by Nune Gazdhyan
photography by Alen Zilic
Hair today, gone tomorrow. Snip, snip, snip are the continuous sounds accompanying Jay Wright, barber/stylist, as she sets free strands of hair grown wild.
Sandwiched between two buildings is Fred’s Barber Shop, located in Old Town La Verne. The lazy spinning of the barber pole mounted by the entrance and the sun rays entertaining through the window create a classic picture painted by Norman Rockwell, the famous artist, but this is one place that is not a mirage. “Don’t blink, or you’ll drive right past us,” says Wright.
Playing to the Chamber of Commerce’s Old Town theme, this classic barber shop, owned by Frank Ayala, a devoted believer in making people happy and keeping them connected with the past, fits right in.
“We’re still waiting for Andy and Barney to come in from Mayberry,” jokes Wright.
The shop does have a movie-like quality to it. With the antiquity of the building and the town, it seems to be a perfect place to make old-fashioned movies, yet, once inside, the past and the present mingle.
There are rows of random pictures decking the walls, depicting a gallery not yet organized. There are pictures of barber shops and flowers placed like missing puzzle pieces in a collage. Included are fruit crate labels — prominently displayed in the shop. “The pictures just portray some of the things that the owner, Fred Ayala, likes,” says Wright.
While keeping true to portraying the past and servicing males, this shop has made one big modification and turned into an inviting place for both sexes: it offers both male and female hair stylists. Yet, from the looks of it, one can tell that this tiny relic of the past is still dominated by men who are looking for a good old-fashioned place where they can trust their hair-do to the barber’s imagination, while having a good conversation.
“I love it here, I love the town, and I enjoy watching my clients leave the shop with a smile,” says Dan Perea, barber/hair stylist.
At Fred’s Barber shop, there is still a special bond with the barber and the clients. The barbers are devoted to their art of molding great hair styles, giving out sweets and occasionally healing the souls of their clients with prayers. Wright, being a devout Christian, promises to pray for her clients’ after finding out that there are difficulties in their lives. She also gives many encouraging words and advice to her clients.
The encouraging words and the satisfied customers spread the word of this shop, attracting new clients and keeping many old ones.
“They know how to cut my hair, and Dan’s conversation is entertaining,” says Daren Ruskin, a client for three years.
He drives all the way from Fontana to La Verne in order to get his hair cut.
Ruskin is not alone; while the shop serves the community, it also receives many clients from many surrounding cities such as San Dimas, Pomona and Upland. The key to their many clients is their “good old-fashioned atmosphere,” according to Wright.
This is a place for more than cutting hair; it’s a place of gathering, a place to be entertained, and a place to share feelings and get advice on everything, from fixing a car to making pot roast. “You can come here for a hair cut, but you’ll leave here with a glimpse of the past,” says Ruskin.
Once a bank vault used to store money and jewels, the building has been a La Verne treasure for years, eventually transforming to a place that the elderly can get away to recollect the past while the young gain the opportunity to step into the past.
A barber shop had a greater meaning in the old west. It was more than a place to “hang out”; it was also the local dentistry and the clinic. A foot operation and a decayed tooth were twin maladies that were treated by the old fashioned barber.
Today, shops like Fred’s retain some of the restorative qualities of the past. This shop in particular has become an attraction frequented by “old timers,” as well as by well-known members of the community.
“Most of the Councilmen come here for haircuts,” says La Verne Councilman Dan Harden. He has been a faithful customer of the shop since the opening.
There are not many places left in today’s society where individuals can get away and connect with the past. There is also a lack of “true” barber shops where men can go to assemble. They have been replaced by beauty salons and hair styling shops.
“I feel good knowing that I am giving someone more than just a haircut. By working here, I am able to help them connect with old memories while they get a new look,” says Perea.
Most men, especially ones used to the atmosphere of barber shops, cringe at the thought of having to go to a beauty salon or a hair stylist to get their hair cut. Breaking the rules of a fast-paced society, this is one place where people and things slow down, and the sun seems to take longer to set, allowing time for bonding and laughter, triggered by the devotion of a tiny barber shop refusing to speed up its pace.