story: Kallie Markle photo: Brent Van Auken
BARBER MIKE HERNANDEZ
An old brick building and iconic red and white barber’s pole may be as traditional and Rockwellian as it gets, but Mike Hernandez, downtown Redding staple and barber extraordinaire, is hardly conventional.
Hernandez’s single-chair shop is a curious study in proportion. The floor space is barely the size of a walk-in closet, but the soaring ceilings and abundant windows permit plenty of light. In the single, small space, one man accounts for more than a dozen thriving plants, a collection of as many vintage hats, handfuls of seemingly mismatched paintings, a CD library to incite the envy of any music fan, towers of diverse books, a tiny lounge area for waiting customers, and a few oddities like a stuffed bird, vintage bicycle and an old four-channel tape recorder thrown in for good measure. It must be seen to be believed, but the collections are so carefully acquired and arranged that it all works to really create the space, rather than simply fill it. As one customer sees it, “It’s one of those places you don’t mind sitting and waiting around in.”
“I used to change (the décor) out once a month,” Hernandez explains of his affection for the various collections, the makeup of which he finds at local thrift and antique shops. Like the wall décor, Hernandez’s gardening skills have evolved over time: “I had a few years where I killed everything,” he confesses. Clearly, he relishes having a workplace that is as uniquely his own as his home is. “There’s only one key, just me cutting the hair, and I control the music,” he says. As jobs go, “it’s a nice environment.”
Hernandez was a truck driver until a back injury sidelined him, when he decided to examine career options that would allow him more time with his then-3-year-old son. Determining that he could pursue an interest in barbering that would also afford the chance to be his own boss, Hernandez trained to be a cosmetologist, and Mike’s Barber Shop has called the Lorenz Hotel home for the last 12 years. The marriage of the space and the work is such a convivial one that Hernandez has never considered changing the shop’s location. He can watch the seasons change, enjoy the energy of the parkside location and relish the stream of regular customers and accompanying work. “I like to give as precise a haircut as possible,” he explains while doing just that for one of his regulars. “I’ve developed a clientele that are either very particular or have difficult hair.”
Hernandez prefers taking his time with more challenging cuts and hair types, which is easier in his small sanctuary and with his music playing than it would be in a bustling, multi-chair establishment. His music preference is guided by a simple philosophy: “There’s only good music: you just have to find it.” The stacks (and stacks…and stacks) of CDs are a testament of his dedicated search. Opera, jazz and everything in between takes its turn on the stereo; the day’s selection is guided by Hernandez’s mood, though he always considers his guests’ comfort. “Some jazz takes too much concentration, so I do try to think of my customers.”
The barber shop has granted Hernandez a plum perspective on the downtown area and its many changes over the last decade. “It used to be a ghost town after 5 pm on a Friday,” he remembers. “There’s much more energy now. It’s more diverse and cosmopolitan.”
Though Hernandez and his shop are positively singular, this barber’s lifestyle is broadly idyllic.
“Downtown is a neat place to live and work,” he concludes. “And in my occupation, when I have down time, I can read, enjoy my music and take care of my plants.”
All in a day’s work.
Mike’s Barber Shop 1315 Yuba St., Redding (530) 515-1134 Open 11 am – 5 pm Monday-Friday, Saturdays by appointment