How did the Empire Barber Club come to be?
“My husband has been a barber for more than 15 years now. He wanted to open a shop that would be a friendly environment for any customer and employee. We see everyone as our family. We try to get more personal with each person who comes in and we’re not just here to give the haircut and get people out. We want people to feel like it’s home and we try to keep it at a personal level.”
How has the business changed from then to now?
“We’ve definitely expanded! We started with five chairs and now we have 13. We’re so thankful, it has so much to do with the community, the bond we’ve formed with our clients and the services we try to provide them. It has been a wonderful journey.”
What’s the story behind the name?
“Well, some will say ‘shop’ and some say ‘club.’ We don’t mind either way but we included ‘club’ in the name because we wanted to have a closer connection with our customers and a place where they could come in and get help for anything. We’ve done fundraisers here, we’ve had the opportunity to sponsor a couple children for their Jujutsu, or others’ football leagues. It’s a tightness between the community, our customers and employees. ‘Empire’ came from the Inland Empire because we’ve always been in the Empire area. I was raised in Riverside and Juan was raised in Fontana and Bloomington.”
What do you love most about your role as owner?
“I love being able to get to know people and I love to help in any way I can when needed. We’ve had customers who’ve come in and down on their luck and whether it’s fundraising, promoting or personally helping anyone, I love being in the position to be able to touch people’s lives in any way I possibly can.”
What would your barbers say they like about being a part of this business?
“What they enjoy the most is the connection they form with their clients, the closeness they have with them. For the clients who come in regularly, they’re able to come sit down, have a therapeutic conversion and talk to them about things they wouldn’t talk to other people about.”
How many barbers do you employ?
“We have seven barbers but used to employ more. Some had to move on because of the pandemic. They weren’t able to provide for their families during that time. As owners, we always try to have our savings but not being able to help our barbers was extremely hard. We tried everything we could by trying to keep in touch with local laws and regulations. We were there to help with whatever we could do. It was very tough, but our hands were pretty much tied.”
How did the Empire Barber Club operate during the pandemic?
“We were closed pretty much most of the year. Thankfully, we did apply for aid and other loans. Right now, we’re going week to week seeing what’s next. We’re open with restrictions and we had to remodel our shop to keep six feet of distance between customers. We have a sanitation routine and we try to clean as often as possible. Thankfully, since most customers have a close bond with us, we’re able to know who’s sick, who’s vaccinated, and they’ve been very open with us about that as well. Everyone has been very patient about all the changes we have to make.”
Do you see mostly male clients and do women feel comfortable coming for service?
“We have a few ladies that come in and get designs or they come in on a weekly basis for shorter hairstyles, but we do see a very good variety, like families who come in with their kids. They like the environment and they like that they can come in with their kids. It used to be a male-dominated industry but especially in the last few years, it opened up widely to women. My husband is one who does most of the designs and he sees it as an art form.”
What is unique about Empire Barber Club compared to other shops?
“We’ve had our barbers come work for us and say, ‘Oh, at other shops we weren’t able to leave if we had a family emergency.’ Here, if they get a call saying they need to be home in five minutes because the baby has a fever or something else really needs their attention, our barbers don’t feel like we’re going to judge them or that we’d be offended by them.”
What’s your favorite part of being located in Riverside?
“I like the diversity. There is such wide diversity and acceptance of different ideas. The people who occupy Riverside are just wonderful. Before we even thought about opening our shop, people from the real estate company who helped us find our location were encouraging to us and they even gave us ideas for our business. They basically rooted us on! I don’t think you find that everywhere.”