The United Nations for hair
If you see a bunch of Mexicans on the corner of 21st and P streets, don’t panic, don’t call la migra and don’t order carnitas. They’re probably just waiting for a haircut. Carlos Romo took over Capitol Barber Shop (1606 21st Street) in 2001, and since then, he’s built up a solid word-of-mouth clientele of people from all races. And aside from being a great place for a haircut, Capitol Barber Shop’s a lively spot where you can sit around, talk about sports and relax. And they have Playboy magazines.
So, it’s your shop?Me and my partner Alfonso [Portela] started off on Del Paso [Boulevard] and this shop became available. The shop on Del Paso got too big, so I came out this way to start spreading out the business.
Why did you decide to start a barber shop?It’s funny, because I used to get my hair cut right here from Ernie Wong, and my haircuts were really great. And then we moved out to the south area, and I used to get my hair cut from another spot that wasn’t as good, so I used to come home and fix it. Cutting hair just kind of became a hobby. In high school … I would cut hair at school, and then come home and there would be like three or four friends like, “Hey, can you cut it up? I’m going out this weekend.” It’s a hobby that became a profession.
Who’s that big fat dude who’s always in there?Oh, Hector [Sanchez]. That’s my mascot/security/car washer.
He washes cars?Yeah, he breaks out the hose, you know? He’s one of a kind. Everybody always seems to know him. He’s a riot. He’s something else.
He frisks me every time I go in to get a haircut.Yeah, that’s why he’s security.
Well, he seems to really enjoy that.(Laughs.) That’s right.
How do you know that dude?Just from the neighborhood. I grew up in Southside Park, and his younger sister and my older sister were best friends. When I started cutting hair over here, he was one of the first people who came in, like, “Hey, what’s up Carlito? What’s going on?!” And I’m looking at this dude like, “Who are you?” But he came in and the first thing he did was—you know how I have that checkered floor?
Yeah.He came in and started doing hopscotch all across the floor. And then he’s like, “All right, Carlito, see you later.” He just took off. People were tripping, like, “Who’s that guy?” Just a neighborhood, dude, you know?
So how do you get new customers?You know, I really don’t advertise. Someone walking out of the haircut spot and someone will see their hair and say, “Hey, that’s nice, where’d you get that haircut?” Kind of like how you came in!
Yup.That’s something I always keep in mind as I’m cutting hair: This could be a future client. Ninety percent of my clientele is word-of-mouth.
It also seems like 90 percent of your clients are Mexican.I would say a big part of it is Mexican, but when I’m looking at my shop right now, I have two white guys, an Asian guy and one Mexican guy.
It’s like the United Nations in there.No kidding! Maybe about a week ago I had an Asian guy who was a lawyer, a black guy who was a doctor, a Mexican guy who was, like, a career criminal, and then I just had, like, a sports-bookie guy, a little Asian dude. The feeling about the barber shop is there’s no way all these people come together at once. Everyone’s talking in the shop. It’s just all sports. We try to throw a good vibe in the shop.
It gets crowded in there. Sometimes I have to wait.Yeah, it’s been up to a two-hour wait at times. I try to make it worth it with the magazines, SN&R, the TV, always having the cable on.
Is there a time when it’s not as crowded?Um, Wednesdays are usually my slower days. Thursday, Friday, Saturday—forget about it.
Was it scary to open up a business?As far as being scared to do it, I knew my skills were good enough. I knew I could do any type of hair—black hair, white hair, Mexican hair—nothing scares me, none of that stuff.
Ever think of moving to a bigger place?You know, I’ve had an opportunity to go to a bigger spot. But let them beat the location that I have right now. Even though it’s a smaller shop, I’m not too much into the mainstream. I’m not a Supercuts. You know, for a barber shop, this is all you need. I want it real personal, you know?
It’s kind of personal, what I do. I have a lot of people come in and say … they want to have that old barber-shop feel with the chairs and the floor. … And the Playboy magazines.