25 years of Rudy’s Barbershop on Capitol Hill — and, why they called it Rudy’s to begin with

Eight million haircuts. Rudy’s, the Capitol Hill-based haircutting empire, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, and the company estimates they’ve given more than 8 million haircuts in that time.

The first Rudy’s was opened in January, 1993 on E Pine, by friends Alex Calderwood, Wade Weigel and David Petersen. According to company lore, the trio was looking to make a place where they could hang out with their friends.

In those grunge-era days, Capitol Hill was a very different place in terms of the demographics, and sheer numbers of people, but that was starting to change. Rudy’s opened, along with now-stalwart Linda’s, and once-beloved Bauhaus coffee. Those three were one factor in changing the neighborhood into the one we recognize now, said Danny Segal, director of marketing and brand for Rudy’s. Or at least they were a factor in changing it into the neighborhood we used to recognize, but now don’t anymore, depending on how long you’ve lived here.

When the store opened, there was a jumble of artwork, including original works by Kaws and Shepard Fairey, but the part that really stayed with the company was part of a mural being painted by a local graffiti crew. One of them spray painted Rudy’s in black in the middle of the work, an homage to the Fat Albert character. The name stuck.

The original idea was to just open that single shop, but Segal said they soon had lines stretching around the block, so they opened another in Fremont. From there, they expanded throughout Seattle. After six years, in 1999, they opened their first out-of-state venture in Los Angeles, when they were invited to open a shop in the Standard Hollywood Hotel in LA.

The first East Coast location opened in New York in 2012. There are also locations in Portland, Nashville and Atlanta, with a total of 27 locations in six states. All the stores are company-owned, and they employ about 600 people – full-time with health benefits, Segal said. The goal in expansions, he said, was to open stores in cool neighborhoods where they’d like to hang out.

The expansion didn’t dim the neighborhood’s appeal to Rudy’s however, which opened a second shop on the Hill in 2015, about a year after a Syosset, NY-based venture capital firm bought a majority stake in the company.

As the company has grown and the neighborhood has changed, the clientele has changed with it. Segal notes that there are some longtime customers who still get their haircut at Rudy’s, some of whom are now bringing in their children. They have also found their stores, like the rest of the neighborhood, getting an influx of tech-working newcomers.

In their out-of-state markets, Segal says they’ve tried, with some success, to attract the more creative communities in those cities.

Some things have changed in the shop over the years. One founder, Calderwood, died in 2013. Weigel still serves on the company’s board of directors. Petersen is no longer formally affiliated with the company, but there are plans for him to be a part of a company-wide roadshow later this year. In 2014Northwood Ventures, a New York-based venture capital and buyout specialist, became a majority investor in the company. A that time, the company employed more than 400 people, including the company’s stylists who work on commission.

Beyond ownership changes, the original store has seen some differences. While the sign on the Pine location still says tattoo, they no longer offer them, though they will host occasional pop-ups, Segal said.

Beyond that, they’ve tried to keep many things the same. The shop has always been, and always will be unisex, Segal said. They also try to keep the spaces interesting and creative.

They have managed to expand beyond just haircuts into styling products, which are now carried by Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, and Ace Hotels (founded by some of the same people who started Rudy’s).

Going forward, Segal says, the company hopes to expand its line of styling products, adding about 10 in the next year. There are no new stores planned for this year. The company also wants to remain an active voice of support for the LGBT community. Segal said the company hopes to grow and evolve, but hold onto its soul.

The original Rudy’s is located at 614 E Pine. You can learn more at rudysbarbershop.com.

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2 thoughts on “25 years of Rudy’s Barbershop on Capitol Hill — and, why they called it Rudy’s to begin with

  1. What was Rudy’s target customer when they opened? How is it different than the white 20-30somethings now? Also…they named it after a Fat Albert character…the “new neighborhood” would never stand for that!

  2. “like the rest of the neighborhood, getting an influx of tech-working newcomers.”
    Usually means straight cis white frat/bro or straight cis international Asian male vs alternative fill in the blank white clientele. Funny everyone in Capitol Hill thinks it the tech folk that hangout in their hood but it’s more of UW and south Seattle crowd on the weekends, engineers don’t really go to hip hop nights at Q