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Al Padilla and his daughter, Maria-Alicia Cordova, are celebrating Al’s Styling Salon’s 60th anniversary.

BELEN—The flip. The beehive. The pixie cut. The up-do. Feathered waves. Shaggy layers. 

Since 1958, Al’s Hair Salon, in Belen has kept up with the trends and hairstyles, and continues to be a staple in the community as the family-owned business celebrates 60 years in business.

Al Padilla became a hairdresser at a time when men weren’t the typical hairdresser. After opening his first hair salon on Becker Avenue, he has proven his dedication to the art of hair design and building up a loyal clientele base.

In the beginning, Padilla wasn’t comfortable being a hairdresser, even though his beauty school instructor had lured him back after he tried to quit more than once. He knew he had the talent, but wasn’t sure it was for him.

“It wasn’t easy,” Padilla said of becoming a hairdresser. “I was raised on a farm, we had a ranch, horses and cattle. It was very different. To me, it was very feminine.”

As a backup, Padilla also went to business school on the GI Bill, focusing on accounting. He says his education helped him grow and manage his business in Belen.

Padilla opened his first shop on Aug. 8, 1958 — two weeks after marrying his wife, Dolores — and had his business license in hand on Aug. 24.

“I bought the shop across from the bowling alley for $800,” he said. “It wasn’t very easy because people were very critical. A lot of women wanted to come to me but their husbands didn’t let them.”

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Al Padilla styles Eloisa Tabet's hair back in the day when it was rare to find a male hairdresser. 

A year later, Padilla bought the Delgado building on Main Street, where he stayed for the next 39 years. It wasn’t until 1997 that he moved down the street to the current location in the Trembly Building.

“We did very well,” Padilla said. “We felt very comfortable.”

While in the Delgado building, Dolores also went to beauty school and got her license, working hand in hand with her husband for 17 years. But thinking about their future and retirement, Dolores left the family-owned business and went to work as a bookkeeper with Belen Schools for the next 24 years until she retired.

“We made a good living,” Padilla said. “We were able to raise a family, with three children.

“I’ve had some devout clients. It’s comfortable to know it’s something that’s in you, something you know — your talent.”

Padilla said he would attend a lot of conventions, learning and constantly change his artistic talent with the times.

His daughter, Maria-Alicia Cordova, who now owns the businesses, graduated beauty school in 1980 and joined her father.

“Once I got started, I realized what a great mentor he was,” Cordova said of her father. “I’m really interested in fashion and wanted to be a buyer, but things change.

“I never felt I was a natural and had to really work at it. I had a lot of learning to do, but dad was always by my side.

“I struggled with up-dos and with prom styles, but my dad was always there, helping and giving me advise. He helped me a lot.”

“She is very creative,” Padilla said of his daughter.

When Padilla won a seat on the Valencia County Commission in 1997, he handed over ownership to his daughter, but still maintained a steady workflow at the shop. Even today, at age 82, Padilla continues to hold regular hours two to three days a week.

Asked what his secret to his success is, Padilla simply said “stability.”

“You have to be pretty stable (to operate a business),” he said. “You have to stick around and meet with people, that’s very important. When I do something, I carry through. It’s important that you’re reliable because people depend on you.”

Cordova agreed, saying she owes a lot to her parents, as well as the community.

“The community has really embraced us,” Cordova said. “And they don’t forget us. It’s a history that we’ve been in this community and they’ve been wonderful. They’ve supported our family.

“I’m also proud of being able to work with my father, side by side.”

“You have to be devoted — dedicated to your craft,” Padilla said. “You also have to have a joy for your work, because my clients were so wonderful.”

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