From their perch at Follicle Hair Design, clients have a plant-lined view of Broadway between Pike and Pine that surveys some of the major changes in Capitol Hill’s retail core. But the little barber shop itself, which carries on a tradition at 1523 Broadway dating back to at least the 1960s, won’t be going anywhere soon if owner Patricia Standlee has anything to say about it.
“I’m one of the last dinosaurs,” Standlee said. “I’m the only one on this block that survived — and Neighbours,” she said. Standlee says she hopes to be able to say as much for Follicle for as long as she is fit to cut hair.
Standlee started cutting hair at Follicle 23 years ago, and has owned the shop for the last 15 years. She says Follicle’s revenue recently took a 70% hit and is just beginning to recover after streetcar construction ended early this year.
“My dad always said any business was a good business if you give great service, and that’s what I go by — and I have faith it’ll work.”
If there is still a place on Broadway for a hole-in-the-wall barber shop, Follicle may stand a fighting chance of sticking around given Standlee’s proven perseverance and expressed commitment.
Seattle civil engineer Charles Manning has been a client at Follicle for some seven years. The one thing that keeps him coming back? “Oh, Patricia,” he said. “And her plants.”
“It’s a unique place, makes it very comfortable. And it’s on my walk home too,” he said.
The Madrona resident started coming to Follicle back when his firm was housed just around the corner, he said, and has stayed a regular since after his office moved downtown.
The plants he mentions, Standlee counts them among her “best friends.” One has been in the shop for 19 years. “I just love them,” she said.
Follicle only survived the roughest bouts over the years with help from loyal customers, Standlee said. “When they were doing the construction,” she said, “I almost lost everything twice. I think that the economy also had something to do with it.” Standlee said that as tight months drew to a close some of her clients flexed to help out. “My customers, they’re really wonderful,” she said, “I called some and I asked, ‘Oh … can you come in sooner for your haircut?'”
Though running an independent business may come with a unique set of challenges, Standlee says she appreciates the flexibility it gives her. She says she once gave a haircut to a man who had a job interview the next day, and promised to pay once he was hired. “I gave him the haircut, and I didn’t see the guy for what about a year-and-a-half or something, and one day he shows up and guess what he says? — ‘You gave me a haircut about a long time ago when I needed it for an interview, and I got the job, and then I just couldn’t stop by, but here it is,” she said.
“When you work for a corporation or one of the other salons, even if you wanted to, you’re not allowed to do things like that,” she said. “I like that kind of thing.”
Standlee says she feels the shop has also survived with a little help from above, or perhaps the benefits of karmic reciprocity. The loyalty her clients have shown through various efforts might help bolster the latter claim. In addition to going a bit out of the way at times to support Follicle, Standlee’s clients have also shown their appreciation through efforts including designing a poster complete with a stylized portrait of the owner, and setting up a Facebook page for the business, among other efforts.
Standlee says the efforts are helping. “I usually don’t advertise,” Standlee said. “The Facebook thing, the Yelp thing, I think that’s what’s going to promote my business and bring it back to life.”
Standlee’s relationship with the shop dates back to the day her then-husband, sculptor and visual artist Richard Standlee, who made his name in Seattle before moving to LA to do work for film studios, brought the venture to her attention. “He stumbled on the shop and he told me about it,” she said. “And I said — ‘Let’s go ask and see if they’ll sell it.'” Patricia described the shop’s previous owners as perhaps a pretty smart pair. “They were two older fellows who came really early morning and left at like one or two, and they went fishing or golfing,” she said. As it happened, the timing was right. “The previous owners were getting ready to retire, and so we made a deal,” Patricia said.
In the early days, Richard Standlee would to cut hair in the shop by day and sculpt in the space at night. A friend of his named Daniel was also a stylist at the shop, and would practice playing drums in the space after hours. “They were a very funny pair,” Patricia Standlee said. “Some people, at night, they would come in and watch [Richard] sculpt,” she said, “And then he also did a few classes here.”
Patricia started working at the shop about two years after Richard took over, and became part of a small community centering around Follicle and a few other nearby businesses, she said. Out of that creative group was spun the first art walk on Capitol Hill, which helped give birth to today’s Capitol Hill Art Walk on second Thursdays.
Standlee has had other stylists working at Follicle in the past, including a former manager of the Broadway & East Pike Building widely known as Johnny, who died a few years ago. However, the drive to increase revenue notwithstanding, Standlee says she now prefers to be the solo stylist. “A lot of people tell me, ‘You should have more people, you should make this in to a salon,’ and I probaly could do that,” she said. “But, I think when you work with other people you lose something — it seems like when somebody else is here it’s not the same interaction with my customers,” she said.
As long as Standlee can keep the world she’s created at Folicle alive, it seems she’ll be content. “I think money is great to have because it pays the bills, but I love cutting hair — that is my passion,” she said. “It makes people feel good,” she said. “When you do something that you love, then I think that that’s the best job you ever have.”