has not explained why she did not know local regulations; she splits her time with her hometown and Washington, where she had been for much of August.

In addition to setting off a firestorm in the culture wars over business shutdowns and mask-wearing, news of Pelosi’s visit touched a nerve in San Francisco, where some salon owners have said they feel confused and singled out by regulations not allowing them to open. Pelosi has no authority over local regulations.

Asked about DeNardo’s allegation that Kious’ salon has been doing business during the pandemic, San Francisco Department of Emergency Management spokeswoman Becca Raybin said, “Safety is our priority, so we emphasize compliance over punishment. If we get to a point where education is not enough and enforcement is needed, we are prepared to take appropriate steps to protect public health and safety.”

Kious, whose Facebook page shows pictures of her spending California’s shutdown in Montana and Tennessee, told Fox’s Carlson on Wednesday that she is “pretty much done” with San Francisco.

“The hard part of all this is that I’ve been in that community for 12 years,” Kious said. “And this happened, I received nothing but hate text messages, death threats, (saying) they’re going to burn my hair salon down. My Yelp page is just unbelievable with bad reviews. It’s just sad.”

A previous version of this story incorrectly identified the agency for which Becca Raybin is a spokeswoman. It is the San Francisco Department of Emergency Management.

Rachel Swan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer and Tal Kopan is The Chronicle’s Washington correspondent. Email: [email protected], [email protected]

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