Shave and a haircut, with a new twist
While the barbers were busy prepping for my first cut, I asked a man the regulars know as “Big Mike” if he was getting a haircut.
“I’ve already been here twice this week,” Big Mike said. “I’m just here to read the newspaper.”
Big Mike is one of many regular customers who visit Alhambra's Main Street Barbers for more than just a fresh 'do. For more than 50 years, the shop — formerly Merchain’s Haircutting — has been offering traditional men’s barbershop services, including warm towel service after a cut and an old-fashioned razor blade shave. Last year, long-time employee Irene Dominguez took over ownership, and she has been making some changes to modernize the barber shop while continuing to serve several generations of Alhambra residents.
Among the most significant changes was the name. As the new owner, Dominguez wanted to preserve the traditional vibe of the shop while making it her own. “We knew it was going to be different, but we also have four generations of loyal customers who come anyway," Dominguez said while showing me around the shop. "So it didn’t matter if we changed our name or not."
Indeed, on a recent visit regulars were either waiting for a haircut or coming inside the barbershop on Main Street and Curtis Avenue just to say hello to the employees and exchange hugs like long-time friends.
Former owner Paul Merchain maintains a chair in the corner, around which pictures and memorabilia from his service in the Korean and Vietnam wars hang on the walls. Now in his 70s, Paul still cuts hair at the shop about twice a week.
As a teenager, Paul shined shoes before learning how to cut hair at his brother Ray's barbershop. The Merchain brothers eventually ran the business together until Ray passed away in December 2011. Paul sold the barbershop to Dominguez, a hairstylist raised in East LA who has been working with the Merchains for 19 years.
In addition to changing the name, Dominguez has also made an effort to reach out to new customers through social media. Stylist Andrea Hoffman created a profile for the barbershop on the popular customer-driven website Yelp, where users create reviews and rate local business. The shop has a perfect five-star rating.
“We haven’t advertised our barbershop for 26 years until now,” Hoffman said. “Even on a slow day, at least one or two people come by and say that they found out about us on Yelp.”
While new customers are discovering the old shop, regulars like Big Mike like to hang out there even on days they don't need a haircut. Big Mike compared the shop to a certain bar where everybody knows your name: “This place is just like Cheers.”
Main Street Barbers is located at 1336 W Main St, Alhambra, CA 91801.