LAKEWOOD - Barbershop owners near Fort Lewis have come under scrutiny from the state attorney general's office because of an increase in prices for military haircuts, from $6 to $7.
In a letter this week to shop owners, a deputy in the antitrust division said some barbers in the Tillicum neighborhood might be violating state and federal laws by participating "in illegal price-fixing of haircuts."
There's evidence that some of the shops might have agreed prior to Jan. 1 to raise the price of a military haircut by $1, the office said.
"There are also indications that you and other barbershops may have fixed prices in previous years," wrote Deputy Attorney General Jonathan Mark.
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Mark, who declined to comment Thursday on the ongoing investigation, said he'd like to meet with barbershop owners this month in Tacoma.
These types of investigations are started by consumer complaints and "are not an attempt to bully anyone," said Janelle Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the attorney general's office.
On Friday, Guthrie said the office received two complaints from consumers about the prices. Letters were sent to six barbershops requesting a meeting.
"At this point no charges have been filed, no lawsuit. It's just a meeting," Guthrie said.
There are at least eight barbershops on the Union Avenue Southwest commercial strip across Interstate 5 from the sprawling Army base.
7 Sisters Barber Shop owner Kum Ye Throckmorton denies the allegations.
"We never talked about a raise in prices," Throckmorton told The News Tribune of Tacoma. "My rent was going up on Jan. 1. I thought it wouldn't hurt."
While a military haircut now costs $7 at her shop in Tillicum, a civilian basic haircut costs $8, she said.
Other owners also contend the decision to raise prices by $1 was their own, and that they did it because it had been several years since they increased the price.
Phong Huynh, owner of Young's Barber and & Styling Center, raised the price after 10 years.
Neither soldiers nor civilians seemed bothered by the increases.
"It doesn't matter," said Curtis Jones, 53, who retired after 21 years in the Army. "I give them a tip, so it costs me $10 anyway."
"It's still cheaper than other places I've been," said Spc. Ray Manning of the 4th Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment. "The quality is better off post."
A man can pay $10 to $16 or more for a haircut in Tacoma. The Post Exchange at Fort Lewis charges $7.65.
Some barbershops might charge a uniform price for a basic male haircut, but they all charge different prices for women's haircuts, styling, men's shaves and other services, said Young Kim, who owns Tom & Young's Barber Shop in Tillicum.
The attorney general's investigation seems "almost harassing," said Robert McBride, a longtime customer at 7 Sisters Barbershop.
"Hasn't the AG got anything better to do?" McBride said.