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A Diamond in the Rough

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By Camille Massey

“You can ask anybody. This is the best barbershop in Los Angeles!” proclaimed Oscar Garcia, owner of El Diamante Barber Shop in South Central Los Angeles.

Garcia’s brother and a friend opened the shop in 2002. Five years ago, his brother was deported back to Mexico leaving Garcia as the new head honcho in charge. Prior to that, he worked at another shop on Martin Luther King Boulevard and Central Avenue.

“You know, I’ve been cutting hair for nine years and I pretty much love it here,” said Garcia. “It’s a good barbershop and I’m looking forward to getting a lot of clientele this year.”

Coming into the shop, the atmosphere is comfortable and lively: the television is tuned into a CSI murder mystery show, Mariachi music is blaring through the speakers, the Mexican flag and religious paraphernalia grace the four, electric lime green walls of the shop, razors are buzzing, and clients and employees laughing and joking—it’s a real diamond in the rough.

“We named it El Diamante because it’s a diamond you know, so it’s a valuable piece,” said Garcia.

During the nine years since the shop first opened, Garcia and fellow El Diamante employees have become neighborhood staples. Garcia describes the many facets of his job, which are not limited to just cutting hair.

“I’m the funny guy. I know I said sometimes I get a little nervous, but I’m the funny guy and I just try to keep making my clients come back and they do,” said Garcia. “A lot of my clients just come to kick it sometimes. They like it here. They tell me their stories and that’s pretty much my day. I hear everybody’s problems so that’s why I’m always here seven days a week, and that’s pretty much my job other than cutting hair.”

Another Diamante barber Jose, also known as Bobby, loves his job and all of the perks that come along with it on a daily basis.

“It’s a good time here you know,” said Jose. “Sometimes I don’t even feel like I’m at work. We pretty much just hang out all day long laughing and joking with clients and yeah, it’s just a good atmosphere to be in.”

Amidst balancing daily therapy sessions, standup comedy, along with trimming, shaving, fading, lining up, tapering and designing, the harsh realities of the economy take their toll on the shop daily as well.

“It’s gotten a little bit less worse, but everybody is going through a hard time so it is kind of slowing us down, but I’m hoping that next year it’ll maybe come up again,” said Garcia. “A lot of my clients used to come in once a week and now they only come twice every two weeks or three weeks and it’s just been hard for everybody I guess, even us.”

Although having experienced some hard times financially because of the bad economy, Garcia and his employees have still managed to maintain a steady rush of familiar faces over the years, gaining the respect and loyalty from neighborhood locals.

“I’ve been coming here for about three years now,” said Adolfo Echeagaray, a local maintenance worker. “I get off of work at 1:30 p.m. and come here afterwards pretty much everyday just to hang out. It’s close to home and I’ve known these guys for a while. Plus I’ve been friends with Oscar for about five years now and he’s a good barber compared to others in the area.”

For Garcia, this community has always been home and he enjoys working in this area in particular because he has a strong connection with locals like Echeagaray.

“We’ve always been working around here,” said Garcia. “I used to be on King and Central and this shop was open so we decided to not move far because all of our clientele is around here in South Central LA. If we would’ve decided to open it in Alhambra or somewhere else it wouldn’t have worked. Our work is here. The people that we work with are here so that’s why we chose it. And San Pedro is a good street.”

As the self-proclaimed best barber with the best shop in South Central, Oscar has hopes of further expanding his business by opening up other shops. Hair is his first love and he is looking forward to cutting lots of it in the future.

“Opening other shops is always an option and that’s what I would want,” said Garcia, “but looking forward maybe one or two years more because you know the economy right now is not so good. But, I am looking forward to expanding. This is what I love to do you know and I already know how to do it well so it’s all about hair for now.”

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