Benny the Barber marks 50-year milestone

       An hour or so hanging out in Benny's barber shop one day this week offered at least some insight into the business owner's 50-year milestone.

Benny Vallejo trims the mustache of Paul Paradis, who owns a nearby business, as part of a haircut. Paradis said he was a Fort Carson soldier when he first went to Benny in 1976, but "it was a different style of haircut then."
Westside Pioneer photo

       As always, Benny Vallejo started work at his brick building at 727½ W. Colorado Ave. with no appointments on his books. That's by choice. He lists no phone number for people to call. He just figures customers will show up, and he's right.
       “I open the shop, and it's first come, first served,” he said. “If they drive by and it looks too busy, they'll come back later.”
       Those choosing to wait might sit down and pick up a newspaper or magazine, or they might shoot the breeze with Benny or whoever's in his chair. He clearly enjoys conversation - “I learn a lot from my customers,” he said - and he likes to keep it upbeat and lively. That's not too hard, considering that so many of his customers are long-time regulars.
       Joshing with a customer who's lost most of the hair on top of his head, Vallejo commented, “You've got wavy hair. They're waving at each other.”
       He also has fun with getting paid, ribbing his customers that they've shorted him somehow.
       His customers give it right back. Archie Martinez, who's been going to Benny for 45 years, pointed out that when he first came in he had black hair and now it's white. “He burned it,” Martinez said, grinning at the barber. “What else could it be?”
       Vallejo is a Colorado Springs native who graduated from Palmer High and went to barber school.
       He pointed to a photo on the wall that was taken at the school. It shows a man in a barber chair and a young Benny earnestly wielding scissors near the side of the man's head. But then it becomes evident that the “customer” (actually it was a school instructor), is completely bald. “I was just pretending,” Benny chuckled.
       Straight out of the school in November 1961, Vallejo started as an apprentice to John Piner in the shop at 727½ W. Colorado. In 1962, Piner retired after 43 years at the location, selling the business to Vallejo, who by then had gained his journeyman status. In 1975, Vallejo bought the property it's on. He recalled Piner telling him about his early days, saying that back then customers would tie up their horses in front of the shop. “But I don't know if that's true.”
       Over the years, Vallejo said he's cut the hair of people “from all walks of life,” from a police chief and ex-astronaut to doctors to plumbers to “gun-runners and even bridge people stumbling in.”
       One of his customers, John Webb, was actually a shop customer before Benny started there. He'd liked the way Piner cut his hair. “I didn't trust him,” he said, with a smirk at Benny. “I used to wait for John.”
       Benny didn't miss a beat in responding. “After John left, you had to trust me,” he said. “I was the only one left.”
       Vallejo likes his work, pointing out for example a “blending” method he's developed using electric clippers and comb. But the big reason for his success, he said, is his reliability, always showing up on the days and hours displayed on his door. “I take pride in that,” he said. “A lot of businesses, you can't depend on them.”

A banner announces barber shop owner Benny Vallejo's half-century at 727½ W. Colorado Ave.
Westside Pioneer photo

       Vallejo balances his business with a major hobby, which is “street rods.” On his wall are pictures of three shiny 1930s-era Fords he owns. He's shown his cars in parades (including the ones on St. Patrick's Day that used to be in Old Colorado City), and at home he says he has two walls of plaques and trophies. “This is my hobby,” he said of the barber shop. “The street rods are my job.”
       At age 72, Benny says his health is fine. He's only missed 12 days in 50 years - three of them from a heart attack, three from a hernia and three from a bleeding ulcer. “It's been a good career for me,” he said. “I never had any regrets.”
       He doesn't plan any big celebration of his half-century. His family, which includes four children and four grandchildren, gave him a color banner to display out front. It says “Celebrating 50 years in business,” and has barber poles on the sides. His family also took him out to dinner, he said, “and that's fine.”

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