By Yanira Ledezma
Faustino Ayala, the longtime owner of Tino’s Hair Styling, is putting down his clippers for a final goodbye after a 64-year career.
Ayala, nicknamed “Tino,” has been serving the community of Merced from his shop, located at 455 W Main St., since the early 1960s.
Now at age 88, the Merced native is ready for more golfing time with his wife, Anita Ayala.
“I will miss it,” Ayala says. “I love Merced. This has always been my town.”
Although many businesses have come and gone from the downtown scene, Tino’s has remained a permanent staple.
“This is our home, we wouldn’t want to leave but it’s finally time,” Anita Ayala says. “It used to be a small town and now it’s just getting bigger and bigger. It’s a great place to live. We look forward to doing a little more golfing now with our time.”
Tino Ayala’s father first settled in Merced after immigrating to California from Mexico in 1904. He found work cleaning after hours at a local bank downtown to support the family, which included Tino’s two sisters Louise and Lillian, and three brothers, Raymond, Alfred, and Frank.
“I don’t know how he managed to get the job,” Tino says with a laugh. “He spoke no English. I guess they must have really liked him. It was a different time then. I was born in a house, not a hospital. A house!”
Ayala was born at a residence near 12th and M St in 1931, and attended Merced High School. After graduating in 1950, he signed up for the Army and served in the 82nd Airborne Division.
He spent time in Panama, Texas, and New York, eventually making his way back home to Merced after being discharged.
Ayala decided to attend barber school with educational funding the government provided servicemen. He worked at a barbershop right next door to where Tino’s is currently located — what is now Merced Shoe and Boot Repair — until he was finally able to rent out his own shop.
One of his fondest memories was when his old boss, Jeff Standerfered, sold him his shop back in the 1960s.
“Haircuts were only 90 cents then,” Ayala recalls. “It was a different time. I enjoyed working. Everything was terrific.”
He remembers the streets of downtown Merced showcased a completely different scene. “We had JC Penny’s here, Sears too. There was a pharmacy right across from us.”
The shops interior was heavily inspired by a shop Ayala came across in San Francisco while he was in the city attending a Vidal Sassoon seminar in the ’60s.
“I loved it.” Ayala remembers, adding that he later hired a WW2 veteran, Mr. Stulful, who had previously worked in construction, to recreate the feel of the barbershop he had visited back in San Francisco. “I told him how I wanted it and he did it.”
Since then, the shops interior has not been remodeled. Three separate booths are accessed through double doors, an essential touch to the shop that was constructed to keep conversations between the barbers and clients private.
The walls and booths are made of a fine walnut wood that adds to the vintage aesthetic of the shop. Three faux-leather chairs line up against the booths. Vintage magazines, trinkets, and trophies line the shelves of the shop. A historic black and white picture of the original Central Hotel building, that once dominated the corner near the shop, stands next to a framed picture of Ayala in his Army uniform.
Since the very beginning and till the end, Ayala has stuck to a traditional form of hair cutting and styling. He remembers his boost in popularity in the mid 1960s when the Beatles Invasion took over the states. Anita remembers woman coming in drones for a Dorothy Hamill haircut after her Olympic wins in the mid 1970s.
“We had to go back to school just to learn how to cut long hair,” Ayala chuckles, remembering seminars he attended in San Jose, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Los Angeles.
He credits his loyal customers, including City Council members and friends, for keeping his shop open for so many years.
“He did a heck of a job,” says Mike Luevano, a regular at Toni’s shop. “He always did. I remember he had the first color TV on the block. He would invite us kids over to watch TV, and everyone would come running.”
Luevano says he was only 5 years old at the time. “It’s sad to see him go but he’s a true legend.”
Ayala remembers his most shocking experience came some 50 years ago when one of his barbers accidentally scraped the scalp of a customer and caused some bleeding.
“The man jumped out of his chair immediately and ran out, only stopping at the doorway to look back at me and the barber,” Ayala remembers. “He clutched the cut on his head and continued running down the street.”
He pointed at the black and white picture of the Central Hotel Building from the 1950s and reflected on how much Main Street has changed since he first began his hairstyling journey.
“It’s a piece of history,” he says, “and everyone has been wonderful to me for so many years.”
Ayala thanks the Merced community for always being so kind to him and his business.
Ayala’s last day cutting, and styling hair was Wednesday, July 31.
The shop will remain open for another month in case anyone is interested in purchasing any equipment or furniture from the styling shop. For more information, contact Anita at (209) 723-2452 or visit the shop at 455 W Main St.