Oswaldo is a third-generation barber from Sinaloa, Mexico who opened his own business, Classic Barbershop, on Western Avenue in Koreatown in 2014. Classic Barbershop is known as a community hub, a place where regulars come to sit, talk, watch a boxing match and get a fresh cut or shave.
Where is your hometown?
I’m from Sinaloa, Mexico. I spent all my teenage years there and moved to Glendale in 2012. My grandpa is actually a barber in Sinaloa; he has over 60 years of barbering experience. He and his two brothers are barbers—they used to cut each other’s hair—so it’s three siblings that are barbers and I’m the next one in the family.
I grew up in a small town where everyone knew each other and my grandpa’s barbershop was in the house. It was a community gathering spot. People came just to hang out sometimes and not just to go and get a haircut. My grandpa was involved in politics, but since there was a lot of corruption, he got out of it. The barbershop was right behind the church, which was the center of the town. So if I go to Mexico and I say “I’m Aurelio Garcia’s grandkid,” they all know who he is. He’s a very well educated man, a legit guy.
He’s 83 years old and he still cuts hair at his house. He’s faster than me. It’s a different haircut over there. We’re very detailed here. I wanted to take it a step further.
He came to my barbershop and I cut his hair here. We have mats that we stand on to make it more comfortable and he stood on it and was like, “I need one of these.” So I took him one.
Do you live or work in Koreatown?
I work in Koreatown. I live 20 minutes up the street in Glendale, but I cut hair here. My partner Hector and I went to barber school in Boyle Heights, and then we opened up the shop a few months after we graduated. We run and manage Classic Barbershop.
I give it my best shot. It’s my first business so I’m still learning. I try to come in early so I can clean up and get a cup of coffee and start cutting hair around 10. I average 10-12 clients a day—back-to-back haircuts. I would say 70 percent of our clientele are regulars who come to the same barber every time.
We have a lot of Yelpers, and then the best marketing is word-of-mouth. A lot of people get referred, and come in saying “Oh, so-and-so told me about you.” Social media makes it so easy. We instagram. Most of the clients we take pictures of are regulars. Every haircut is tailored, a version of art or a different canvas. It’s like a design that you put together from the blend to the shape of the client’s head.
What are your thoughts on Koreatown?
I like that it’s a community where people know each other. Being a barber and having this environment makes it feel like a small town with a mom-and-pop shop. I shop at some of the furniture stores down on Western and we eat at the small restaurants, like the Guatemalan pupusa spot and The Bun Shop up the street. There used to be a Korean fried chicken place that closed down. Melrose has a couple new spots—Melrose Café and a new restaurant on each side. I go north because I live that way.
We have a lot of actors, people trying to make it in Hollywood, people coming from out of state to pursue their acting or modeling careers, coming in. There’s not a lot of families around here anymore. This is a very central location, so it’s not too overpriced like other areas. It’s getting there, though.
What are your Thoughts on Western Ave.
We have a new crazy person who comes around every two or three months. We had a guy who would dress up as a dancer and he would dance in front of the shop, then he was a soccer player, and then he was a Star Wars character with machine guns. He has different personalities, so every few months he’s a different person. There’s an empty golf range parking lot with a homeless encampment there, so those people come around too. The parking situation is pretty bad with all the apartment complexes and all the development going on. The apartments here don’t have parking, so the church rents parking which drives the rent up. You have so many people coming from out of town who are willing to pay for it. It is $1200 for a single apartment, so imagine what they charge for parking.
What is your favorite place in Koreatown?
Honestly, we gather here a lot. We stay here to watch sports or hang out with friends after work. Even if we’re going to go somewhere else, we meet here. It’s like a home away from home. We keep up with sports, because it’s a barbershop and there’s always a client who wants to talk about sports, so we follow soccer, basketball and boxing.
A lot of clients live in the area, some come get haircuts come and hang out. They’ll pass by and stop in. A few are friends from high school. We’ve had fights where we had to bring chairs up to watch the match. We had an art show here one time—some paintings, abstract art and photography—it was a couple, the girl does photography and the guy painted, I’ve know them for a while.