SNOHOMISH — The state took him to court. They took away his barber license.
But they couldn’t take away his scissors.
What’s up with that?
Bob Martin, 82, is still cutting hair at the Snohomish shop he opened in the 1960s.
It was three years ago in March that Gov. Jay Inslee proclaimed salons as “nonessential” and ordered all barbers (and restaurants, gyms, theaters) to close in response to the new and deadly coronavirus. The order lasted 10 weeks, during which time most people were isolating at home and looking pretty wasn’t a priority.
Martin closed his shop, Stag Barber and Styling, for a few weeks or so. Then he said, “To hell with that.”
While other salons shuttered, he opened the doors in public defiance for all to see. Stag Barber isn’t in some dark alley. It’s in a busy plaza anchored by Haggen on Avenue D, with a lighted barber pole and neon “open” sign.
Word spread. People lined up on the sidewalk and didn’t social distance. Inside was standing room only, all three barber chairs buzzing with those eagerly paying $10 or $20 to get coiffed. It wasn’t just men. Moms brought little kids. No one masked up, other than reporters like me chasing a story.
The defiant barber became a symbol of conservative resistance. As Martin put it: “They made a poster boy out of me.”
He had as many freshly groomed supporters as he did shaggy detractors. To him and his ilk, they were the heroes in the battle of good and evil politics. The rest of us just didn’t want to die.
COVID-19 has killed more than 1.1 million Americans. It has taken the lives of over 15,000 people in Washington state and infected about 2 million residents. In Snohomish County, nearly 1,500 people have died from the virus that turned our daily existence upside down.
Martin carried on as if the pandemic was no big deal.
“If they got a cold, I’ll give them a shot of whiskey, that will kill the germs,” he’d say to the media outlets in a gruff voice.
In May 2020, the Snohomish County Health Department sent Martin a certified letter directing him to stop immediately.
The state suspended his barber license. He was fined $5,000 a day during the stay-home mandate. He was served cease-and-desist orders.
Undeterred, he kept clipping away.
“It’s all B.S., scare tactics to try to scare the hell out of you,” he told me on one of my many visits over the last three years.
When the shutdown finally ended and other salons opened, the lines on the sidewalk outside The Stag stopped, but the place stayed busy inside.
“I don’t need a license to work and they can’t stop me,” Martin repeatedly told me. “The state has no right.”
Still, I was always sure on my next visit that neon “open” sign would be dark.
Martin’s saga made me wonder if I could open Andrea’s Barber Shop and nobody would stop me. Nobody would come, either, because I know nothing about cutting hair but that’s beside the point.
In 2021, the state Department of Licensing petitioned a civil case against Martin, and Snohomish County Superior Court issued a judgment affirming penalties of $90,000 in fines for violating the mandate. A judge denied his appeal of the penalty and ordered him to pay up.
“I wrote a promissory note on toilet paper, and took it down there and gave it to them,” he said.
What are the actual consequences for the rogue barber?
None. At least, not yet.
The Stag is open five days a week, and most days he’s there.
The county health department told The Daily Herald last week that no further action is planned. The state’s Attorney General’s Office and the Snohomish County Sheriff’s office both said it was a state licensing matter.
In 2020, Martin’s barber license was revoked for 10 years. He was first issued a license in 1967.
“We have a regulatory role with licensing … and can take actions like revoking licenses, taking disciplinary actions and issuing fines, but we don’t really have enforcement power to physically shut down a business,” Department of Licensing spokesperson Christine Anthony said in a recent email to The Daily Herald.
“At this moment, the location has a licensed barber (not Mr. Martin) and a shop license, and so there’s no further action we can take at this time.”
Martin is on the hook for the $90,000 in fines he racked up, Anthony said.
“We have attached a lien to his house so when/if it’s sold someday, the fine will be paid to us,” she said. “The proceeds of the fine would go into the Cosmetology Program fund within our Business and Professions Division.”
I recently returned to The Stag.
It was just like the other dozen times I dropped by since 2020. Martin and the two other barbers were busy. Clippers buzzed. Country music on the radio was upstaged by chatter.
Martin praised Trump, blasted Inslee, talked about serving in the Marines, praised his grandson who is an Army helicopter pilot and spoke with fatherly devotion about his daughter. She lives with him and has medical issues. “I take care of her,” he said.
On the walls are animal trophies he hunted. Deer, elk and ram heads. A pouncing bobcat. Ducks. In his corner is art drawn by kids, family photos and political messages.
Clients — he calls them “patriots” — are draped in an American flag cape, a practice he started years before the pandemic.
During my pandemic stops, a few others in the shop called me “the left wing media” and told me to quit picking on Martin. One called my editor and complained, “Why did you send a woman to do a man’s job?”
They seemed more perturbed by a little old lady reporter than a deadly virus.
But Martin was always cordial, in his own curmudgeonly way, even cracking a smile. He calls me “the paper lady.”
He always wears a statement cap. “Trump 2024 Save America.” “Raise Lions Not Sheep.” On display are “Make Commies Afraid Again” red caps for sale for $20.
Some who come here share his ideology. Others just keep coming as they have for years. Not for politics, for haircuts.
Right or wrong, political or apolitical, the barber’s customers are fiercely loyal.
A 40-ish guy in Martin’s chair the other day said he got his first haircut there as a baby. Same chair. By the same hands.
Age, not authority, will likely lead to Martin, who is pushing 83, to put down his scissors.
“It’s hard on my feet standing here,” he said. “My feet get sore.”
Is there a person, place or thing making you wonder “What’s Up With That?” Contact reporter Andrea Brown: 425-339-3443; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @reporterbrown.
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