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Champions Only Barber Shop in San Fernando Closes Its Doors PDF Print E-mail
Written by Diana Martinez/Editor   
Thursday, 09 January 2014 00:00

Retiring Barber Gary Ballin with his wife and Mayor ProTem Sylvia Ballin.

After 47 years Gary Ballin, a favorite barber in the City of San Fernando, is putting his scissors away – at least for the moment.

Last week, Ballin closed the doors of the Champions Only Barber Shop much to the un- happiness of his long time cus- tomers, who gathered at his retirement party at the Library Plaza.

When San Fernando resident Robert Razo heard about the shop closing, he put in his re- quest to be Ballin's last custom- er in the old-fashioned barber’s chair.

“I wanted to be the last one to get a haircut in the shop,” said Razo who described Ballin as someone he could talk to about things that he might not want to talk to other people about, Gary is like a bartender with a razor,” Razo laughed. “It’s kind of sad, now where do we go?” he asked. “The barber shop was a hub, a hang out place for the 'guys' to go and talk.”

Razo said he has been getting his hair cut by Ballin for the last ten years, and what people don't know is there were times when simple conversations at the barber shop turned into some pretty nice deeds.

“I remember when Frank Diaz, [the owner of the House of Brews at Library Plaza] and I were in the shop and just having a conversation about families that were in need – some guys in the shop overheard our conver- sation and pretty soon the word got out and Gary's customers started donating and dropped off gift cards and it was through that conversation that we raised $5,000 for five families.”

The shop itself was a local treasure, with an old-fashioned barber pole, a gift from Ballin's father, filled with photos and boxing memorabilia, a lifelong passion for Ballin who has also been involved with the local San Fernando chapter of the VFW and the Golden Gloves Boxing Foundation. Few could stump Ballin's boxing knowledge and he advertised a free haircut to anyone who could give him the right answer to his boxing trivia.

Ballin started his career as a barber when he was just 18-years-old, when barber- shops were plentiful. “Just like I wouldn't go to a woman's dress shop, I would go to a men's shop – men would go to the barber and women would go to a beautician,” he said.

“My father was a bricklayer, and I didn't think I'd be very good at that. Growing up, I liked the environment of the barber shop; it was always a friendly place and I always had a vision for having an antique type shop.”

Ballin graduated from Barber College in North Hollywood and took his buddy Richard Ortiz, who was also only 18, to be his model for the state exam. Ortiz, now a retired homicide detective is still his customer today.

The first barber shop where Ballin worked was at Norm's Barber Shop in Sylmar where he styled pompadours which is a hairstyle that Ballin still wears today. “With what’s left of it,” Ballin jokes. 

“Flattops were also going pretty good too for a long time. I just kept going with it.”

Even when Ballin was a radio operator in Vietnam, a tent with a little light was set up for him and he cut hair for the other sol- diers for fifty cents. “They were my friends and I didn't want to gouge them.”

Ballin said that after 47 years it will be an adjustment to stop cutting hair altogether. So while he's closed the doors of the shop, he has kept his shop number so that customers can still make arrangements for a haircut.

He said he won't miss the overhead of having a shop, but will most certainly miss all of the people who have come into his shop.

“I've learned a lot from my customers. Going to work was like going to school,” he said

Ballin, who is known for a fast wit and a humor that always leaves one wondering, said that he has cut the hair from people of all walks of life and every kind of personality, “From priests to murderers,” he proclaims.

“You learn a lot from such a cross section of people. A doc- tor might share some helpful medical information and tell you something that you wouldn't hear or read about in the paper. An artist or a writer might share something else that you wouldn't know.” Ballin said that he has years of memories and wants to thank his customers for their “loyalty, friendship and humor.“

Last Updated on Friday, 10 January 2014 00:52