Published: Wednesday, February 4, 2004
A cut above
President Barbershop's Moe Sanchez is an old-fashioned class
by Dana Green
Photos by Norbert von der Groeben
A pedestrian walks past the front window
of The President Barber Shop, which has been in business
on University Avenue since the late 1920s.
you want water or Miracle Gro with that?" the barber asks.
"Not today," says the businessman with a smile.
It's been Moses "Moe" Sanchez' closing line after every
haircut for more than 40 years. He's seen a lot of change in Palo
Alto, but he thinks some
traditions are worth keeping.
At the President Barbershop on University Avenue, which Sanchez has co-owned
since 1960, customers are cheerfully greeted by first name, Sanchez and the other
barbers all wear freshly ironed dress shirts and ties, and an old-fashioned barber
pole still spins merrily outside the shop's front window.
Barber Tom Holguin brushes snippets of hair
from four-year customer Max Pruden of Santa Clara.
In an era of franchises and mega-chains, Sanchez's shop harkens back to a time
of family-run businesses and courteous service. It was his brother-in-law, Roy
Ruiz, who sold his half of the business to Sanchez in 1960. Since that time,
the shop has remained in the family, with cousins, nephews and sons coming on
board to help out. Roy still cuts hair at the shop two days a week.
"This barbershop has always been family," Sanchez said.
At the end of a busy day, Dan Rodriguez
sweeps the floor of the shop, where the task is referred to
as "practice for the Olympic curling team."
Sanchez's son worked at the shop for seven years, before opening
his own barbershop near Sacramento. "He's doing very well," Sanchez said. "He's a
better barber than I am, but I'm not going to tell him that!" he laughs.
Sanchez remembers when most of the shops lining University Avenue
were also family-owned. "All
the merchants knew each other...my kids could go into shops and say, 'Just charge
it to Dad,'" Sanchez recalled.
Sanchez also remembers when the President Hotel, which houses the barbershop,
was still the premiere hotel in Palo Alto, with a grand Spanish-style spiral
staircase that climbed all the way to the top floor. The hotel was closed in
the 1960s, and has been remodeled into apartments.
Moe Sanchez cuts John Eckland’s hair
recently just as he has since 1961, when a hair cut cost
Everything has changed since the days when Palo Alto was a quiet,
quaint university town. But Sanchez, who commutes from his home
in San Jose
three days a week,
is pragmatic. "I still like Palo Alto," he said. "We
just have to change along with it."
Although not all the changes are welcome, business at the barbershop
has improved over the years. The shop used to rely on college kids
as its main
but when long hair became fashionable, the students stopped coming. "Business
was so bad in the '60s and '70s we used to go do house-calls," Sanchez
Above a shelf of hair products, the barbers
display their licenses and work schedules — misspellings
Sanchez and Ruiz would also go to Stanford Hospital and make a few dollars cutting
Now businessmen are his regulars, and the students are starting to trickle back
in. As Sanchez moves on to a new customer, barber Richard Reyes puts the finishing
touches on a spiky crewcut for a student in baggy shorts and flip-flops.
Growing up in San Jose, Sanchez did not plan on being a barber.
After serving in the Air Force in the 1950s, he trained to work
as an aircraft
But when the technology changed, so did Sanchez's career. "All the companies
switched to jets," he recalled. "I said, well, I'll go to barber school.
I've always liked to work with my hands. Talking to people, telling lousy jokes,
it's fun." Sanchez commuted by train to San Francisco to go
to barber school.
Jim Murray of Santa Clara gets a cut by Sanchez
while barber Dan Rodriguez (right) waits for his next customer.
Sanchez believes that he's lasted four decades in the business
because he brings a sense of playfulness to the job. "You have to have a sense of humor in
this line of work, rather than just 'yes, sir' and 'no, sir,'" Sanchez
It was Sanchez's idea to install the backward clock on the barbershop wall. Not
only can customers tell the time while they're getting their hair cut, but Sanchez
has some fun with his youngest customers.
"I have a lot of fun with that, with the little kids," Sanchez
laughed. I ask them, what time it is, and they look at the clock
Six-year-old Ben Leonard is skeptical about
his haircut, but barber Roy Ruiz isn’t put out: he’s
cut plenty of youngsters’ hair in his career at the
When Sanchez hand-wrote his work schedule and posted it on the wall, he realized
he'd left one letter out. But the sign remains on the wall to this day.
"You'd be surprised how many people notice," Sanchez said. "It
starts a conversation."
After 43 years of good haircuts and bad jokes, Sanchez has decided to retire
at the end of the month. Reyes will take over his half of the business; Roy's
son Carlos owns the other half. The commute from San Jose has gotten more difficult,
and he hopes to devote more time to his woodworking hobby.
But even in retirement, Sanchez is hoping to continue serving
the public. "It's
the type of business that I can donate my time at convalescent
homes, hospitals ... I can do things like that."
Like the barber pole, Sanchez may be old-fashioned, but he's still