Rogue Snohomish barber keeps on running with scissors

Bob Martin, whose license was revoked, has ignored a cease-and-desist order and could face more fines.

Snohomish barber Bob Martin (Andrea Brown / The Herald)

Snohomish barber Bob Martin (Andrea Brown / The Herald)

SNOHOMISH — He’s running with scissors.

And no one in authority has been able to stop him.

Bob Martin, owner of The Stag Barber and Styling, is barbering and styling in violation of state law. Has been for months.

He doesn’t have a state license to cut hair or to operate a business. He owes the state $90,000 in fines. He’s been served cease-and-desist orders, most recently in January.

Yet Martin, 80, keeps clipping away.

“I’m not going to let anybody push me around and tell me I can’t work,” he said last week. “I don’t need a license to work and they can’t stop me.”

The rogue barber became a symbol of conservative resistance in May when he operated in open defiance of Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order which aimed to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Complaints flooded the state Department of Licensing, which suspended the barber’s cosmetologist operator license that month and served him with a cease-and-desist order, which he ignored. Martin was first licensed in 1967.

The agency imposed a fine of $5,000 for each day he operated while the order was in effect, topping out at $90,000. Last summer, the department revoked his license for 10 years.

Martin’s loyal clientele kept coming and he kept serving them.

Even when state Attorney General Bob Ferguson entered the picture, it didn’t faze him. Ferguson, the agency’s counsel, sent a letter last spring warning Martin that he might be sued if he didn’t stop. No legal action has been taken, though it remains an option.

On Jan. 8, the agency issued another cease-and-desist order after an investigator saw Martin cutting hair. He ignored it. He could get slapped with a new fine of $1,000 a day for every day he’s giving buzz cuts and trims.

State officials are frustrated. Most licensees are following the rules in the pandemic, they said. Those who haven’t usually get into compliance with a little support and persuasion. Not Bob Martin.

“We find ourselves in a situation we haven’t really faced before — someone who refuses to work with us to comply with health and safety regulations and will not partner with us,” said Christine Anthony, communications manager for the Department of Licensing. “After we work through our processes and procedures, we will explore all potential options in consultation with the AG’s Office.”

Last Tuesday, it was business as usual inside the small barber shop, two doors from a U.S. Post Office in the Avenue D shopping plaza anchored by Haggen.

Martin and two other barbers stayed busy doing $20 haircuts and $10 buzz cuts in the shop filled with chatter and country music. Nobody was masked.

When a young man walked in wearing a mask, Martin told him, “You don’t need that mask in here.”

The man removed it, and sat in Martin’s chair while the barber worked inches from his face.

“I tell people … ‘If you’re worried about germs, I’ll give you a shot of whiskey,’” Martin said.

He showed a reporter a gun in the pocket of his jacket, hanging near his barber chair.

“You see this?” he said. “We’ve got several of them in here. Anybody who tries to stop me from working here is going to get their (expletive) shot.”

In some states, business owners defying pandemic orders are arrested. A Dallas salon owner was sent to jail for defying lockdown orders last spring and later ran for a state Senate seat in Texas. She made it to the runoff, but lost.

Courtney O’Keefe, Snohomish County Sheriff’s spokeswoman, said their office has not been contacted by the state for any assistance.

“All business license enforcement is handled by the state and would then go through the court/legal system,” she said.

In May, the Snohomish Health District sent Martin a certified letter directing him to immediately stop all appointments or face the possibility of criminal charges. Nothing came of it.

Dr. Chris Spitters, the district’s chief health officer, has said throughout the pandemic that they work with those not following guidelines and are not out to enforce the law like cops: “We don’t have badges and handcuffs.”

So the saga continues.

“I’m going to keep working,” Martin said.

He said he doesn’t plan to get a COVID-19 vaccine, despite being in a vulnerable age group. He shares his home with his daughter and grandson.

“We have 25 people for our own personal militia, to protect the barber shop,” he said. “They stand guard outside there if we need them.”

Andrea Brown:; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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