Story and photos by Keri DeTore
Reporting for West Seattle Blog
Rick Cook, owner of Rick’s Barber Shop at 5251 California SW, has inherited both a sign and a claim to fame: “Psychic Barber.”
You’ve probably laughed, driving along California SW, when out of the corner of your eye you caught a glimpse of two white neon signs next to each other: “Psychic” “Barber.” That reaction was partly by design; after a psychic moved in next door to Rick’s Barber Shop, Rick had a matching white neon “Barber” sign made by the same person who created the “Psychic” sign.
Now, Rick owns the “Psychic” portion of the signage as well, and his front window proudly announces “Psychic Barber.”
The Psychic Barber attention came after Rick had already been in his current space for 15 years.
When the sign went up in the window next door, it became a directional touchstone for people looking for Rick’s shop, and a way to differentiate his shop from the one down the block. It also became a rich source of jokes for people calling for appointments: “Since you’re the Psychic Barber, you’ll know when I’m coming in.”
In fact, when the psychic business dissolved and the sign went dark, people complained to Rick: “You’re just a barber now, you’re not the Psychic Barber.” So when the landlord offered the sign to Rick, he took it.
A graduate of Chief Sealth High School, Rick has been a barber since 1976 and has been in business in West Seattle since 1978. Some of his clients have been with him for more than 30 years. While not actually psychic, Rick is very much in tune with different folks who come to see him, “I can talk to pretty much anybody, about pretty much anything.”
Indeed, when one gentleman stopped in for a haircut, Rick displayed his broad understanding of current West Seattle development — which projects are moving forward, which projects are on hold, and who owns what. As a “news junkie” for years, he follows current events and economic issues. His favorite part of a newspaper is the Classified section: “You can find out a lot about what’s happening in a local economy — it’s the one section that can’t be editorialized.” To him, Craigslist is “heaven.”
One of Rick’s worst and best memories is Christmas 1994, when his shop burned down. He recalls his landlady calling him at 6 am to tell him the shop was on fire. His response: “I hope I’m your second call.” During the 4 1/2 months when the shop was being rebuilt, he rented a chair in a beauty salon owned by a friend. About half of his clientele followed him into the salon, and he laughs as he recalls the older ladies “checking out” some of his gents. He quips: “There may be snow on the roof, but there’s still a fire in the furnace.”
Asked about the future of barbering, Rick concedes that it’s “a dying breed,” though there are some people who only want to give cuts. Also, men typically don’t get professional shaves, which can cost as much as a haircut; Rick hasn’t given a shave since he was trained in the seventies. Some women have come to him for short cuts, including getting their heads shaved when going through chemotherapy, but working with women is typically limited to giving a friend a quick trim.
Rick’s “Barber Retirement Plan” is to “do it ‘til I drop.” Until then, he will continue to enjoy the notoriety of being West Seattle’s “Psychic Barber,” and talking with people who visit his shop for a haircut or just to take a photo of the sign. “People stop just to comment — they’re laughing and smiling — and that’s all that really matters.”