Hollister barber cuts a long career short

Greg Vasquez, 19, talks with David Talavera during his last visit Wednesday at the Hollister Barber Shop. Vasquez has been coming to Talavera regularly since his first hair cut at one-year-old.

Greg Vasquez has been going to the same barber for 19 years, ever since his mother brought him there for his first haircut when he was a year old.

Since then it has been a tradition to visit the shop every two to three weeks. But last Wednesday he said he will have to find a new barber since David Talavera, who has cut hair from his Fifth Street shop for 42 years, is giving up the trade.

Talavera is retiring on Thursday and he said he looks forward to having more free time with his wife Angie, who retired last summer from a long career at the San Benito County Office of Education.

“I just want the freedom,” he said. “Angie and I both feel it’s time to do some things.”

At the top of the list are home improvement projects on the five-acre plot he owns in the country. For now, he said he’s still getting up each morning focused on work.

When Vasquez came into the shop last week, he brought a retirement gift for Talavera and talked sports with him.

“I actually have no idea where I’m going to go,” Vasquez said, of finding a new barber for the first time in his life. “How do I explain this haircut to someone cutting my hair?”

Talavera told him to tell a new barber that he wants it faded with a one on the sides and two on the top. He also advised Vasquez to give any new barber a couple visits to get it right.

“It’s hard to get it perfect on the first time,” he said.

Vasquez knows there is one service he probably won’t find at another barbershop – Talavera’s careful way of using a straight-edge razor and shaving cream to get a close cut around the ears and nape of the neck.

“I’m gonna miss that smell right there,” Vasquez said, of some aftershave Talavera applied after he used the straight edge.

Talavera said he had a picture of Vasquez’s first haircut on his desk, until he started packing up mementos to take home.

He gained a reputation over the years of being good with children. Every time a parent brought in a child for a first haircut, he would fill out a certificate for the family to take home and put a little bit of hair in a plastic bag for them to keep for a baby book.

“I’ve done that for years,” he said. “You can’t forget the lollipop, either.”

He said he keeps lollipops in a drawer and that kids will make a beeline straight for it when they get out of the chair after a visit.

Wide-ranging clientele

Talavera’s clients through the years have ranged in age from toddlers to seniors, and they have run the gamut from local politicians and business owners to cannery and field workers. He counts three sheriffs among his past and present clients, including former Sheriff Curtis Hill.

“It’s amazing that no matter what walk of life they come from, when they get in the barbershop, everyone blends in,” Talavera said.

He’s grown to be friends with many of his clients.

“I’ve heard a lot of stories and a lot of concerns,” he said. “You become friends. I’m a good listener. If they ask what I think, I offer advice. But you have to be careful what you say because it’s personal.”

Talavera said he lets the conversation go where customers want, though it often ends up on sports. He has a Raiders calendar and clocks on the walls of his shop, along with a TV mounted on the wall opposite the barber chair, which was tuned to ESPN on a recent morning.

With Vasquez, the two talked about a recent Oakland A’s game, steroid use and travel ball. But Talavera also asked when Vasquez will start classes and about other family members.

Talavera has had plenty to talk about through his 46 years as a barber.

He worked for two years in Watsonville before settling in Hollister. He worked for a shop in Hollister until around 1969 when he moved to his Fifth Street spot across from Muenzer’s. He had a partner for 16 years, but when his partner retired he stayed in the shop on his own.

He said 26 years ago he switched from accepting walk-ins to only taking appointments, often on his rotary phone at the shop.

“I worked a little longer than I thought I would,” he said.

His retirement was news to Damien Diaz, who was in for a mid-morning haircut last Wednesday. Diaz discovered Talavera’s shop a couple months before and said he was in for his fourth haircut with the barber.

“A nice, clean haircut for a man is hard to find,” Diaz said, noting that women often have a lot more choices with salons than men have with traditional barbershops.

Sometimes, though, it just takes patience.

“When I was younger, I was in real estate,” Talavera said. “If you put a house for sale, we always said there was a buyer out there – you just had to find it. There is a barber just for you, but you have to find it.”

Early on in his career, Talavera said one client started coming to him precisely because he did not want to have to find another barber in his lifetime.

Talavera was in his late 20s when he first cut the hair of Eugene Carbone, who was in his 60s. As Carbone became less mobile, Talavera started going to the home of this former president at the Hollister Canning Co. to cut his hair.

He gave Carbone his final haircut before he died in May at age 104.

“He had so much energy,” Talavera said. “Customers make your business. You get attached to them. I’ve become friends with my customers, especially the last 26 years. There is a bond created between me and the clientele.”

When Talavera closes the door Thursday, he will return one more time to collect all his barbershop tools. For now, he will store his barber chair in his garage.

He said some customers are hoping he will come out of retirement.

“Some are saying, ‘If you set up your chair in your garage or in your home, call me,’” he said.

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