Louie Aragon to close up shop after 44 years
It’s been 44 years since Louie Aragon bought his barber shop from Joe Leo Romero and settled in to have a long and illustrious career along Belen’s Main Street.
Aragon tended to the hair of several generations of Belen men, many of which he’s watched grow from brown to gray. But, at the end of the month, Aragon, 81, will take down his red, white and blue barber pole, put his scissor and razors away and retire for good from the profession he’s known since 1958.
The trade that would see Aragon through the greater part of his life began in Palo Alto, Calif., in 1957, when he enrolled in barber college using the G.I. bill.
“I was in the service during the Korean War and I wanted some kind of a trade, and I thought (barbering) was the easiest to do on the G.I. bill, so I went to barber college,” Aragon said.
At the time, Aragon was employed with the Coca-Cola Bottling Co., and after graduating in 1958, he supplemented his income by barbering on Saturdays to support his young family.
Full of humor, upbeat and talkative, Aragon is every bit the quintessential barber.
“For a beer or two, or if the baby needed some diapers, I barbered on the side on Saturdays,” he said. “I gave some well-known guys hair cuts over there.”
During his time in the Bay Area, he said he saw the tops of more than one famous person’s head, including Leo Nomellini, of the San Francisco 49ers; Tom Flores, quarterback for the Oakland Raiders; and Charles Alden Black, the husband of movie star Shirley Temple.
When asked if they were good tippers, Aragon grins mischievously.
“Oh yeah,” he says, “Oh yeah, oh yeah, back then.”
In Belen, Aragon’s most notable clients include the late District Judge Filo Sedillo and former Gov. Bruce King, whom Aragon said was “good people.”
Aragon’s wife, Antonia “Anthony,” whom he met and fell in love with in May of 1956 while visiting family in Belen, his home town, always wanted to come back home to New Mexico, he said, joking not to tell anyone though because he was the “boss.”
“In ’56 I came over here… then is when I met my wife,” he said. “I stayed here, I fell in love with her. That was in May, and then in November, we got married.
“And then in January, I took her to California. And she was always wanting to come back. But don’t get me wrong, I was the boss. She finally got me back over here in ”66.”
So the Aragons packed up their things and moved east to Belen to make their home, and where Aragon made a name for himself as the barber with the free haircuts.
Aragon jovially points out a sign hanging on his wall: “Haircuts are free, $6 for the BS,” it reads, though in 1969 he says those $6 BS sessions were only a whopping $1.50.
Today, at $6 a pop, Aragon says cutting hair is something he does mainly to keep busy and socialize.
“About two months ago, I went over to McDonalds to drink that cheap coffee,” he said. “There’s about 12 people in there, senior citizens, they’re old fogies, they’re younger than me, but they’re old fogies.
“‘Oh I hurt here, I’ve got a bronchitis, and arthritis and everything else.’ Shoot I went home, I didn’t want to listen to that. So that’s the reason I’m over here.”
“He loves talking,” says his eldest daughter, Rosalyn Romero, of Aragon. “The people that come to the barber shop, they’ll tell me that they went to get a haircut from him and I say, ‘Oh my gosh, did he talk your ear off?’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh no, I like your dad. He always has lots to say.’”
She jokes that he’s also famous for nearly knocking people out of the barber chair when his conversations get lively and animated.
The 1970s saw a downturn in business for Aragon.
“Business was tough there for 18 years,” he said. “The hippies ran. A costumer of mine would come over here to get his hair cut every six months or so … I’d ask him, ‘How do you want your hair cut?’ And he’d tell me, the same way I cut it last time, and I’d say, ‘I don’t know how I cut it last time. That was six months ago.’
“Then mommas used to come over here with little 4- or 5-year-old kids that got their hair cut six months ago and the first thing she’d say when she opened the door is, ‘Louie, that last haircut you gave Junior sure grew fast.’ I’d tell her I aught to order more of that fertilizer, it works good.”
Looking around the shop at a lifetime of memories, Aragon’s children begin to reminisce about growing up in the barbershop.
Son Louie Aragon II, gazing at an ancient looking broom leaning against an equally antique shoe shine booth, remembers going to the shop after school with his older brother, Bobby, to shine shoes and sweep the floors.
“(Bobby) was probably in second grade, and I remember the night before Dad was going to take over he was saying, ‘Man, I can hardly wait to be a shoe-shine boy,’” Louie said, laughing at their childhood ambitions.
Romero says her father is also famous for always having a stash of bubble gum to give out to youngsters, and Aragon says today there are grown men who bring their kids in for the treat they treasured as children.
His youngest daughter, Vicki Aragon, remembers their father having his children sometimes cut his hair for him. When she’d ask him how she was supposed to cut it, she said he’d put both his hands in his hair and push it to stick straight up, and say, “Just cut what’s above the fingers!”
She also remembers her father’s business plan: “The first three haircuts are for the rent, and then the next three haircuts are for the beer. And after that is take-home pay.”
Aragon says most of his customers are familiar with his three haircut plan.
“Years back, it was a full house on a Saturday,” chimed in Aragon. “This new couple was sitting there, and I was cutting this other guy’s hair and he says, ‘Hey, are you working on your beer money now or are you still on your rent money?’ ‘No, I’m just starting my beer money.’ … And then I heard that gal whispering to her honey, she says, ‘That guy sure must drink a lot of beer!’”
Stepping into Louie’s Barber Shop is like stepping into a time capsule. On the cabinets, lining the mirror, rests bottles of dandruff remover straight out of another era. And in his drawer, Aragon reveals a collection of campaign buttons from Gil Sanchez to David King.
In the center of the room sits three antique barber chairs, and under their seats are stamps indicating they were made in 1931, making them as old as their owner. After the shop shuts its doors, each of his children will inherit one of the chairs.
“It’s going to be weird him not being here,” says Romero. “Everybody knows him here in town if they’ve been here a while. All the people that have come to him and everybody in town is going to miss him.”
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