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Barber Extraordinaire

Nov. 26, 2008
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It was 1960 when Jose Ortiz began his career as a “barber extraordinaire.” Besides practicing his brand of “hairapy,” he has also become a politician, teacher, community activist, musician and baseball aficionado. He is the father of musicians Christopher and Nicolaus Ortiz. Christopher plays bass in the hip-hop group El Gordo, and both brothers perform with the rock group Motivo Loco. They also work as barbers in Jose’s shop.

I recently stopped in at Jose’s, 2644 S. Kinnickinnic Ave., where I received a trim and hot towel treatment from the talented Angelina Maria Galicia. “Jose and everyone here is like family to me,” she says.

The friendly, laid-back atmosphere clearly impresses the clientele as well. “This place is awesome!” a man says to me as he leaves.

When he is not cutting hair, you can often find Jose sitting outside the shop. During the baseball season, he listens to games on the radio. And he always cheerfully greets his neighbors. “I like this neighborhood,” he says. “I like this city. I want to try to make it a better place.”

What is the guiding principle of “Hairapy”?

One of my regular clients came to me 20 years ago and said, “I’m here for my ‘hairapy.’” It surprised me when he said it. Therapy. We meet people from all walks of life here. There isn’t anyone who doesn’t have a problem. The clients, at times, talk to us about their problems. Sometimes we have talked to people who have had the same problems and resolved them. We pass down what we know. So, in reality, it is almost a form of therapy treatment.

Is the barbershop a good forum for politics?

Yes it is. We talk about a collage of topics: politics, arts, sports, everything. Professional athletes, doctors, lawyers, you name it, all come in. They are the top of their profession, and I have barbered them a long time. When I ran for office I brought these ideas together. I couldn’t do all these things, but I picked their brains for ideas.

What is the most rewarding thing about being a barber?

You have certain gifts. I went to school for different things, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I liked barbering. I’m happy with what I do. And in turn, I have taught a lot of young people how to work in this profession.

Name the greatest musician, baseball player and politician of all time.

Well, for politician, I’ve always admired Abraham Lincoln. I’ve seen a lot of great ballplayers, but I think the best is Ted Williams. Musician is a hard choice—I like the classics and popular. It’s a tossup between Frank Sinatra and Mozart.

What is the most difficult haircut for a barber?

The toughest is the flattop. In fact, in 1961 I won the state flattop contest. I won because, when I was apprenticing, there were five barbers in the shop, and they would give me all the flattops. (Laughs.) I think a barber’s hell would be nothing but flattops.


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