■ By Rusty Strait / Contributed
When the Mercados set out to do something, they don’t fool around. Husband and wife, Alex and Cristy credit Eric Root who is the internationally recognized hair stylist to the stars of Broadway and Hollywood for the beginning of their journey.
“When Eric decided to give up his beauty salon on Cawston Street in West Hemet he gave us the option to buy the site. That was seven years ago.”
The Mercado’s opened Barbers and Razors at Meridian Street and Florida Avenue five years ago. Cristy explains further, “Two years ago we had difficulty finding licensed barbers. Those that came looking for work were very young and didn’t qualify for a license. Most barber colleges require that applicants be 18 years old with high school diplomas. All those youngsters were caught in a Catch 22 situation. Their genuine love and passion for the profession was denied access because of age.”
That’s when Cristy and her husband came up with what they believe is unique in the cosmetology world: an apprenticeship program for future barbers and cosmetologists. Working with a corporation recognized by the California State Boards of Barbers and Cosmetology they created a program for teenagers to become apprentices. Their apprenticeship program currently boasts 60 students who come from throughout the Inland Empire.
“It consists of a mixture,” says Christy, “but a majority are high school students who attend five hour sessions on Sundays. After they complete two months in the program the State Board grants them an apprentice license. It takes sixteen months apprenticeship before they qualify to take the State Board exam to become a licensed barber.”
Their first class since the program was originated is coming up for graduation soon. It takes longer than in a barber college. “It takes more time,” she explains, “because after a student obtains an apprentice license he or she continues to attend class once a week until they’ve completed 3200 hours. That includes both theory and practical classes.”
It is not as droll as it may sound. Students attend classes at home base five hours a week. The rest of their work time is spent in a shop as apprentices. We asked if they are compensated while learning.
“During their apprenticeships,” she continues, “they are paid in the barbershops and salons. A sixteen year old student can now go have a part time job in a shop and, depending on the policy of the shop, may earn as much as $500 on a weekend. It varies, of course, from shop to shop.”
An adjoining suite in their current location is available for their expansion. New barber chairs in unopened crates awaiting installation are on hand for such an event.
“Our students are capable for performing any function a barbershop offers. Haircuts, shaves, hair styling and so forth. Most of our students do not work here in this shop. They are working throughout the city for somebody else. The shops in town support our program. It is an asset for them.”
Mrs. Mercado does admit to one exception: “I hand picked him. The first day he came to class he said, ‘Miss Cristy, please let me work here. I love it here. I feel I was meant to be here.’ He kept at me for a year until I finally relented. How can you turn down anyone with that kind of dedication and enthusiasm?”
The one day a week spent with Cristy in the shop is dedicated to practice. She considers that as “giving back to the community.” There is no charge for student work in her shop.
Mr. Mercado suffers from lupus, but you would never know it. He is all over the place. He is the head instructor, handles all advertisements and promotions and prepares the student curriculums.
As to regular non-student services their prices are layered. “Up to age 17 haircuts are $12. For adults, $15 and ages 55 and up $8,” according to the Mercados. All teaching takes place in the Meridian location. Once a student obtains his or her apprentice license they are qualified to work in the Cawston Street shop. Cristy says, “I have noticed that economically the west side of Hemet is more stable.”
Many Hemet residents believe that State and Florida and the Harvard District are more “old town,” and that the center of the business community has moved to Florida and Sanderson as the city continues to expand westward.
Whoever said there was not an original idea under the sun never met Alex and Cristy Mercado. Just sayin’