A modern western movie hums in the background and two pint-sized pups bounce and bark as Kc Field cuts a young customer’s hair into a mohawk on a recent sunny morning. Trucker caps line the ceiling of Field’s small barbershop, with a faux buck hanging on a nearby wall.
From the surface level, it’s your average, conventional hometown barbershop. But it doesn’t take too much digging to find out why Field and her small shop have weathered the test of a century.
The McKenna resident is the owner and sole stylist at Rainier Barbershop — an institution located on Rainier’s main drag at 108 Binghampton St. Field was handed the keys on Jan. 21, 2019, which may seem like practically a lifetime ago.
“I’ve been so fortunate that the community has embraced me,” Field told the Nisqually Valley News between walk-in appointments, sitting in a 1940s vintage blue Koken barber chair. Her two dogs — 7-year-old dachshund Tinker and 1-year-old chihuahua Lucy — bring life to the shop. “I love what I do here in Rainier, and I couldn’t imagine working for anyone ever again.”
She’s the fourth barber to occupy the space since Mike Emmons purchased the old Rainier Hotel building 25 years ago. Trammel Smith, the previous owner, ran the shop for the better part of two decades prior to Field.
“I understand that it’s been a barbershop since the 30s,” Emmons said.
Today, Field carries on the legacy, cutting the hair of men and young children using traditional barbershop techniques.
The solo stylist is currently only accepting walk-in customers.
Field’s 30-year career in hair started across the Cascade Range in Spokane. Her grandmother was a hairstylist at the local Macy’s when she was in high school, and so when it came to picking a trade class in high school, she knew what she wanted to do. She chose to get into cosmetology.
“I thought, ‘why not?’ And it stuck with me,” she recalled. “I’ve gotten out of it a couple times. It’s about the people though; you get to meet people, talk with them, get to know them. It’s more of a social job. Even though I’m cutting hair, I get paid for talking.”
It was around that time, her senior year, that her family moved over to the western side of the mountains to Woodinville. She was — and still very much is — a small-town girl, she said, noting the small population density the area used to have.
She continued to learn the works of hairstyling.
“That was the 80s, so it was a lot of big hair, perming and coloring,” she said.
Shortly after, though, she made a change and decided she wanted to go to school to become a paralegal. She began working as an assistant at a Seattle-based firm, David Wright Tremaine.
But she quickly learned the work field wasn’t for her. She craved interpersonal interaction with people, and noted that the hours of data filing, paperwork and busy work had begun to leave a sour taste in her mouth.
Working briefly in law, she said, helped her realize her true passion: hair.
The jump from cosmetology to men’s hair started in Portland, she said. She applied for a job at the Northwest College Hair Design program working in a directing position and taught herself the school’s barber program.
She soon learned that clippers — and men — were generally easier and more fun to work with.
Her early career took her largely through two decades of glam rock, synth pop and heavy grunge. In a way, Field said, men’s hair has become more intricate with the popularization of fades, tight crew cuts, parts and undercuts.
“Previously, if you messed up you could hit it,” Field said with a smile. “Nowadays, you can’t do that.”
But nothing has been more unpredictable and more unprecedented than the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a whole new thing we had to get used to,” Field said of cutting hair around a face mask.
Field said she usually does around 15 cuts a day. The first week after her shop reopened following state-mandated closures, she was seeing anywhere from 30 to 40 heads a day. It was a regular occurrence for her to have a line of men and children to be waiting outside when she got in the shop in the morning.
“People were just glad I was back, glad that I didn’t go out of business,” she said. “A lot of businesses didn’t survive that 13 weeks.”
Since then, people have continued to come out. She said she’s had a steady stream of customers willing to shop local and support locally-owned jobs.
But she knows that hasn’t been the same case for other businesses locally.
“It’s just been a nightmare with everything, especially small businesses,” she said.