La Verne Magazine
Cutting with Care
by Tamika Harrison
photography by Liz Lucsko
In his downtown red Bonita Avenue house is where La Verne hair stylist Abel
Gandara can be found between clients like Orval Kidwell (above). Abel, a
barber for 36 years, graduated from San Bernardino's American Barber College.
A 1966 Bonita High School graduate, he received a $100 Bonita scholarship
toward his trade school education.
Just east of D Street, at 2138 Bonita Avenue, is a century-old, two-story
house, with picture windows that act like reflecting eyes. Inside a former
living room, now colored with green painted floors and green walls, sit
two barber booths, diagonal from one another. "Oldie" tunes play
on the radio in the back room, softly traveling to the front area where
salt and pepper haired Abel Gandara sits silently reading. Here, he patiently
awaits his clients and appointments. On bright and sunny days, he may be
caught porch sitting, reading the paper, waving and talking to locals as
they stroll by.
Consciously or subconsciously, inner feelings sometimes compliment outer
appearances. When sitting in the chair for La Verne's good friend, Abel
Gandara, a complete transformation toward a more positive outlook is something
encountered at "Hair Beauty and Beyond."
Talking to him for the first time is like talking to an old friend.
He has a natural coolness about him, and it seems that it is in his nature
to be so friendly. Though his thick dark eyebrows punctuate his face with
an expression of seriousness, he admits that being friendly and maintaining
good relationships with one's employees and clients is important. "In
this type of business, if you don't get along with the people you work with,
it's, 'See ya later,' " says Abel.
Abel, 55, La Verne native, has been working as an area professional
barber for 36 years, but has only been on Bonita Avenue for two. Richard
Heminez, 15 year client, explains the comfort, commitment and friendship
developed with Abel through the years. "I enjoy the fact that I can
say whatever is on my mind. Abel's a really great guy, and it has come to
be more of a friendship beyond the business." He adds, "Abel's
outgoing personality and shared laughter make going to the shop like going
to a comfort zone." Eddie Contreras, good friend and 10-year client,
admits that he has received nothing but the best of service. "He makes
you feel at home," Contreras says. "Abel's willing to bend and
work later times, putting his clients first; his service is friendly, and
he makes you feel good."
His other clients summarize what distinguishes this shop from the rest:
excellent service, exclusive atmosphere and, of course, the friendly Abel.
There is no doubt that Abel is a professional at sculpting the outer appearances
of people while also bringing out their inner beauty. With his charming
and humanitarian personality, it is no wonder his clients have maintained
their long-term relationships. Abel is committed to his clients, and this
commitment, along with the exclusive atmosphere of the shop, makes his barber
shop and this man authentic.
Confidentiality is also an important aspect of his client relationships.
To be able to sit in a chair, escape troubles or worries while being pampered,
to be able to vent and let out one's emotions to someone who's really listening,
is something that everyone may need from time-to-time. So while cutting
away on the outside, Abel and his clients also cut away at the inside, sharing
inner stories and exchanging conversations with words that remain only where
they are spoken. "What gets talked about in my chair remains in my
chair," says Abel with certainty. "It's a stress reliever, and
it works both ways." To thank his clientele for their patronage, for
the last 14 years, Abel has sponsored a free cookout with bacon cheeseburgers
and beer in front of the Bonita Avenue salon.This barbeque is held on the
July fourth weekend. He started this tradition back when he owned his shop
in San Dimas and has been doing it ever since, he says.
Memories abound as he reminisces on his growing up years in La Verne.
He returned home in 1969 from the Vietnam War after being drafted into the
army and serving two years. As he walked down La Verne's residential streets
as a courageous man of honor, uniformed, duffel bag in hand, he remembers,
"I could see all of the housewives in the neighborhood looking outside
of their windows with fear in their blurry yet anxious eyes, to see whether
I was one of their sons." His dark eyes stare deep into the past. He
holds an impressive ability to remember things as if they occurred just
yesterday. With memories of the past so vivid in his mind, Abel can recall
insight that may seem insignificant to some and yet mean a great deal to
others. "It is the conversations like these that make my job most interesting,"
Prior to working at Hair Beauty and Beyond, Abel served in several other
shops, including his own San Dimas salon, "Abel and Friends,"
which he owned for 11 years. Unfortunately, rent increases forced the shop's
closure. "I was fortunate, though, because I was known around town.
Owners would come up to me and offer me a spot in their shops." So
when Michelle Vasquez, owner of Hair Beauty and Beyond, approached Abel
with a place to practice, he accepted.
Abel has clients of 36 years running and has watched their transition
from boys to men-men who now bring in their own boys for hair cuts. "In
this business, they come and they go," Abel says sadly. "It's
sad when clientele of many years pass away."
Since he was 15 years old, Abel says he has wanted to be a barber. "There
weren't any styles back then-men couldn't get perms or waves-and I wanted
to be able to add style to barbering," Abel says. "Many barbers
didn't go to school, so they missed out on knowing how to style." He
remembers Foothill Boulevard being lined with barber shops but hardly any
men getting perms. Seeing the Los Angeles Rams play at the Los Angeles Coliseum
and seeing how their hair was done in styles was fascinating and inspired
his goal to be a barber, Abel admits. "Since men usually do not want
to come to get hair cuts where women are present," he added the "macho
spin" to the salon, placing an outside barber pole to attract the men.
Outside of work as a barber he is also a husband. Overwhelmed and excited
when asked about his wife, he tells the story of how he was married Sept.
29, 1997, a day before his 50th birthday to Jennifer Gandara. Although his
decision to get married was a spontaneous one, Abel delightfully expresses
how wonderful marriage is. "If I would have known marriage was going
to be this great, I would've gotten married a long time ago, and I'm not
Cooking is another passion of his. He can name recipe after recipe from
memory, seemingly, for any kind of food. But barbering remains No. 1, he
says. What is his 10 year plan? "Doing hair-I see myself doing hair
until there's nothing left of me."
As a barber, Abel is self-employed so there is no retirement plan, but
he says it does not bother him, and in fact he is carefree when he says,
"You just have to take care of it on your own." Abel has never
thought of leaving "home sweet home." Easy to say, his response
to the question of leaving La Verne is, "Move away? I love La Verne!"