Would you let a bald guy cut your hair?
Kevin Bell, the big, bearded and bald barber who just set up shop in downtown Oak Harbor, might trigger that question in would-be customers.
But it didn’t bother Joshua Grant, a petty officer second class at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.
“Are you open?” he asked on a recent Monday lunch hour, peeking in the Pioneer Street shop named Yondersea Oak Harbor.
“Yes,” Bell boomed. “You’re my first customer of the day, and I’m here to make you look devilishly handsome.”
An hour later, that’s how Grant looked, with a style called a fade on the back and sides and a flop of slick hair on top.
Bell specializes in military close-cut fades and tapers and what he calls “rockabilly” haircuts. Think the ‘dos of dudes like Elvis, Chuck Berry and Johnny Cash.
“The vintage hair styles from the 1940s are in,” Bell said. “It’s a classic look, side parted, well groomed and trimmed around the edges. But I do everything, wild to mild.” (Including kids and women if they’re needing an undercut.)
There’s a flat $20 fee for a haircut with $3 discount for military, seniors and students. A full lathered-up shave like the old days is $25. Bell also tends to beards and mustaches. Trimming the back of the neck with lather and a straight edge razor is a complimentary service.
Yondersea Oak Harbor is Bell’s third regional barber shop.
He opened Yondersea Men’s Grooming Lounge in Bellingham five years ago. Popular with students and others seeking a refreshing change from generic shopping plaza quick clip stores, it features a pool table, antique barber chairs and many accoutrements from the slower, older days of barber shops.
In 2015, he expanded into Ferndale, north of Bellingham.
Bell said he set up shop in Oak Harbor to be closer to the 40 customers who had been driving to his other shops.
“I had nearly 30 from the base and 10 others who would drive to Bellingham,” Bell said. “Now if you’ve got that many people willing to drive an hour and 15 minutes to get a haircut, you’d be silly to ignore them.”
Bell has an affinity for Oak Harbor. He learned to sail here. Yondersea is the name of his first boat. It also describes the wanderlust he thinks many possess.
“Sailors all dream about sailing the South Pacific, sailing through the Panama Canal, sailing around the Cape,” he said. “Most of us think about it and most of us don’t do it.”
Bell served in the Navy from 1977 to 1981. He knows that those in the service need to get their hair cut often, every two to three weeks. And he knows buzz barbers on the base don’t exactly cater to their customers.
“I’d rather pay more for a good cut,” said Grant, checking out his new look. “It’s sort of a generic haircut on the base. Wherever you go, it’s all the same.”
Bell came to barbering the hard way, by losing his fortune, house, vehicle and job. The 2008 recession swamped him.
“I had nothing and was living alone on my sailboat,” he said. “I looked up and asked, ‘What should I do, God?’ I never had a good experience with a barber growing up. But there were things about the culture of the barber shop, it was a place where guys are OK to be themselves.”
With no more to lose, he gave it a shot and put the savings he had toward earning his barber’s license at Evergreen Beauty & Barber College, then worked at a few barber shops before striking out on his own.
“It’s been the ride of my life,” he said. “I’ve never done anything more fulfilling and gratifying in my life.”
About the same time, Bell also got married. He and his wife, Angela Bell, have two young children. A licensed esthetician, she works at the Bellingham store, tending to men’s wild hairs.
Or as their website says: “We can wax those awkward spots in those places few dare to go — eyebrows, ears, nose and back.”
The couple turned the Oak Harbor space into a “rustic nautical” look with reclaimed pallet wood anchoring a wall to resemble the inside of a wooden boat.
Old oars, anchors, shells and wooden whales are artfully arranged. Coats hang from sailboat cleats, tins of pomade hair cream sit atop drift wood and a tiki bar (for water) lines the back wall.
Bell himself is also well decorated.
“Love Well” is inked on his forearm.
“This is your job description right here,” he said, lifting up his right arm, revealing the tattoo. “That’s what I tell new employees. You need to find a way to add to the customers’ day. They’re going to get the best haircut in town, that’s a given. But you’re to give them something more.”
Bell wants his barber shop to be a destination, a gathering spot, a community. A safe harbor with sharp scissors.
To run the Oak Harbor store, Bell wooed Logan and Kristen Trott away from Pullman where they had owned a barber shop for six years. Bell met Trott at barber school. He’s confident that Trott will deliver the same signature customer service that made Yondersea Bellingham awash in online raves and reviews.
“Kevin gave us a virtual walk through on his cellphone,” Trott said of his introduction to Oak Harbor. “He even walked across the street and showed us the mermaid.
“A mermaid looking into a shop called Yondersea? How could I not come here?”