Owner Jesus Marquez, also known as Tepa, has been a barber for more than 30 years. Photo by Brizette Castellanos
Owner Jesus Marquez, also known as Tepa, has been a barber for more than 30 years. Photo by Brizette Castellanos
Owner Jesus Marquez, also known as Tepa, has been a barber for more than 30 years. Photo by Brizette Castellanos

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It’s 8 a.m., and there’s already a line outside of about 15 people waiting patiently. They are not in line for the opening of a new store or a morning sale. They are in line to get a haircut.

At exactly 9 a.m., Jesús Márquez, the barber who owns the shop, opens the door. Customers make their way in and find a seat in one of the dark red chairs labeled TEPA. Márquez, known by his friends and clients as “Tepa” or “Chuy,” greets each personally. Jokes are exchanged and friendly conversations bounce around the room, filled with mirrors and unusual knickknacks.

No one seems to mind the wait for one of the four chairs. Instead, some of the men pass the time laughing and socializing, while others watch the television, which sits on the top of a vintage Pepsi machine.

Ángel Hernández, a 16-year-old client, says: “The waiting is long, but it’s worth it for a quality haircut.” As clients approach the barber chair, they yell out their haircut of choice, so they’re heard over the manly gossip and the buzzing of the clippers.

The clientele is as varied as the haircut choices: young and old, classic scissor cuts and more modern tapers, fades, and line ups. No haircut presents a challenge to Chuy and his fellow barbers.

Louis Gutiérrez, a client of Márquez’ for more than 20 years, says, “I wouldn’t go anywhere else. I tell him, ‘Ay Chuy, don’t leave town, man, whatever you do.’”

Apart from a great haircut, most clients say they keep coming because of the atmosphere. On one end of the shop you might hear men arguing about the latest soccer match, while in another chair, a client talks about his issues at work. No matter what time of day, there is always something exciting going on.

Márquez might not fit the stereotype of a barber. He’s not clean-shaven, nor does he wear a traditional barber’s smock. The caricature painted outside his shop captures his signature look. A mustache covers his entire upper lip; his round belly peeks from under a t-shirt and hangs over his jeans.

Tepa Barber Shop in Boyle Heights, located on 4th Street and Grande Vista Avenue, has been in the neighborhood for 15 years. Photo by Brizette Castellanos

Márquez says he aims to create a comfortable space in the barbershop, one that is welcoming to everyone. “I hope that they are not just clients, but friends,” he says. And he has built up quite a clientele after cutting hair at this same location, at 4th and Grande Vista, for about 15 years.

He says he loves what he does. This wasn’t always the case, however. When he was young, he didn’t feel like he had a choice.

Márquez came from a house of barbers in Tepatitlan, Jalisco. His father died when he was just four years old, and his family decided that he would take over his father’s chair. He was basically raised at his uncle’s barbershop, taking on small tasks from shoe shinning to sweeping up after the barbers.

When he was young, the work was a chore, and he felt trapped. “That was my problem at the time,” he said. “I wanted to be on the streets. But, thank God, I was better off working.”

After realizing that he was responsible for supporting his single mother, he cut hair throughout his teenage years. Now, looking back, he is grateful that he remained a barber, because it kept him focused.

After coming to the United States he first worked at a metal press factory. But he soon started to cut hair on the weekends for extra money.

After working for a couple years at the factory he lost his right index finger in a horrible accident. He was unable to return to work, and the factory offered to pay for his schooling. Márquez became a licensed barber and began working at a barbershop.

Márquez soon realized he wanted a place of his own and bought a small shop on 3rd Street, right off the Downey Road freeway exit, which became successful quickly. Seventeen years later, he moved to the bigger and current location on 4th Street. Just recently, after expanding his shop, he also added a new barber, his 18-year-old son Ricardo.

Like his father, Ricardo spent most of his childhood at his father’s barbershop. He says it was “like my second home.” By 10, Ricardo had familiarized himself with his dad’s barbering tools and was beginning to learn how to cut hair and shave. It was always assumed that Ricardo would follow in his father’s footsteps. He is working towards getting his barber license by studying at the same school his father attended.

Márquez is happy that Ricardo chose to follow in his footsteps. The father says, “It pleases me that he likes the work, because I didn’t.”

Ricardo says his father has been a role model for him and is a big reason why he’s becoming a barber. “I see how everyone respects him in the streets. Everyone likes him, and feels attached to him.”

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