Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 3, 2010

A snip in time

Roy Ruiz offers diplomacy and hair cutting on University Avenue since 1940s

by Georgia Wells

Presidential Barbershop owner Roy Ruiz, 90, has been cutting hair on University Avenue a long time. More than 60 years on the job, he's survived the hippie movement and the fussy women; he's seen tears; he's had some tough customers and the little boy with the long curls was no exception.

The boy, 7, sitting in the chair on a recent Saturday, golden ringlets falling past his shoulders, did not want his hair cut. To be fair, his hair was Little Lord Fauntleroy beautiful.

But his father, perhaps understandably, had something else in mind. Something more like the photo on his iPhone: not military, but short, with wispy bangs.

"Jake hasn't had a haircut since school started last September," dad Rick Wallace said.

Ruiz swirled the white cloth around Jake in one deft motion. Over the decades he's practically seen it all.

Ruiz got into the business after returning from World War II, where he'd served in a B24 bomber in the Aleutian Islands.

"It was cold and miserable," he said. By the end of the war, he was ready to return to his beloved California where he was born (in 1920), growing up around San Jose.

Coming home, Ruiz knew he didn't want to be a laborer. He decided instead to go to barber school in Los Angeles, persuading his older brother Al to join him in the trade.

He started cutting hair in the back of Rapp's Shoe Store in the mid-1940s, on University Avenue in Palo Alto. Shoes were sold in the store's front; hair was cut in the back.

"Palo Alto was a quiet, college town then," Ruiz said, spritzing Jake's curls.

Ruiz bought the Presidential Barbershop and hired his brother Al, just as disaster struck the hair industry: Beatlemania.

"Only five or six haircuts all day!" Ruiz said. While the Beatlemania craze no doubt affected the male haircutting business more than the female, Ruiz still prefers male customers.

"Women are harder to please," he said, as Jake's golden ringlets began to fall to the floor.

The steady business these days usually keeps the four chairs full. His barbers, dressed in gray slacks and white button-ups, note the time by a wall-mounted clock with a backwards face readable only in the mirror. Al died in 1998.

After all these years, Ruiz says he still enjoys the job and his customers.

"We talk about pretty women, Stanford sports and golf," he said. He used to throw Christmas parties in his shop at which customers stayed for hours, gabbing.

After years of haircuts, a few of Ruiz's customers returned the party favor. A client of 50 years, Leo Ware, joined three friends to celebrate Ruiz's 90th birthday in April. They sat in the antique green barber chairs and toasted him with a bottle of vodka.

The men have aged together.

"When I line up to get my hair cut, I find myself sitting with others in their 80s and 90s," longtime Palo Alto resident Ware said. "I have so little hair now, but he still charges me the same as a full head."

Eventually, Ruiz completed young Jake's transformation. His handsome little face did indeed look a bit more manly.

As to what led Jake to give in, it could have been peer pressure: His best friend got a haircut earlier in the day. But more likely, it was the $50 bribe that sealed the deal.

His father shrugged: "He's the better negotiator."

Editorial Intern Georgia Wells can be reached at gwells@embarcaderopublishing.com.

Comments

Posted by tom, a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 1, 2010 at 3:42 pm

Remember getting a haircut while reading/looking at a Playboy mag. Those were the days.


Posted by Nayeli, a resident of Midtown
on Sep 2, 2010 at 2:37 pm

What a great story! I think that I need to encourage my husband to get a haircut there!


Posted by Reluctant Siliconer, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 2, 2010 at 5:44 pm

A $50 briber for a 7 year old to get a haircut? Dude, you're painting yourself into a corner! How much will the bribe be when he's say, 12 or 15??


Posted by Mark Chandler, a resident of Menlo Park
on Sep 2, 2010 at 5:52 pm

Roy's been cutting my hair for 33 years, and my son Will's, who's now 18, since he was 8 months old. Before he retired, Roy's brother-in-law Moe also cut my hair. Roy, and his team of much younger colleagues at the President, are the best of the old-time barbers. A great and friendly atmosphere, a special place where folks know each other. What a community is all about.


Posted by Al, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 2, 2010 at 6:14 pm

Roy (and previously Moe) has been cutting my hair for over 20 years. He's a great guy, knows how to cut hair, and is always there early with a smile. Great to see stories like this!


Posted by Mom of a happy customer, a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Sep 2, 2010 at 9:41 pm

What a wonderful story about a wonderful business in our community! My husband has been getting his hair cut there since we moved to the area 10 years ago, and now my 4-year-old does the same. The barbershop is indeed a special place and it gives you the feeling that you are in a different era from the past, an era when
local, community-based, friendly small businesses thrived.

Kudos to Roy and his family for keeping their tradition alive!


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