When many of the restrictions imposed by the governor’s office in response to the COVID-19 pandemic all but cut-off his income as a barber, Jeff Lee started thinking of ways he could still make a living cutting hair, and shaving faces.
One idea he had was to take his barber chair and go mobile, much like many dog groomers do for families with pets who can’t get out to have Fido tidied up. But Lee had never personally seen a mobile barbershop, so he had to draw up his idea from scratch.
“I hadn’t seen a mobile barbershop before but I talked about the idea with several people and I’ve heard some stories of a few, but I’ve never actually seen any in operation before,” he said. “But with the proliferation of food trucks across the country, and especially here I thought it might be a good idea.”
But there was a catch with wanting to go mobile and it didn’t have anything to do with pandemic restrictions.
“I was under the impression that (mobile barber shops) were permitted in New Mexico but unfortunately they are not currently,” Lee, who is also known as El Pistolero by some of his clients because of his normal wearing of a side arm almost all of the time — including when giving a haircut or shave. “New Mexico does authorize ‘mobile outreach units’ — basically that’s someone operating out of a regular barbershop who on occasion will go to a nursing home or someone’s home, who might be elderly or sick and injured and cannot otherwise get out to go to a barber shop.”
With a nickname like El Pistolero, it was no surprise he named his new venture, “Gunslingers Barbershop.” The name also seems to be a good fit for west Texas and southeast New Mexico and the fact Lee is a fan of western movies. The 8-by-16-foot trailer is a completely self-contained unit, complete with running water, a bathroom, and electricity supplied by very quiet generator. Lee had the trailer wrapped in graphics designed by 575 Graphics to look like an old west scene, complete with saloon, and of course, a barbershop.
Because New Mexico won’t license a barber to have a mobile barber shop, that left Lee with a choice many in this part of the state have recently faced. As restrictions force them to move for better economic opportunities, they look to neighboring Texas, where the climate is business friendly.
So, Lee started scouting for locations to pull his mobile barbershop where there is a clientele who may need his service. In the Permian Basin and Delaware Basin there are a large number of oilfield workers, many who work shifts of multiple days or weeks on then a few days or weeks off, to take care of business. A lot of those workers live in what are known as man-camps, which are basically single-level motels created by bringing in trailers or other mobile structures.
He found a spot near the “ghost town” of Orla, Texas, and near a man camp, called Century Lodging. Lee plans to have his mobile shop open for business on June 8.
“With some of these oilfield hands who work 14 on and 14 off, when they go on location, they don’t come off for 14 days, and when you’re in an area like Orla, Texas, where the nearest barber is 38 miles away, I figure it could be a good opportunity,” Lee, who is also the immediate past-master of the Hobbs Masonic Lodge, told the News-Sun. “The idea (for that area) was given to me by one of my lodge brothers.”
Orla, Texas, is officially a ghost town and lies about halfway between Pecos, Texas and Carlsbad at the intersection of US 285 and Texas Farm to Market Road 652. A spot where the southern New Mexico and west Texas wind has been doing its best to blow what’s left of the town away. However, in a show of true New Mexican and Texas grit and determination, a small number of original buildings slowly get replaced by newer structures brought in by the recent spike in oil and gas production.
“Depending on the route you take, it’s an hour and 45 minute drive (from Hobbs),” Lee said. “Only a handful of people live there but the oilfield is big there. They have a lot of man camps and a big Flying J truck stop … and from what I understand, they still have a post office.”
So Lee applied for a barber license and for a license for his mobile barber shop in Texas. He received his Class A barber license in Texas through reciprocity.
Gunslingers Barbershop only does traditional barber services, like haircuts and straight razor shaves and does not do any salon type services such as hair coloring or perms.
While a shave and a haircut is now slightly more than two bits, Lee’s mobile barbershop still offers the same great service for the same reasonable price that he would at a brick-and-mortar location. A standard haircut, or face-shave, is still about $20, while a shave and a haircut is about $30. Lee also noted those who get the barber service in Texas do not have to pay sales tax, like they would in New Mexico. So, New Mexico is also missing out on that money going to state coffers.
And, while Lee will set up his mobile facility mostly in Orla, where he will make the trip back and forth daily, he is also open to taking his mobile barbershop on the road to special events like fairs and rodeos.
“If there’s a big concert or convention at the Ector County Colosseum in Odessa (for example), I can look at the possibility of setting up in the parking lot for that event,” he said. He also noted that the second weekend in March brings the Rattlesnake Roundup to Sweetwater, Texas, where more than 50,000 attend the three-day event — essentially doubling the population of Sweetwater.
“I have been there several times and I have seen a ton of food trucks set up out there,” Lee said. “Why not a mobile barber shop?”
And, if New Mexico ever becomes more welcoming to business and embraces the idea of a mobile barbershop or salon, Lee said he will gladly park his trailer in Lea County for long-time customers to patronize.
“If the time ever comes the New Mexico Board of Barbers and Cosmetologists changes the rules to allow for mobile establishments then I would like to set up for the Lea County Fair and Rodeo, the New Mexico State Fair in Albuquerque and maybe some events out here at the (Lea County) Event Center,” Lee said.