Ben Miranda has been shaving heads for over 55 years. The owner of Ben’s Barber Shop in the Ace Hardware shopping mall at 444 Fair Oaks has been quietly going about his business for so long, even the city can’t find the original business license. At 16 haircuts a day (not counting shaves) Miranda, who turns 76 February 27, has shaved over 200,000 heads since he first picked up a razor.
His shop is an archetype of the small-town American barbershop, from the black-and-white linoleum floor inside, to the red-and-white barber’s pole outside. To walk through the door is to be ushered into another era, with four sturdy barber chairs, practical fixtures and kitschy décor featuring a moose head, a truly enormous sailfish, and a slate of dusty black & white sports photographs hung on the back wall – some featuring the Babe himself. Only the always-on, 24-inch flat screen color TV hints of modernity.
The shop has a steady flow of customers, many who’ve been coming for decades.
“It’s a friendly venue. Ben cuts your hair the way you want it and I just enjoy talking to him” said John Fisher, who’s been getting trimmed by Ben for 25 years.
Ben and his “junior” cutters—none of whom have been there less than 20 years—studiously work—sometimes chatting, sometimes quiet, always buzzing—on cloth-covered customers in the barber chairs on one side of the long room, while young and old unshaven await their turns in a row of regular chairs on the other. Every shave ends with a soothing, electric shoulder massage.
Invisible but palpable is the humanity, as Robert Safre, nearing his 30th anniversary at the shop, calls it. “We’re like a family. We all have our ups and downs, but we stick together. That’s what’s made this shop—all the years we’ve been here together, all the generations. You don’t see that too often. And Ben is a good guy to work for.”
Each cutter has an origin story to tell. Safre, who’s been barbering since he was 13, was working at a high-end salon in San Marino but just wanted to do straight haircuts. “I didn’t want to do chemicals.” An ex-girlfriend brought him to see Ben, who was about to go on vacation and needed a sub, and so went fate.
Andrew Hunter’s story is fortuitous; a friend who lived near Diamond Street had a cat who got caught in a sidewalk storm drain, he called Andrew to come over with an allen wrench to lift the lid, but nothing worked. With 10 minutes to closing, they tore over to Orchard Supply Hardware store for a better tool and Andrew saw the barber shop next door. When the barber shop at which he worked in Culver City closed, Andrew beelined to Ben and has been there ever since. His sister, Sheila Hunter, also a barber, soon followed and the two have worked there together to this day.
As for Ben, he is both enigmatic and simple. Thin with grey hair and mustache but slightly darker eyebrows framed with wire glasses, he is unflappable and ever-cheerful, always ready with a comeback. “Who cuts your hair?” he is asked. “I go to Supercuts,” he deadpans.
Ben started out in Morenci, a very small town in Arizona founded by a copper mining company 17 miles from the New Mexico border.
Barbering was in his blood, though he can’t say why. “I like to cut hair. Might as well be a career.” It could have to do with his uncle, a barber who left the business when he returned from the Service and had four kids to support, opting instead to join the Post Office.
Whatever the reason, Ben was determined. Two days after his 1963 graduation from high school, he left for barber school in Los Angeles, where he could stay with an aunt. He might have gone to Phoenix but had no family to support him there.
Within a year, he was ready to start cutting and found his first job at a barber shop in Whittier. But after two years, he was called away by the Army and spent two more years pushing paper on a Remington Raider in Germany.
He returned to California in 1968, but there was no work at the old shop. He ended up at the door of Rick Fernandez’ barber shop in what was then a much quieter shopping mall on South Pasadena’s State Street. “I like barbering and I liked the conditions here and the people that are here.” In 1973, Fernandez sold him the business and Ben’s Barber Shop began its epic run.
Any number of well-known personalities come in for buzzes. Most notable to Ben is Jaime Jarrin, the Dodger’s long-time Spanish language announcer. Others include Michael Gross of Family Ties; Robert Picardo of Voyager; KNBC reporter Joe Rico; Justin Lin, director of six of the “Fast and Furious” movies; and attorney Thomas Girardi, whose case inspired the Erin Brockovich movie. Flea, basist of the Red-Hot Chili Peppers, has also stopped by for a cut.
Over the years, Ben and some of the other barbers around town used to get together quite a bit to shoot the breeze, watch movies, and take excursions to Vegas or Tijuana and like. But as Ben has outlasted his colleagues, that group has pretty much disappeared. “There are not many guys left anymore from my group that used to be here. Once in a while, one will pop in.”
Ben’s wife, Diana Kay Miranda, passed away back in 2014. But he has two children, Bryan and Sandra.
His most satisfying experience, Miranda said, was his partnership with one of his barber school buddies. After graduation, Richard was working at a shop in Glendora when Ben came to visit. But there was no one in his chair. “It was empty.” Ben invited Richard to come work with him and he did. “He was my best friend ever and best man at my wedding. We were together for a long time” until he passed away.
“Barbering has been very good to me,” Ben says. When he’s not giving haircuts, he likes to work with the trees and grass in the garden at his home in Alhambra. “It’s nice to go outside and do a little work like that.”
But what does he do for fun? “I would just say I live a good life and enjoy myself.” He said he might retire when gets to be 80, but then pauses. “I like what I’m doing now.”