The “friendliest barbershop in town” closes Saturday.
In 49 years on Camp Bowie Boulevard, barber “Mingo” Villegas cut hair and told stories with bankers, lawyers, Casa Manana performers and once, for a Russian dancer whose name he can’t remember.
But he also remembers when the west side wasn’t so friendly.
“When I started” — 1968 — “the west side was predominantly white people from West Texas,” Villegas, 77, remembered this week, set to retire and close Camp Bowie Barber Shop in a historic shopping center near Byers Avenue.
“Some of them would walk in and look at me and say, ‘Where’s the barber?’, then leave,” he said.
“They weren’t accustomed to seeing Mexican barbers. But that changed. The neighborhood and the customers became very friendly.”
Villegas saw three generations of customers spanning six decades, along with two road construction projects to rebrick 90-year-old Camp Bowie Boulevard.
The grandson of cotton sharecroppers near Brady in Central Texas, Villegas was reading the Star-Telegram one day when he saw an ad for a Fort Worth barber college.
He was 27 when he took over a barbershop that had opened in 1958 next to a Mexican restaurant.
“I think I was the first or second Mexican barber on ‘the Boulevard,’ ” he said.
“It was a shock to some people. But then more younger people started moving from other places. Once you talked to everybody and broke the ice, they could be pretty nice.”
Mayor Betsy Price gave the shop the “friendliest” tag in a City Council proclamation last week. She grew up on nearby Tremont Avenue.
When Villegas’ shop opened, Price had just graduated from Arlington Heights High School.
She praised him for cutting “tens of thousands” of heads of hair, including her brother’s, and also for putting two children through college.
Waiting for a haircut Thursday, Dr. Hugh Lefler said men came for cuts but also for conversation.
“It’s a place where you find out what’s going on in the community,” Lefler said.
“Mingo always tries to tread lightly talking about politics here. He tries not to take one side or the other. He just lets guys talk.”
As Lefler spoke, three middle-aged or older men sat reading automotive or hunting magazines.
Think about that.
Yes, everybody was reading a magazine from a bookcase piled high with them.
Nobody was reading a smartphone. Or texting. Or watching TV.
“That’s a big deal to me,” Villegas said.
“A barbershop should be a barbershop. I don’t care to watch television, or for customers to be watching television.”
He wants customers to relax, he said. Plus, it’s tougher to cut someone’s hair if they’re turning to see the TV.
“I cater to magazine readers,” he said proudly.
“My customers come here because they enjoy the quiet time away. They like somewhere they can read.”
Now it’s Villegas’ turn for quiet time.