Haircuts with heart
The haircut is nothing. You can get a haircut anywhere. But only in Randy Holt's barbershop can you get Randy Holt, a smart-talking, social-worker...
Seattle Times South King County reporter
The haircut is nothing. You can get a haircut anywhere.
But only in Randy Holt's barbershop can you get Randy Holt, a smart-talking, social-worker type who happens to work well with clippers.
He can give you a belly laugh when you need one. He can cry with you when life slices deep. And when words won't work, Holt, 61, always has his ace in the hole. "Hug 'em," he said.
After more than three decades in Renton, Holt has built a client list hundreds of people long, from a struggling single mother's son to candidates for City Council. The man is not afraid to say it: He's got talent. The Sonics during the 1996 championship series — those haircuts were his.
But his true calling may be the talk. Customers cross county lines just to hear it, the way Holt works through their women woes and whatever else is troubling their minds. He may be blunt, he may bring bravado, but he will never laugh if they cry.
It's like some kind of religion to Holt, letting it all out. All the places he's been in his life, all the things he's seen. The only way to get through this world, he tells clients, is to start talking.
For Charles Ervin, a client of 21 years, it's a relief. He sits down in that chair, and it's like reading a book he and Holt know by heart.
"You don't have to rehash chapter one," said Ervin, of Seattle, a retired federal worker. "You can just enter anywhere."
Holt has always had a way with people. He learned it from his father, a laborer, painter and piano player. He was the one to raise Holt and teach him to cut hair. For years, Holt played barber on that back porch in Michigan, come sunshine or snow.
It was not always pretty.
"I cut many a person," Holt said.
Then one day, at the age of 16, he turned restless and left. He used his fake ID to sign up for the military, and headed down South for boot camp in 1962. That's where he first saw "white" and "colored" on washroom doors. It was something new to him, the hatred people had for his color. Holt started to drink, and for nearly 30 years, he didn't stop.
He functioned well for a while. Then, after 3 ½ years in the service, Holt was discharged for a barroom brawl. He moved to Boston, got married, worked as a DJ and a barber and a stay-at-home dad. Soon after the birth of his first, Holt made a decision: He would learn how to read, for the sake of this son. A group of artists and writers helped him, and at the age of 21, Holt made it through his first two books: the Bible and the dictionary.
"They were the two most important books to me," he said. "They still are."
Settling into Renton
When Holt put down roots in Renton 32 years ago, it was Boeing's sleepy suburb. Few people of color lived there, and even fewer had set up shop.
These days, Holt's barbershop, Future Look Hair Design, sits between a Halal meat market and a Latino grocery store.
Inside, there are framed photographs of former Sonics and potted plants all around. On the back wall, hundreds of black plaques are lined up, each inscribed with the name of an "investor" — a customer who threw in $100 just to see Holt's business survive.
There's always been this kind of give-and-take between Holt and his customers. He tells them what they need to know, whether they want to hear it or not. Then he turns around and asks for help of his own.
Every time Reggie Brown sits in that chair, Holt will bring up some plan for the future, like the instructional videos he wants to make for cutters of black hair. One of many dreams the man's got in mind. "I just try to put a little business discipline on them, so they might come true," said Brown, of Kirkland, who does business advisory work.
Holt needs no help in the promotion department. The other day, he stood in a Hawaiian shirt, gold cross around his neck, throwing out names like Nate McMillan, the former Sonics player and coach. He called his client list a "who's who of what's what."
"My haircuts go everywhere," Holt said, lips pursed, hands moving clippers around a client's head. "This one's getting ready to go to Arizona, I think, for vacation."
Of course it was a big moment when his haircuts went to the NBA championships. But there's just as much pride in the smaller shows of faith, like the client who came in the day of his wife's funeral, looking for the cut he needed to make it through the day.
When you come right down to it, Holt sees himself as a community man. That's why he started Renton Youth Day, a citywide fun fair sponsored by local businesses. Holt recruited every professional athlete he knew, and even some he did not.
"He threw himself 100 percent into it," said Ervin.
Slowing things down
Until a heart attack a couple of years ago slowed Holt down. He already works by appointment only. Now he's thinking of going part time next year, to spend a little more time with his five children and 10 grandchildren. But then, who will take care of his clients? What will they do without him?
And then, there's the question of what Holt will do without them.
In the well of his wallet, there's a torn piece of paper, with a list of names and numbers printed in faded ink. His daughter wrote them down. She was his designated secretary 21 years ago, when Holt checked himself into rehab. She kept track of every visitor he got there — 32 altogether, many of them clients.
"When we say family with Randy, we're not talking about DNA," said Greg Taylor, a longtime client and chair of the Renton Chamber of Commerce.
At the time, Holt simply hung a sign that said "Closed for Business." It was the right thing to do, something he would have urged a client to do, no matter how hard it turned out to be. He could have lost it all, going away that long. But to his surprise, his clients waited, patient, until he came back, better.
Cara Solomon: 206-464-2024 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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