New take on an old idea: Downey hair cutter to host art shows, poetry at barber shop

Can a Downey barber shop become a cultural center?

It’s probably safe to say this month’s event will be the first-ever poetry reading at the tiny barber shop tucked in the corner of an L-shaped strip mall at Florence Avenue and Lakewood Boulevard.

And if anybody ever buys a painting from the shop at 9029 Florence, that will probably be the first for that, too.

Owner Ronnie Contreras is bent on helping out his artist friends while practicing his craft.

He doesn’t quite know how his barber shop will turn out, but he’s confident it’s going to be something good. He just opened the shop, called Number 34, at the end of November.

“I think it will come as it gets its own reputation,” Contreras said. “It will take on its own culture.”

Even without the art and poetry, Contreras is a talented stylist, said his friend and long-time client Marilyn Garcia, 31

Contreras and Garcia met 16 years ago when Garcia needed her hair to be perfect for a fashion show she was putting on at Warren High School.

A girl in her biology class recommended a stylist at a salon at the Stonewood Center. When the stylist was done, Garcia hated her hair doo.

That’s when she met Contreras, who was working at a different booth.

“Ronnie stepped in and saved the day,” she said while sitting in a barber’s chair at the shop on Tuesday.

Contreras has been doing hair since he was about 15.

When he was 16, he transferred from Warren High to Columbus Adult School so he could go to cosmetology school in the afternoon.

He attended junior college for a while, but he kept ditching classes to do hair.

“School was getting in the way of work,” he said.

He finally feels ready to start his own business. The name comes from his age.

“I wanted the name to be a landmark,” he said.

The site in the strip mall has always been a barber shop, Contreras said. It was owned by one family for decades as Arrington Square Barber. But it recently changed hands then shut down for a few months.

Contreras worked with a contractor and some friends to completely overhaul the space.

He did a lot of the grunt work himself, including knocking old tile off the ground and scraping the popcorn ceiling.

Contreras decided to open a barber shop because a lot of men these days are shying away from hair salons.

“Apparently, barber shops are opening faster than women’s beauty salons,” he said.

If popular magazines are to be believed, barber shops are making a comeback. Everybody from The Economist to Newsweek (which is now merged with The Daily Beast website), has waxed about the resurgence of the old-school barber joint.

A barber is different than a cosmetologist in that he or she can use a razor, said Russ Heimerich of the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

Contreras, who also teaches cosmetology at Downey Adult School, hopes to get his barber’s license soon.

He hopes to hold a poetry reading once a month and is looking to host an art show in February.

Art is already hanging on the walls, and Contreras plans to change it out frequently.

“Maybe I can give the barber shop a new reputation,” he said.


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