Joe Almaraz and Family Celebrate 80 Years of the Palisades Barber Shop
By STEVE GALLUZZO | Sports Editor
For 80 years now, the Palisades Barber Shop has been a fixture in the community—with a list of famous customers who have frequented 15322 Antioch Street over the last eight decades reading like a who’s who of entertainment, sports, business and politics.
The shop has stood the test of time largely because owner Joe Almaraz and his family have cultivated an atmosphere that welcomes both first-time and longtime patrons.
Since Norris Hardware closed in August 2018, the shop has been the oldest surviving business in the Palisades, and although the coronavirus pandemic has had a deleterious effect on the bottom line, Joe and his staff continue to snip away.
Joe, who turned 79 in October, has been there 59 years and has had to “adapt to the times” to keep the doors open. In early September, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health announced updated COVID-19 business and school operations, allowing for limited indoor operations provided they comply with existing protocols.
“We’re not back to normal, but we’re open,” he said at the time.
From predicting the winner of the annual USC-UCLA football game to entering the Fourth of July home decorating contest (he and his wife Enedina’s house on Sunset came in second place in 2010) to supporting local charities and causes, Almaraz is invested in the town he has called home for the last quarter century.
“It’s hard for some people to believe it opened in 1940,” said Thomas, 50, the youngest of Joe’s three children, who has worked at the shop for 29 years. “My dad applied for a job there in 1962 when he was 20 and eventually bought it from Bill Parker in 1984. He was looking into plumbing but was drawn to barbering because barbers were cleaner. Back in 1940 they charged $1.50, which was considered pricey.”
The shop underwent a makeover in 1968 and the reconstruction included partitions that are exactly six feet long and six feet apart—ideal, as it turns out, to meet coronavirus social distancing standards.
“We also have a chair outside under an umbrella with an air conditioning unit,” added Thomas, a 30-year Santa Monica resident. “I use gloves, masks and a face shield, so we’re fully COVID-compliant but this pandemic is no joke. We all have customers well into their 90s but business is down 75 to 80 percent. That’s anywhere from two to six people per day times four barbers.”
The “sports” guy is Thomas’ older brother JR, who has been there 38 years. His wife Lucy joined the team in 1990. They live in Westchester. JR, Thomas and their sister Patricia all grew up in Marina del Rey and went to Venice High.
The shop has its original cabinetry, and the sturdy clock on the wall that is used to time appointments still works some 80 years later.
Among the famous athletes who have been given a trim at the shop over the years are Super Bowl champion quarterback Tom Brady, three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe, MLB pitcher Darren Dreifort, five-time NBA champion and Palisades High School alum Steve Kerr, LA Galaxy and Mexican national team goalkeeper Jorge Campos, LA Lakers center Vlade Divac, boxing champion and former Palisades Honorary Mayor Sugar Ray Leonard, and LA Dodgers gold glove first baseman Wes Parker. Other notable sports figures include Lakers head coaches Del Harris and Phil Jackson.
Most beloved of all, however, according to Thomas, is retired LA Dodgers play-by-play announcer Vin Scully, who spent 67 years behind the microphone from 1950 to 2016.
“He is always impeccably dressed, he takes his coat off, sits down and when he talks he sounds just like he does on the radio,” Thomas recalled. “He’ll say, ‘I want a little off the top,’ and so on. When he leaves, all of the people waiting would go crazy.”
Ronald Reagan, then the governor of California, took his son Ron Jr. for a haircut at the Palisades Barber Shop in 1968, and during his time as governor from 2003-11, Arnold Schwarzenegger and his wife Maria Shriver came in with their kids.
Ken Starr, a U.S. circuit court judge best known for heading the Whitewater Investigation, used to get his hair cut there while serving as dean of the Pepperdine School of Law.
Actors include Goldie Hawn, Ray Liotta, Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, Sean Penn, Rob and Chad Lowe, Charlie Sheen, John Goodman, and Adam West (Batman), Burt Ward (Robin), Frank Gorshin (Riddler) and Burgess Meredith (Penguin) from the 1960s Batman television series. Other patrons over the years have been guitarist John Mayer and comedians Walter Matthau, Buddy Hackett, Dom DeLuise, Rodney Dangerfield, Adam Carolla and Larry David.
Many factors have contributed to the shop’s longevity, including customer service and safety.
“Many prominent doctors live in Pacific Palisades,” Thomas said. “We get some of the most famous surgeons in the world coming in for haircuts, and if they feel safe, that says it all.”
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