Barber is Particular About Snipping Ties With Paco’s

Paco’s Barber Shop, on the market since late last summer, remains for sale not because the local institution hasn’t received interest from would-be buyers but because none of them made the cut.
Frank Ruiz opened the La Cañada Flintridge shop in 1960, having sold his Corvette to make the $3,000 down payment. Now he’s got until his lease expires in November 2017 to shop his business in the Plaza de La Cañada Center.
But the 83-year-old is having such a good time with his loyal clientele and fellow barbers, many of whom he’s known for decades, he’s not in much of a hurry to turn it over to someone who doesn’t intend to continue the legacy.
“I had two guys two different times [who were] just vultures,” said Ruiz, 83. In one instance, he said, a real estate agent interrogated him about his health, which is good: “They wanted something to negotiate with. In other words, if I had a bad heart, I’d have to sell it.”
On another occasion, he admits he just “didn’t like the tone” of one potential buyer’s voice.
“Isn’t that stupid?” said Ruiz, whose asking price is $68,000. “But when you’re in no hurry,” he added, “you can really be picky.”
And Ruiz is determined to do everything he can to hand the business over to someone who intends to honor the longstanding tradition of offering quick, quality haircuts with a smile.
“That’s the only way I want to set it up,” he said. “I have to. I owe it to the barbers, to keep them working.”
Ruiz is the middle son of three boys raised in Santa Maria. His brothers — “the smart ones,” he joked — went to college at USC and UC Santa Barbara, but he was compelled to join the Air Force, where he said he became an expert on repairing planes and assisted on rescue missions.
He also learned to cut hair in the service. He said his brother-in-law suggested it, loaned him the necessary tools and gave him some tips. His two best buddies offered their heads.
“I butchered the heck out of them,” said Ruiz of his friends’ sacrifice, which proved worthwhile.
Ruiz improved quickly, and before long was cutting the commander’s hair. He also proved a sharp businessman.
“I charged them 25 cents, 10 cents less than the base did,” said Ruiz, who now charges $18 for kids, $19 for adults, $20 for appointments and $35 for increasingly popular house calls.
“And while I was on duty, I had my table set up after the paymaster,” he continued. “I had to hit them right away because these guys had a real bad habit when they got paid. They’d go out gambling and bet their money away, or they were drinkers or smokers and they’d blow their money really fast.”
Ruiz’s four years of military service ended in 1955, after which he earned his barbers license and started looking for an ideal location to get to work. He found it in LCF, where he’s served generations of clients and made many friends.
“That’s the cream puff of everything,” said Ruiz, who makes a seven-mile commute from Highland Park. “It’s been a beautiful adventure, and the best treat was watching these kids grow up.”
Jim Ransford said he’s been coming to Paco’s since he moved to the area in 1971. He joked that he’s been coming back all that time because it was never Ruiz who cut his hair.
Really, though, he comes “for the banter,” he said, “and because a lot of my friends from the area come here, too, so we can talk about [Ruiz], good and bad, when we go have breakfast together.”
It’s likely mostly good, judging by the friendships Ruiz has made with many of his customers, some of whom keep coming back even after they’ve moved out of town — one trekking all the way to LCF from Balboa.
“He has a unique and wonderful personality,” said barber Russ MacDonald, who’s been working at Paco’s on and off since the 1980s. “He is very conscientious about his work ethic, and at the same time very warm and friendly. It’s a combination that’s perfectly suited for success.”
Ruiz said he goes flying with some customers. He’s been gliding in an aircraft with one in Tehachapi, while another taught him how to land an aircraft in Santa Monica, where Ruiz proved just what a quick study he truly is.
“I told him, ‘I do a lot of soaring … and the only thing I worry about is landing, I would like to find out if I can land a plane.’ And he said, ‘Let’s find out.’ So I went there one Sunday and we took off and he let me fly the plane and bank it and turn it and stall it, and then he said, ‘OK, let’s head back.’ We called in and got clearance. I banked it and turned it and brought it all the way around to the runway, and I thought, ‘Well, OK, any minute now he’s going to take over.’”
Instead, his customer-turned-passenger offered only advice: “Relax your hand … just push it a little bit and let it coast … just let it flare out … hold it there, hold it there … now cut the power.”
“I was supposed to ease it in so it would float down, but I shoved it and we dropped and bounced and bounced.”
And then, per his instructor’s command, Ruiz picked the plane back up to do it all over again. By the next landing, Ruiz said, “I just creamed it right in, so nice.”
Ruiz’s passion for flight is evident throughout Paco’s, where the walls are plastered with images of planes about which Ruiz knows so much. The place is as much an aeronautical museum as it is a barbershop.
“These guys who come in, especially these old-timers, they bring their families to go to Los Gringos [next door] and they’ll look at my window with all the airplanes,” Ruiz said. “And when I see an old-timer, I’ll approach him, and I’ll ask him, ‘Did you fly it?’ And he’ll say, ‘Oh, yeah.’
“I’ll tell him, ‘When you come back out, come into the shop. The tour is free and I have a lot more pictures inside.’ And they do, they come back. We may not catch them as customers, but I have a friend — I have another friend.”

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