SNOHOMISH — Seventeen months ago, the state set out to seize the scissors from barber Bob Martin’s hands.
It’s still trying.
The Snohomish barber continues to openly defy the rules for operating in the pandemic.
Fourteen months ago, the state Department of Licensing fined him $90,000 after he kept his shop open in a very public defiance of Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order aimed at curbing the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
It’s still trying to get the dough.
The state got help last month when Snohomish County Superior Court Judge Marybeth Dingledy denied Martin’s appeal of the penalty and ordered him to pay. Martin had contended he had made good with a promissory note delivered to the state’s attorney general but Dingledy didn’t buy it.
He’s not writing them a check anytime soon.
“It has been paid already,” Martin said. “The way we pay things, according to the Constitution.”
At his Stag Barber and Styling shop, haircuts are $20, with legal tender the main currency.
Martin, 80, doesn’t have a business license, and says he doesn’t need one. The shop is next to an auto parts store in the Avenue D shopping plaza anchored by Haggen.
In a legal declaration for his case, Martin says that he “has lost hearing, vision and at times it is hard for me to physically move my body” and that he needs assistance from family members in his daily routines.
On a recent Saturday, he finished off a mullet with razor precision.
The customer handed him a $100 bill. Martin gave him back four bills, then he accepted two bills as a hefty tip.
Martin grabbed a broom and swept up a pile of hair. He wore a “Trump 2024 Save America” cap — that he said was a gift from his hunting partner. The shop walls are covered with mounted animals, anti-Inslee slogans and photos of his grandkids.
Martin’s battles began when several residents reported his flagrant refusal to abide by the governor’s shutdown order. People lined up to get haircuts at his shop when others were closed. He called the order “a scam.”
As the pandemic progressed, he ignored other COVID mandates levied last year, like one requiring people to wear masks indoors.
He’s not changed his tune since Inslee reinstated the statewide mask mandate this fall. Ironically, no one’s turned him in for once again not following the rules.
“I don’t give a (expletive) about masks,” Martin said.
About 10 people were inside the shop where Martin and two other barbers stayed busy, with no regard to social distancing guidelines. A girl who looked about 5 was in one chair getting a trim. It’s a friendly place, with lots of chatter between faces inches apart at times.
Nobody had a face covering. There wasn’t a box of disposable masks by the door, as is the case at many businesses.
Does anyone wear a mask there?
“Only you,” he told a reporter.
Martin said there have been no cases of COVID at the shop. He then added his usual line: “If you’re worried about germs we give you a shot of whiskey.”
In September, the state Department of Licensing received citizen complaints against 19 Snohomish County businesses for not complying with the renewed mask requirements. The list includes tattoo shops, nail studios, beauty salons, barber shops and a couple car dealers.
Each of those businesses has or will get a warning letter. If the letter doesn’t work, an agency official may call or make a visit, said agency spokesman Nathan Olson. That usually does the trick, he said.
Not with Martin.
As a barber he needs a cosmetologist operator license to cut hair. He first got his in 1967. But it has been suspended since he decided to ignore the stay-home order which lasted two months, from the end of March to the end of May in 2020.
Officials also imposed a fine of $5,000 for each day he operated during the stay-home order. It reached $90,000 on June 2. That’s when the state agency began the process of revoking his license for 10 years.
On March 29, 2021, Attorney General Bob Ferguson went to court to get an order requiring Martin to pay. A month later the barber responded by delivering a promissory note “as satisfaction of the debt” to Assistant Attorney General Michelle Carr, who is handling the case. And in May, Martin filed paperwork to demand a trial in front of a 12-person jury — which he won’t be getting.
In August, Martin responded to Carr’s request for summary judgment with a declaration in which he says this is his first bout with the legal system. “The amount of psychological stress this is causing me is unbearable,” he wrote.
He contended that the promissory note satisfied his debt. “To the best of my knowledge, the issue of $90,000 is resolved,” he wrote. “I have seen no evidence to the contrary and I believe no such evidence exists.”
He goes on to argue that the court “does not have the jurisdiction to determine what a dollar is … nor to determine what is the lawful money of the United States.”
Meanwhile, Martin also needs a separate license to operate The Stag. He had one but let it lapse in 2017. He’s received a “cease and desist order” which is the subject of a review this month by the state Office of Administrative Hearings.