Tony Mendoza cut the hair of a lawyer eight years ago who advised the barber not to retire but to just cut back on his hours.
Mendoza, now 81, took that advice and started only cutting hair on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.
“But then the lawyer retired five years later,” Mendoza said.
Now, Mendoza will cut all his hours and will retire when he closes his barber shop Razor’s Edge, 1717 39th St., in Galveston on April 27.
Mendoza started working at that barber shop with his brother in 1963, when his brother’s other shop in downtown Galveston closed. Mendoza had a second brother who had another shop on Seawall Boulevard that closed in 1992.
Although many barber shops become places where customers discuss politics and plan action, Razor’s Edge has played a smaller role, Mendoza said.
“I try not to discuss too much politics or religion,” he said. “You don’t know whose feelings get hurt.”
Instead, his customers discuss church projects and sports.
They also talk about family. Third and fourth generations of customers came to the Razor’s Edge to get a toddler a first haircut for free, a Mendoza tradition. Some of his customers who are nearing retirement themselves got their first haircuts at Razor’s Edge.
“My wife gives candy when kids come in,” Mendoza said as he got the glass bowl of candies out of the refrigerator and placed them in the front office.
His wife Vera Mendoza handles the appointments. Every day, the couple has lunch at the shop during a 30-minute break between customers.
He cuts her hair, but he usually only cuts men’s hair.
New styles, trends
Mendoza has been a professional barber for 64 years. He finished barber college in Houston in 1953 and cut hair while he was in the National Guard. He came back to Galveston and worked with his two brothers in their barber shops until he moved to the 39th Street shop in 1963.
The business changed about that same time when the Beatles became popular in the United States and men and boys started letting their hair grow a little bit longer over their ears and collars instead of getting a haircut every two to three weeks.
But longer hairstyles didn’t hurt Razor’s Edge.
“Our business improved,” Mendoza said. He took a course in hair styling, learned new techniques to thin hair so it would lay down in spots and other professional tricks to make men attractive. He would shampoo their hair and show them how to use a blow dryer.
“The old timers would say, ‘Tell the longhair kids to get out of here,’” Mendoza said.
Instead, he welcomed their business. Boys would come in with orders from their parents to get a short haircut, but Mendoza respected his young customers and asked what they really wanted. If they didn’t want short hair, he would trim the minimal amount and send them back to their mothers and fathers. He figured if the parents wanted it shorter, they would keep sending the boys back. It didn’t happen often, he said.
“I got paid more money for cutting less hair,” Mendoza said.
He’s not joking
Although he avoids political talk in his barber shop, Mendoza pokes fun at his customers.
“Are you lost?” he said as one of regular customers, Grant Mock, came in.
“I’m still waiting to get a good haircut,” Mock said. It’s an old routine they’ve repeated for years.
His customers rib him back. They tell him they doubt Mendoza is really retiring from the business, that he’ll be back in three months.
But Mendoza is not joking, he really is retiring. The Razor’s Edge will close April 27, and Vera Mendoza is filling up the appointment book with longtime customers who want one last cut, one last glass of wine and a chance to say goodbye.
Mendoza plans to do some work on family property in South Texas when he retires. He doesn’t see a discrepancy in that retirement plan.
“I’m retiring from the clock,” he said.
To accommodate customers, he sometimes takes 7:30 a.m. appointments and he sometimes will stay after 6:30 p.m. The only appointment time he intends to keep after April 27 is a 5:30 p.m. happy hour, Mendoza said.
He’s been referring customers to different barber shops on the island and giving them advice.
“Train your barber,” Mendoza said. “It’s like going to see a doctor. You’ve got to explain your symptoms and history.”
Mendoza prepared an orange sign that says “Thanks for the memories” that he will tape to the glass door April 27.
“It’s been a hell of a ride,” he said. “It’s just an enjoyable thing to converse with customers and friends.”
But he’s looking forward to the break. Thanksgiving week was the last time he took a vacation.
“Soon, it will be Thanksgiving week every week,” he said.