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Laguna Beach

 Volume 12, Issue 95  |  November 27, 2020


Rudy Campos of Wally’s Barber Shop celebrates his 80th birthday with no retirement in sight

Story by DIANNE RUSSELL

Photos by Mary Hurlbut

Wally’s Barber Shop is an institution in downtown Laguna and has been for 62 years. However, the man who owns the shop is the real legend. For 57 years, Rudy Campos has been cutting hair in Laguna Beach, starting at Wally’s Barber Shop in the alley across from Bank of America and then at its current location on Beach St. 

It all began in 1946, when Wally Stark worked at a barber shop along the old Boardwalk Promenade and later at the Hotel Laguna Barber Shop. Wanting his own operation, he opened Wally’s Barber Shop in 1958, and in 1963, Campos began working for him. When Stark retired, Campos bought the shop.

One would think after all those years that on his 80th birthday – which is Saturday, Nov 21 – Campos would hang up his clippers and call it a day, but he has no intention of retiring. 

The ancient Greeks used barber shops as gathering places to exchange news, and clearly Wally’s is where people learn about what’s happening in town from someone who knows everyone and pretty much everything. 

“It’s the only barber shop downtown,” he says – a location that is within walking distance from Cliff Drive where he has lived for 35 years.

Rudy Campos closeup

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Rudy Campos celebrates his 80th birthday on Saturday

Campos was born in San Antonio, Texas, and how he ended up in Laguna is a long journey that was initiated when, at 17 years old, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps. That led to a six-year stint in the service, one that took him to Japan for a-year-and-a-half and all over the South Pacific. 

In June of 1962, he was assigned to Camp Pendleton in Standby Reserve for two years. 

“I knew this was a place I wanted to stay for the rest of my life,” he says.

Although he took a barber course in San Diego during that time, he had no intention of becoming a barber. “It was something to do.”

That “something to do” turned into an almost six-decade career. When asked if there was another path he might have chosen, he now says, “This is the only thing I ever wanted to do.” 

Wally’s was the first barber shop Campos worked in, and he never left.

While sitting on the bench down from his shop, passersby greet him – he knows everyone it seems. Mark Christy had just been in the shop.

During the years, generation after generation of the same family have come to him. “I gave kids their first haircuts, and they still come back after all these years. Sometimes even if they have married and moved away, they come back to say, ‘Hello.’”

The connections with his longtime clients seem more like family ties than barber and customer relationships.

An avid Angels fan, in the 1960s Campos had season tickets to the Angels games and took local kids. “But now they take me,” he says.

Rudy Campos open

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Campos bought Wally’s Barber Shop in 1977

During his 57 years, there’s no doubt Campos has seen a lot of changes in the town and surrounding areas. 

“Back in 1963, a haircut was $1.75. The shop rent was $125, then when we moved over here on Beach Street in 1977, it went up to $600. I remember when there was no Dana Point Marina, nothing between here and the Marine Base in Tustin, when Laguna Canyon Road was two little lanes, and Whole Foods was Acords Market. Bushard’s Pharmacy is the only place downtown that still has the same owner as it did back then.” 

Yet of all the time he’s spent in Laguna, “The pandemic is the craziest,” he says.

“During the pandemic when the shop was closed, I couldn’t talk to people. It didn’t work for me.”

While in quarantine, he passed the time reading. “I read a lot of books. I like historical novels. James Michener is my favorite author. But I couldn’t wait to get back to work.”

The pandemic has also prevented him from seeing his daughter and grandchildren who live in Chicago.

Like all businesses, the impact of the pandemic has had a devastating effect on Wally’s Barber Shop.

Campos says, “We closed in March, then opened and closed for the second time a month later. Our clients are now down about 21 percent, but at one time during the pandemic, we were down 50 percent.”

Although most of his customers are regulars, during the summer when the festivals were open, tourists would drop in. “Hotels like the Surf and Sand and Inn at Laguna, among others, recommend us to visitors.” 

Rudy Campos chair

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Campos has no intention of retiring 

“We’re on a walk-in basis,” he says. “We tried appointments at one time, but now it’s strictly walk-ins.”

Even though he loves his job, he does take vacations, and he’s been all over the world – to the Caribbean, and South America to name a few – but his favorite place to visit is Key West, Fla.

Sahar, who has been with Campos for five years, takes over the shop when he goes on vacation. 

So what will Campos do on his 80th birthday this Saturday?

“I’ll probably go out with a few friends for dinner,” he says. Two of his favorite places are Carmelita’s and Lumberyard.

To be sure, retirement and a rocking chair are not in Campos’ future. 

“Laguna and the barber shop have been good to me. I love it here.”

And there’s no doubt that generations of Laguna residents love him back.

In these strange and uncertain times, it’s comforting to know Wally’s Barber Shop and a town fixture like Campos have endured and are right downtown where they have been for over half a century – and are open for business. 

Happy Birthday, Rudy!

Wally’s Barbers Shop is located at 214 Beach St.

 

Shaena Stabler is the Owner, Publisher & Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor & Writer.

Michael Sterling is our Webmaster & Designer.

Mary Hurlbut and Scott Brashier are our photographers.

Alexis Amaradio, Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Marrie Stone, Maggi Henrikson, Samantha Washer, Stacia Stabler and Suzie Harrison are our writers and/or columnists.

We all love Laguna and we love what we do.

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