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Good old-fashioned haircuts

Posted: February 28, 2009 1:58 a.m.
Updated: February 28, 2009 1:51 a.m.

Jack Lee, of Canyon Country, trims Arnold Torres' hair at Jack's barber shop Thursday. Lee, 74, attended barber college out of high school and has only missed two days of work in his barber shop career. His loyal customers appreciate the "old-fashioned" feel of the shop.

 
An eclectic mix of framed old silver pistols and aged posters of James Dean, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood and American Indians hang in random order on the walls of the old barber shop.

A wooden coatrack stands in the corner, and a line of orange vinyl armchairs faces the barber's one-man work station, a green barbershop swivel chair.

In the middle of the quaint setting stands Jack Lee carefully trimming the grey hair of Arnold Torres. Slightly muffled classical music sounds from an old radio in the background.

A 28-year customer of Jack's Barber Shop in Canyon Country perhaps describes it best.

"It's just kind of old-fashioned," said Dennis Bartash, of Canyon Country. "When I went in, it felt to me like a barber shop that I'd gone into when I was a kid."

For Lee, the barber shop is home five days a week. He's only missed two days of work since he completed barber college in 1954 - not counting the three interim years he was in the Army, that is.

"If you looked at the Herald Examiner at that time, there was always about 20 jobs for barber shops," Lee said, regarding his calling to the business. "So I figured if there's that many vacancies ... well, I always wanted to be self-employed. It was a win-win situation."

Lee has owned three barber shops but plans to stay at the small shop he occupies at 18352 Soledad Canyon Road. Before moving to Canyon Country, he tried to retire after closing his previous shop in North Hollywood. "Tried" is the key word.

"I look forward to going to work," he said. "When I closed up in North Hollywood, I didn't know if I was going to make it through the first year. It was just too boring."

Lee, who lives within walking distance of the shop, said people are the reason he loves the job.

"After a while you just get to know everybody - that's the way it is with a neighborhood barber shop," he said.

The economy has no doubt affected business - by almost 50 percent, he said. But his loyal customers still drop in for their $9 haircuts from a man with decades of experience.

"I like coming here ‘cause he knows how to cut my hair," said Torres, 72, of Acton. "He's been cutting my hair since my hair was still dark and black."

Torres said he also enjoys the old posters on the wall because they make him "feel young."

The previous owner of the barber shop left some of the framed pistols and posters when he gave the shop over to Lee, but many of Lee's customers have contributed to the collection, which includes a "$500 Reward for Jesse James" flier hanging near a painting of an old western barber shop.

A customer recently donated a 1915 photo of a train passing beside Soledad Canyon Road near where Valencia Lanes now stands.
"One of my customers brought that in. He knew I was interested in the history of this area," Lee said. "His father took that picture."

When days are slow, Lee does crossword puzzles or reads magazines and newspapers. He enjoys the peacefulness of it all and said he will not retire unless, or until, he has no other choice.

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