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Claremont barbershop is good as gold for customers

One of the first things you’ll notice when you walk into Stay Gold barbershop is a head.

A massive taxidermy bust of a trophy buck, set triumphantly on a wooden plaque, hangs above the front counter along with other vintage knick-knacks—old beer cans, a Victorian cash register from the 1880s and old movie posters of classic films such as The Godfather and Dracula.

Shop owner Rob Oliva says it’s all part of the culture that has made Stay Gold a mainstay in the Southern California haircut scene. Like many of the items that adorn the shop, a regular client gave the deer bust to him.

“We held on to it, and it fit perfect right here,” Mr. Oliva said.

When the COURIER visited the brand new Harvard Avenue barbershop—Stay Gold’s third location—on a Wednesday morning, it was abuzz with activity.

Every chair was filled with customers getting their hair tuned-up, from flat tops (Mr. Oliva’s favorite cut to do) to sideparts to pompadours. Old school soul music set the mood amid the buzzing of electric clippers and conversation.

Mr. Oliva was talking about his shop and love for cutting hair while working on longtime customer Victor Duarte.

“Watch this guy, he’s practically a plastic surgeon,” Mr. Duarte said. “He’s going to change my appearance.”

Mr. Oliva said haircutting was something he always liked to do. He opened his first Stay Gold location in Fontana in 2007, but even when he was a kid he would cut all his friends’ hair. It was a hobby that had a family history as well.

“Actually my great grandfather was a barber, and I didn’t even know it,” he said as he carefully sculpted Mr. Duarte’s hair. “I guess it’s in the blood.”

The name “Stay Gold” comes from one of Mr. Oliva’s favorite novels, The Outsiders. It’s a classic line from one of the characters, Johnny Cade, to another character, Ponyboy, as Johnny lay dying on a hospital bed.

“We ran with it, we thought it was a good name for it, and now it’s more of a brand,” he said.

Mr. Oliva grew up in Montclair, with the Claremont Village a short distance away.

“We’ve been [in Claremont] all our lives, went to the Village, and we just love the Village here—the people and the buildings,” he said.

He’s wanted to open up a location in Claremont for a while, but played the waiting game for the perfect spot to open up. When a spot previously occupied by a salon became available, Mr. Oliva took the opportunity.

Right away, the crew went to work. Acting on a tip from a neighbor, Mr. Oliva removed plaster on the left side of the space that revealed original exposed brick.

“We had to chisel all that stuff away,” he said.

Shop manager Paul Vasquez remembers the crew taking out a low ceiling and removing stucco from above the door, which revealed a beautiful and original stained glass window.

“Everything they did, they did themselves,” Mr. Vasquez said.

One theme you’ll hear a lot when talking about Stay Gold with Mr. Oliva is family. His brother, Carlos Oliva, works alongside him.

Since opening his first location in 2007, he’s developed a dedicated cadre of loyal customers. Some, like Mr. Duarte, share his love of refurbishing classic low-rider cars.

“They’re all family here,” Mr. Oliva said. “Victor’s not a customer, he’s family, you know? Every time we see each other, it’s like, ‘Hey what’s up bro!’”

Mr. Oliva grew up around rockabilly and greaser culture, which makes its presence known in the shop through its vintage décor. In fact, the shop has a reputation among the classic car and low-rider communities for their car shows.

“It’s always been us, and that’s where our style comes from,” Mr. Oliva said. “Myself and my brother, we own 1950s Fords and 1950s cars. And a lot of our customers are the same way. A lot of our customers are car guys.”

The shop specializes in short cuts, but it’s not just for guys. Mr. Oliva said women sometimes come in to get their hair cut as well.

“We don’t discriminate, and if you’re a girl and you want to get a short haircut, you’ll look good,” he said.

But ultimately, Stay Gold wants to offer classic haircuts and shaves for a reasonable price—$25 for a cut, $25 for a shave, cash only.

“We’re not trying to do massive amount of haircuts, we’re just trying to do quality,” Mr. Oliva said.

Mr. Vasquez, the shop manager, used to be a regular customer at other Stay Gold locations until Mr. Oliva hired him on to oversee the Claremont shop. He said he couldn’t imagine going anywhere else for a cut.

“It’s more than just a haircut, it’s an experience,” he said. “It’s totally unlike any shop I’ve ever been in.”

Stay Gold Barbershop is located at 120 Harvard Ave. in the Village. Give them a call at (909) 667-6362.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com