Swing enthusiast barber gets hip, appreciates customers


Steve Whitford

Milton Marcoux gets his hair cut from Nita Garnier, owner of Yankee Clipper in Key Center. Garnier will be having hip surgery and her popular business will be closed as she recovers. Photo by Steve Whitford, KP News

People like Nita Garnier help make the Key Peninsula extra special.

Garnier is the creator, owner and barber at the Yankee Clipper shop in Key Center.

Like its owner, the shop is unique.

Upon entering, customers are transported back to the ‘40s and ‘50s by music and memorabilia. The music comes from Garnier’s childhood, the memorabilia from objects she’s collected during her life. She bought some stuff at thrift shops, but about 90 percent have been given to her by her customers.

Pictures of Joe DiMaggio and Rita Hayworth smile down at her collection of antique barber paraphernalia displayed among her Yankee Clipper ship knicknacks. Besides the vintage brushes, cups and razors, even the barber chairs are special –– a 1913 Theo Koch and a mid-‘40s Belmont. The towels are pre warmed and the scent is bay rum.

Garnier was born in Columbus, Ohio, and graduated from Ohio State Barber College. In 1978, Garnier had an uncle who lived in Port Orchard who came to visit her. He told her what a wonderful area he lived in and convinced Garnier to consider moving.

In 2004, Garnier sent out 11 resumes to area barber shops and was hired three days later at a shop in Gig Harbor. Later in her career, she worked for a while in Port Orchard, while always thinking about opening her own shop.

One day while sightseeing on the KP, Garnier got lost, giving her time to appreciate the beauty and wonder of the peninsula.

“I fell in love with the area and can’t imagine living anywhere else,” she said.

In 2005, Garnier went to work with Mindy Wilkins of Cutter Bug fame, who had a small shop in the Corral near the fire station in Key Center.

In May of 2007, Garnier leased the site and the good shop Yankee Clipper was launched.

“I love being the boss, even though I’m the toughest boss I’ve ever worked for,” she said.

Garnier loves her work, though she has had some unusual encounters.

“The worst thing ever happened in barber school. There was a customer we called Stretch. His skin hung so loose, you had to stretch it to cut his hair,” she said.

Garnier’s shop will be closing on June 13. Hip surgery will debilitate her for about eight weeks.

“I want to thank my customers for their patience when I cut back working hours because of my pain,” she said.

So what’s Garnier going to do while convalescing? She likes to cook, and besides her ongoing collection from the swing era, barber stuff and clipper ship souvenirs, she also has an extensive HO model train collection –– complete with clay miniatures she makes herself.