A memorial photo collage that says, “In loving memory of Candelario Sanchez” sits on a shelf overlooking the barber chair where Edward “Eddie” Gomez has spent most of his working career.
“Real good worker with a real good heart,” Gomez said of Sanchez as he cut a customer’s hair. “He was like a son to me.”
Sanchez left three daughters when he died Sept. 4, 2018 while riding his motorcycle. He was 29, just shy of his birthday. He was a close friend of Eddie Jr., 31, who worked two chairs down from his father on a recent Friday afternoon. And as usual, business was brisk at the Gomez Barber Shop on Seventh Street in Sanger.
One customer dozed as he waited his turn.
Sanchez likely would have spent his career at the small shop just off the alley and close to Academy Avenue, one of the community’s main drags. Little has changed at the shop since it was opened 70 years ago by Eddie Sr.’s uncle, Nino Gomez, and his father, Kino Gomez. Even the vintage barber pole remains by the door just as it did when the brothers started the small business. Eddie Sr. said he put some extra heavy-duty lag bolts to secure the pole to deter theft.
At the Cosmetology and Barber Expo in Fresno in April, members of the profession from throughout the central San Joaquin Valley gave Gomez Barber Shop their Legends Award for longevity. The small plaque was hung on the wall with all sorts of other memorabilia. A No. 15 Tom Flores Raiders jersey, signed, is on the opposite wall joined by an assortment of other historic posters, signs and photos. One placard shows prices as they were who knows how long ago. It says, “Hair Cut $2.50.” Shave is $2, and shampoo, plain, is $1.50.
What’s kept Gomez Barber Shop in business so many years boils down to consistency, quality and customer service, Eddie Sr. said.
“Dad said, ‘Be nice to everybody and give them a good haircut,’” Eddie Sr. said. “If he don’t walk out looking good, I don’t look good. That’s why we’ve been here so many years.”
Eddie Jr. explained a little of what that meant. “I used to work here with my grandfather,” he said. “He wouldn’t let me take any lunches. ‘You come to work, you be ready to work.’”
Eddie Jr. said Kino Gomez was old school. “There would be 15 to 20 people at all times. He’d say, ‘When all those chairs are empty, you can go home.’ We’d close at 6 p.m. But then more people would come in. My grandpa didn’t mess around.”
Sometimes getting through all those customers meant staying a couple hours overtime.
“He was fun and cool as hell but he worked and worked,” Eddie Jr. said.
Kino, who was 21 years younger than brother Nino, died about eight years ago. Eddie Sr. put a headstone out in front of the shop next to a light post. It’s surrounded by gravel. “I get all these veterans coming by,” he said. “They’ll stop and salute us. Then drive off.” His uncle and father served in the armed forces.
Entire families have been coming to Gomez Barber Shop over the decades. “Customers, friends and family,” Eddie Sr. said, describing the evolution experienced by a regular. “That’s how it works. You get to know people pretty well.”
And, he said, he has learned to be a good listener.
Ricky Drindis is one of those customers. He was waiting his turn. “I started coming to him 10, 15 years ago,” Drindis said. “He’s a solid guy. I come, ask him (questions) like any friend. (He) gives great advice.”
Vincent Lazaro didn’t have an appointment but showed up after his shift ended at 9 a.m. and waited. He was the one who had dozed off. He had worked a 12-hour night shift at Producer’s Dairy. “I’ve been coming in a long time,” he said. “I did walk in today. He’ll squeeze me in. He already knows what haircut I’m going to get.
“After you get out of here, you walk out with more confidence. You have a great hair cut, and everybody’s going to see it.”
Tony Padilla is the latest to join the Gomez team. He started about a year ago but has been cutting hair a long time. “I started when I was 13,” he said. “I’m 43. They recruited me.”
And Padilla, a longtime Sanger resident, said he likes the shop, the atmosphere and the people. “It’s the best place I’ve worked at so far,” he said. “They taught me a lot. I came in here thinking I knew it all, good hair cuts. But these guys taught quality and ‘It has to be good.’ Made me pick up my standard. And they’ll correct me every now and again.”
Part of that standard has to do with Nino and Kino Gomez. Their influence remains, not just in Eddie Sr. but what he’s taught the others. And the two founders left their stuff, like the old hot foam machine that looks straight out of a Clint Eastwood western, where he shoots somebody while getting a shave.
Eddie Sr. said despite his relative youth — he’s 52 — he knows a lot, especially the things the old timers talk about. He remembers stuff. “Some of these old guys tell stories,” he said. “They’ll say, ‘You’re not that old.’ And I say, ‘I listened to you guys.’”
Eddie Sr. said he focuses on the customer whose hair he’s cutting. He said that’s part of what they pay for. “He’s paying for a hair cut and for me to pay attention to him,” Eddie Sr. said.
“He’s a good listener,” said Carlos Rodriguez, 33. “I started coming when I was little. I get a weekly cut. Every Friday.”
That day Rodriguez talked about a meeting he had at work. Eddie Sr. asked questions when appropriate, and Rodriguez left with a smile. He said he felt more confident and ready for the weekend. He said it’s a tradition in his family as his dad, brothers and uncles also frequent the barber shop.
Angel Verduzco sat in Eddie Jr.’s chair and got a custom cut, one similar to what many of his fellow soccer players at Sanger High would get. Straight lines, clean look. “I came here because I switched barbers,” he said. “I really liked the way Eddie (Jr.) cuts. My friend Ryan told me to go to Gomez. It’s easy, simple. I liked it. I come after school every two weeks.”
Eddie Sr. said they do everything. Sometimes he uses the straight razor for that straight line and close shave. “It’s a better cut,” he said. “Way better.”
Eddie Sr. said Sanger is a good town. “I know a lot of good people,” he said. “My son will get 100 years. I’ll be dead by then.”
Eddie Jr. has two sons.
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