Features

Raul Gonzalez retires after 65 years of cutting hair in Hollister

Some families had been loyal customers for decades.
Raul Gonzalez and Dick Gear. Photo by Robert Eliason.
Raul Gonzalez and Dick Gear. Photo by Robert Eliason.

Clippers in one hand, comb in the other, barber Raul Gonzalez is cutting hair with precise and fluid movements. At 87 years old, he could be forgiven for a lapse of attention here and there, but his eyes are sharply focused on his client’s head as if he has already calculated every single cut to every single strand of hair.

Gonzalez is a living reminder of a simpler time, when the neighborhood barbershop was a gathering place for older clients to sit and gossip and younger clients would be brought to him for a rite of passage: their first haircut. Some families have been loyal customers for decades; he proudly claims he has gone through five generations in four different families now.

“I have young one guy,” Gonzalez said, “well, young compared to me. He was in grade school when I started cutting his hair. Fifty years later, the only time he has gotten a haircut anywhere else was when he was in the military.”

Gonzalez has been cutting hair at B & R Barber Shop at 215 5th Street in Hollister since October 1964. Barbering was not his first choice for a job; he was offered job training after his time in the Navy and had initially wanted to be a butcher.

“To be a butcher, they sent you off to a slaughterhouse in Ohio for an apprenticeship for a long time,” he said. “I had just gotten married so that went right out the window. I was in a barbershop saying I didn’t know what to do and the barber said, ‘Why don’t you go to school and do this?’ And here I am.”

Over the years, Gonzalez has seen some things change, but nothing that has had much of an impact on his primary business.

“The shears are better, but I don’t think the quality of the razors is as good as it used to be,” he said. “Tonics and aftershave lotions have changed. Before there were only two or three things you could get and now you go into a store and there’s a whole aisle full. People sometimes want some crazy haircuts and if it is too complicated I’ll tell them to go somewhere else.”

Gonzalez has lived for his job and his clients and had always imagined that he would one day “just drop” while cutting hair. A recent change in ownership of the building is forcing him out and although he is not welcoming retirement, the last year and a half has been difficult, due to COVID.

“I had to shut down,” he said,” and then when I could reopen, I could only have one person in the shop at a time. My customers liked to hang around and talk, so it has been really different.  And now things are opening up and I’m closing down.”

One sign of the love this community has for him is that the announcement of his retirement on Facebook garnered almost 500 comments or likes, with many customers saying they were hoping for one last appointment and others wondering where they will be going to get their haircuts in the future. 

While his sons are hoping to have a day when his regular customers can come and say goodbye, his recovery from recent eye surgery may make that impossible. Still, he has been hearing from people steadily since the announcement.

“People who know me have been calling,” he said. “Being here is like being in Mayberry—you get to meet a lot of good people who appreciate you and you get to be like family to them.”

Gary Benson has been coming to Gonzalez for 20 years and had been recently asking him when he was going to retire. 

“I would say ‘when are you going to hang the job up,’” Benson said, “and he’d say ‘well, what am I going to do then?’ I’m going to miss him. He’s just a cool guy, likes to sling the bull. Never has anything bad to say about anybody. I am sure he had customers that needed reprimand but I don’t know if he ever did it.”

Gonzalez does remember a headache or two among his regular customers.

“I had one guy—I put up with him for a long, long time,” he said. “He was particular and annoying. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and I kicked him out. His daughter called me up and said, ‘Can you please take my dad back?’ I let him come back but he didn’t change. I guess the story made the rounds because I met his son-in-law once and he said to his wife, ‘This is the barber your dad drove crazy!’”

Rich Salinas has been going to Gonzalez for 35 years and has come to love him as a person and not just as a craftsman.

“He is just someone who is always there for you,” Salinas said. “Even if he is closing up and you can see he put in a day’s work, he will wait for you. He never wanted to raise his prices—we, the customers, made him do it. He’s a kind man, a generous man, and a caring person. It is sad to see him retire but he is up in age now. You don’t want it to happen but you can only wish him well.”

While there’s regret in his voice when talking about shutting down, he also sounds like he’s ready to move on.

“If it were up to me, I would keep working,” he said. ”But my sons have been after me to retire so I guess that is what’s happening. I’m going to be OK, though. My life is in the hands of the good Lord now. From here on in, every day is a gravy train.”

 

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Robert Eliason

I got my start as a photographer when my dad stuck a camera in my hand on the evening of my First Grade Open House. He taught me to observe, empathize, then finally compose the shot.  The editors at BenitoLink approached me as a photographer by have since encouraged me to write stories about things that interest me, turning me into a reporter as well.  BenitoLink is a great creative family that cares deeply about the San Benito community and I have been pleased to be a part of it.