‘We’re sure going to miss you’

Photo by Priscilla Waggoner Art the Barber with long-time customer Ron David.

Art’s Barber shop closing in mid-December

ALAMOSA — On a cold but sunny November afternoon just a few days before Thanksgiving, more cars than usual are rolling down State Avenue, one after another past number 503, a business that is nothing less than an institution in Alamosa.

Inside the historic building with “Art’s Barber-Shop” stenciled on the window in big white letters and a barber’s pole on the side, Art Velasquez, an institution on his own and known everywhere as simply “Art the barber”, is doing what he has been doing five days a week from 7:30 in the morning to 5 at night for more than 55 years. Art Velasquez is giving, what is generally agreed to by just about everyone, the best men’s haircut in town.

In less than three weeks, all that comes to an end.

The shop where Art has been barbering for more than half a century has been sold to make way for a hotel going in on the second floor overhead. The barber shop, lined with three old porcelain sinks and three barber chairs of the kind just not seen anymore, an old shoeshine stand up against the wall and a cash register in the corner where the highest denomination on the keys is $1 will soon be replaced by furniture used in an office fitting for a boutique hotel.

“Everything in the shop has been sold,” he tells a customer who’s waiting for a haircut, a statement that, if that afternoon is any indication, he must make multiple times a day.

Art was born in Antonito and, after spending middle school years outside the Valley, graduated from Alamosa High School. When he returned after serving in the military, he “didn’t have an occupation suited for civilian life," so he decided to be a barber. “I wanted to be my own boss,” he says.

Back then, an apprenticeship was required and, with none available in the small town of Alamosa, he headed to Colorado Springs to complete the two-year requirement. He came back home as soon as he was finished, barbering first for Delmar Jeffers for a year followed by buying the shop from Red Burton in what was the Victoria Hotel. When that burned up, in 1970, he bought a barber shop from Dave Miller, across the street from where he is now, ultimately moving to his location in 503 in 1980, where he’s been ever since.

Miller, who sold Art all the equipment in his shop, told him the building where he’s located dates back to 1928. “Just a few years short of 100 years old,” he says.

Art got the news about the building sale earlier this fall.

“I was sad when I first heard about it,” he says in a friendly and calm voice. “I didn’t like it. I would like to have done it on my own schedule. But I think it’s time I retire. I’m 80 years old. And my wife’s about to convince me it’s OK.”

His customers, however, are not having such an easy time.

“We sure are going to miss you and miss coming here,” Carolyn David tells him, sitting in a chair while her husband, Ron, gets his hair cut. The Davids come to Art from Monte Vista. “We’re not sure where we’re going to go to get your hair cut, are we?” she says in a voice loud enough for Ron to hear.

“I’m going to cut it myself,” Ron says, a little grumpily.

“That’s what I do,” Art says, with a laugh.

The back and forth is easy and names roll off people’s tongues as happens among those who have known each other a long time, something that can be said about most, if not close to all, of his customers.

“Over 55 years, you see a lot of people grow up and a new generation come in,” he says. “I’ve cut four generations of the Bervig’s hair. When I was doing my apprenticeship in Colorado Springs, Mike Porter — do you know him? He came to me. When he came here to go to college, he came to my shop. Of course, he’s in Arizona now but I cut Mike’s hair for almost probably 27 years.”

And then there are those who may be more recent customers but are willing to go to extreme lengths to get the best haircut around, including one man named Cliff who drives all the way from Matheson, just 14 miles outside of Limon, a total of more than 230 miles.

Mentioning the customer reminds Art of a recent story.

“Here, the other day, I had a new customer come in. His name is Chris and his wife is Rachel. They moved here and they’re from Trinidad, the isle of Trinidad off the Venezuela coast,” he says. “Anyway, so, I cut this younger black man’s hair and Cliff was sitting there waiting for his appointment. So, Cliff said, ‘Hey, young man. Take a good look at that haircut and tell me what you think.”

Art looks at those in the shop and says, as a side note, “This really makes me feel good, guys,” before continuing.

“So, the young man got a mirror and looked over his haircut and said, ‘Well, mon, that’s probably the best haircut I’ve ever had.’ And Cliff said, ‘That’s what I’ve been telling you. And this little S.O.B. is going to quit!” Art laughs. “Boy, that really buoyed me up.”

He looks out the window for a moment and says, “Things sure have changed over the years. This street used to be called ‘the jungle’ because there were five bars on this street alone.” He gets back to cutting Ron’s hair.

When asked if people are having a hard time saying goodbye, he just nods. “And I’m having a hard time saying goodbye to them, too.” And when asked what he plans to do when he retires, he smiles. “Fishing. I hope to go fishing on Wednesday instead of waiting until Saturday.”

There’s laughter among the customers in the shop. Meanwhile, Art smiles and just keeps working.