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The Olympian Barbershop: carrying traditional aesthetic into the modern era

Martinez and crew are bringing back the charm of that old school subculture, and carrying it forward into modern downtown Oly.

Since 1870, The Olympian Barbershop has been operating in the heart of downtown Olympia, predating its home, the Hotel Olympian building, by 48 years. Sometimes known as the “governor’s barbershop,” The Olympian Barbershop has provided services to several Washington State governors. Tommie Nurmi, who was a community fixture in the barbershop for 27 years, cut current governor Jay Inslee’s hair.

Following Nurmi’s retirement in December 2018, the barbershop is now under new ownership and management, in close partnership with Exile Tattoos next door in the Hotel Olympian building.

“Back in the 1920s, tattooing was illegal, so barbershops would operate as sort of the speakeasy of the tattoo world,” explains Luis Martinez, a tattoo artist at Exile Tattoos and new owner of The Olympian Barbershop. “There would be a barbershop at the front, and then there would be tattooers in the back room, which you could get to if you knew the secret handshake or password.”

With an eye on detail, Martinez and crew are bringing back the charm of that old school subculture and carrying it forward into modern downtown Oly. A fresh remodel of the barbershop is a direct imitation of a photo from the shop’s glory days: new flooring, paint, cabinets, plumbing, lighting fixtures, and countertops all complement the original mirrors that have survived fires and earthquakes and remain a focal point of the room.

“It’s been a group effort, to say the least,” says Martinez. “We’re lucky to have the people that we have, all working towards achieving the same things.”

The crew includes long-time traditional barber who worked alongside Tommie Nurmi for several years, Rudy Farias; and barbers Stacia Thrasher and Konrad Johnston, who are both licensed estheticians with skills in waxing, coloring, and skin care.

“We want to be a neutral, safe space where everyone is welcome,” says Johnston. Services are not delineated according to gender but are provided to any paying customer, no questions asked, combining the best of both worlds: the old-school charm and attention to detail coupled with the inclusive acceptance of modern-day Olympia.

Find out more by following The Olympian Barbershop on Instagram @olympianbarbershop, call for an appointment at 360-754-3940, or simply stop by Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.–7 p.m. or Sunday 10 a.m.–3 p.m. at 521 Washington Street.



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