Johnny Gates, Cletis Moore, Tim Lyons, and Don Pushea shared memories of their time on Spring Street
Headhunters Barber Service closes its doors after 58 years of service in Paso Robles, and Atascadero gains an experienced barber.
At one time, there were barbershops around almost every corner in Paso. And for many of us who grew up in Paso, Headhunters have always been there right on Spring Street.
Johnny Gates and A.J. Brown (Brownie) opened Headhunters Barber Service in November of 1963, approximately two weeks before the Kennedy Assassination.
When Headhunters initially opened, it was inside the Paso Robles Hot Springs Hotel. Not long after opening, the shop moved to its current location at 1220 Spring Street, which turned out to be pretty good timing because the Hot Springs Hotel burned down on Nov. 22, 1963.
Recently, I was able to visit Headhunters. Inside was a living timeline of the barbershop.
Johnny Gates, Cletis Moore, Tim Lyons, and Don Pushea sat around the shop they all owned a portion of at one time.
Seated in the shop was Gates, one of the original owners of Headhunters. Gates got his start working for Henry Frisby at Frisby’s Barbershop on Park Street.
Long-time Paso residents have said they remember a new sign in front of Frisby’s saying “New Flattop Expert Inside.” The latest expert was Gates, fresh out of barber school.
Growing up, Gates began giving his brother’s flat tops, and it became what he was known for.
“I was giving my brothers flat tops and good flat tops too. I was surprised,” said Gates.
Others remember Gates for being the “Flat top King.”
Seated next to Gates was Cletis Moore.
“I worked for Tex Arnold. That was in ‘60, ’61, ’62, and then I went back down South and came back home in ’67,” said Moore.
After working for Tex Arnold, Moore went to buy his barbershop for a few years. Then Moore bounced around to a few shops, including the Men’s Room, before he landed at Headhunters.
Gates retired from the barbershop in 2011. About three days later, Moore walked in and took over Gates’s ownership of the shop.
Moore later retired in Oct. 2019.
In the corner was Lyons doing what he does best, cutting Harry Ovitt’s hair.
“My stepdad was a carpenter, but he always wanted to be a barber, so he’s the one that kind of got me into it. So I said, well, I’ll go try it, and if I don’t like it, I have something to fall back on. I liked it, and I’ve been doing it ever since,” said Lyons.
Lyon moved to Paso in 1979 and in 1989 bought Brownie’s share of the barbershop along with Pushea.
Working as a barber for as long as these men have, they have seen all the trends come and go and then eventually come again.
“We used to get a lot of cowboy kids in here. They would get the mullet, but they’d get a flat top. I called them roper doper,” said Lyons.
But all of the men agreed the absolute worst trend they ever saw was, in fact, the bowl cut. I think it is safe to say that trend did not make a second appearance.
Almost any long-time Paso resident or local has been to Headhunters, known someone who goes there or has had their hair cut there for their entire life and now takes their kids there.
Harry Ovitt, a former San Luis Obispo County Supervisor for 20 years, said, “Everybody new that comes to town, they would come in here, and it’s the old fashion barbershop, and you didn’t have to have an appointment, and they were just kind of smitten by the place.”
“The only other place that was more popular than that was Busi’s [bar]–everybody went there,” added Ovitt.
Gates reminds me that being a barber was an honest living.
“You bounced around a little bit, but you made a livin’, and everywhere you went, our clientele usually followed you, which was the good part-everybody knew each other,” said Gates.
After 50 years of cutting hair and over 30 years of cutting hair together, Pushea and Lyons have decided to close Headhunters.
Partly due to a rise in rent, Lyons and Pushea have decided not to sign on for another three-year lease for the shop.
Having to repeatedly close down the barbershop for COVID lockdown took a hard hit on the shop.
“The COVID deal, every time they closed us down, you would see less clients came back,” said Pushea.
Both barbers say they can sense themselves being replaced by fast cuts and even faster-changing trends.
“It kind of opened both of our eyes that we want to slow down-we’ve both been doing it for over 50 years,” said Pushea.
Starting Apr. 1, Lyons will be moving to the Haircut Shop in Atascadero, and Don Pushea will be at the Men’s Room on Golden Hill Road in Paso.
Headhunters is known to many as a reminder of “Old Paso.” Many have told stories of getting their first haircut there and later bringing their children. They remember when cuts were two dollars, the shoe shiners, and the barbers who came and went.
To Gates, Headhunters was a place for everyone from all walks of life. Cowboys, city folks, criminals, and judges, the barbers of Headhunters cut all their hair.
Pushea and Lyons can be contacted and found below:
Cell Phone: 805-712-7913
705 Golden Hill Rd #104, Paso Robles
Cell Phone: 805-550-3731
5905 Palma Ave, Atascadero