Friday, June 24, 2005

Look Ma, no barber’s pole!

Two plastic signs that read “FOR SALE BY OWNER - 242-8637” mark the beginning of the end of a business several paces east of the intersection of Central Avenue and 12 Street between Albuquerque’s booming downtown and Old Town. Affixed to the interior of windows of the Castillo Brothers Barber Shop for only a few days, the signs have already attracted the attention of a number of local real estate agents who would love an opportunity to list the property.

However, the owners are real “do-it-themselfers,” and would prefer to sell their shop with 2nd floor apartments and two-story house that sit on a lot that encompasses approximately 8,450 square feet of prime real estate while avoiding the involvement of as many middlemen as possible. Since they returned home from THE war, Nick and Joe Castillo have made their livings by cutting hair in their cozy little shop at 1114 Central Avenue SW, and passed the time by spinning colorful yarns while patrons relax with feet up and watch traffic as it cruises along Route 66.

According to Nick, their structure on Central was originally built in the 1940s, and served as a paint store. Later the building housed a dentist office and even a restaurant before being converted into a barbershop. The Castillo Brothers rented the business for several years before they purchased it outright around 1960. Since then, the brothers have made the drive from their homes in Belen practically every day in order to keep court in the two-chair shop.

Unlike the barbershop in the small, midwestern town where I grew up, the Castillo Brothers do not maintain a subscription to National Geographic magazine, nor can they issue authentic fishing licenses. However, if you need to have a copy of a key made, they can take care of that while you wait. Also, the most recent Swimsuit Edition of Sports Illustrated seems to be located on the top of the magazine stack no matter what time of year- as if by magic.

Although hairstyles and attitudes have undergone major changes over the past 5 decades, the Castillo Brothers approach to dealing with customers hasn’t. A haircut only sets a customer back $8 ($10 for long hair) while the stories and jokes remains free of charge. When I asked why they were retiring, Nick told me that his brother has wanted to quit for the past few years, and he doesn’t feel like continuing without him. He added that he really enjoys his work, but after cutting hair for 51 years, feels that he has done his “share.”

The Castillo Brothers also have rented furnished apartments on the premises to short-term residents over the years- a business venture they claim often has as many headaches as it does benefits.

So, it is possible that I have had my last haircut at the Castillo Brothers Barber Shop. Perhaps they’ll still be in business five or six weeks from now when I realize that the crazy-haired lunatic staring at me in the mirror is due for a trim, or I will arrive and discover that the building is the new home of an art studio/gallery or law office- or has been demolished and cleared for new construction.

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