The Cream Shop barber shop in Boyle Heights. Photo by Alex Medina.
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By Alex Medina
Boyle Heights Beat
Walking along the streets of Boyle Heights, you’ll pass by a barbershop or two. Most have been around for years, and many locals know their barbers well.
The Cream Shop, a recent addition to Boyle Heights, opened its doors in July 2016. It offers many haircuts – from classic designs such as pompadours to modern staples like man buns. Soon after opening, some in the community labeled it a gentrifying business, though the founder, Lino C. Campos, 41, has lived in Boyle Heights for most of his life.
According to Campos, people labeled his shop as gentrifying on the Facebook page “You Know You Are From Boyle Heights When…” around the time it opened its doors in 2016.
Being labeled a gentrifying business in Boyle Heights can be detrimental to success. Prospective patrons may decide not to go to these businesses, while others may choose to publicly call them out on social media at a time when tensions run high about rising prices and trendy shops pricing out locals in this working class neighborhood.
What separates The Cream Shop from other barbers in Boyle Heights? Everything from the cost of a haircut to the atmosphere. A haircut costs $20 there, a jump from the $8-$12 prices of haircuts in most Boyle Heights barber shops.
From 1920s gentleman’s haircuts to hair tattoos (head designs, patterns, lettering and cartoon characters), Campos says barbers at his shop go to great lengths to ensure that every customer gets a specialty cut.
The shop features a red- and black-dominated color scheme with a modern look, as well as some traditional items. Old-fashioned paintings – including a picture of Marilyn Monroe – line the walls, and the barber chairs face three big television sets. A historic map of Los Angeles County hangs on one wall, and the torso of a female mannequin, wearing a helmet and t-shirt, sits in a corner. The choice in music in the barbershop, which got its name from Wu-Tang Clan’s 1993 song “C.R.E.A.M.”, are oldies.
Man buns = gentrifier?
The shop also offers traditional hotel towel shaves and beer serums that condition the skin. Campos hopes to provide other services in the near future, such as black charcoal facemasks and hair dying.
When he was growing up, Campos says he and many others would have to travel far from his neighborhood in search of the most stylish haircuts of the day.
“People would go to West Hollywood, Melrose, downtown, Long Beach or Orange County because there weren’t specialty shops here,” he says. “I thought, ‘Why are people driving 15 to 25 miles for this kind of ambience, atmosphere and service when we could bring it home?’ That’s the reason I brought it into the community.”
The Cream Shop’s first site opened in Montebello in May 2011. The Boyle Heights shop — on East César E. Chávez Avenue—is Campos’ second site, and he hopes to open others.
As the debate over what is and isn’t gentrification in Boyle Heights heats up, Campos says that his barbershop shouldn’t be labeled as gentrifying, as he has been a member of the community for more than 30 years.
“It’s a lot different from the other barbershops in Boyle Heights,” Campos says. “I think we were labeled because of that.
“We bring in quality,” he adds. “That’s one of the reasons that our prices are a little bit higher than the local shops in the area. It takes more time, so we also have to make up for the time that we put into our haircuts.”
Patricia Barreto, a Boyle Heights resident, says that she understands why The Cream Shop was called gentrifying, but, she still prefers it to the other local shops.
“The shop is very different from others in the neighborhood,” she says. “Even so, I feel like it’s important to have it because it brings something new to the community.”
Traveling an hour for a haircut
He says his shop does an average of 10 to 40 haircuts a day, with Fridays and Saturdays being his busiest.
Jesse’s Barber Shop, also located on East César E. Chávez Avenue, has been part of the Boyle Heights community for about 30 years. The two shops vary, drastically.
It has a more traditional look than Campos’s shop and offers a haircut for $8-$12.
It also sees plenty of business. Jesse’s does more than double the business of The Cream Shop’s 10 to 40 haircuts a day, according to the owner. Often, a new customer will enter as one is leaving. It fills up quickly, with customers having conversations with each other and the barbers.
While both shops attract locals, more people from outside of Boyle Heights go to The Cream Shop, according to Campos. They come from neighborhoods including Riverside, Long Beach, Newport Beach, Culver City and Koreatown.
Alberto Rosas, of Fontana, started going to The Cream Shop’s Montebello site about six years ago, but switched to to the one in Boyle Heights soon after it opened. He travels over an hour just to get a haircut.
“The service and how the barbers treat you make this shop stand out,” the 41-year-old says. “The haircuts are unique, and you can’t find them anywhere else.”
Rosas prefers Campos to cut his hair. “Lino really is a master barber,” he says. “He’s really friendly and is one of the reasons I come.”
Campos says community opinion has begun to change. “The community has begun to accept us,” he says. “After finding out that I’m a local, that I went to Roosevelt (High School), they’ve left us alone.”
He believes it’s important to have the type of services he offers in Boyle Heights so that residents don’t have to travel far to get them.
Campos says he also hopes to grow his business.
“I want to be [the] first Chicano to have a chain of barbershops where we can continue to support other communities as well,” he says. “Hopefully, I will live to say that we’ve already got our 10 shops.”
Alex Medina is a rising senior at Francisco Bravo Medical Magnet High School. He is an avid runner and writer who leads the Gay Straight Alliance at Bravo in order to provide a safe space for LGBTQ youth and their allies. He hopes to attend a University of California school after high school.
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