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‘He’s a legend.’ Merced barber hanging up his clippers after six decades

Merced CA barber hanging up his clippers after six decades

Tino Ayala has owned Tino’s Hairstyling in downtown Merced and been a barber for 64 years. The 88-year-old Merced native and Army veteran said his time as a stylist comes to an end at the end of the month. 
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Tino Ayala has owned Tino’s Hairstyling in downtown Merced and been a barber for 64 years. The 88-year-old Merced native and Army veteran said his time as a stylist comes to an end at the end of the month. 

A downtown staple for almost 65 years will close its doors for the final time at the end of this month, when Tino Ayala hangs up his barber’s clippers.

When the 88-year-old Merced native first started cutting hair in 1955, a trim cost 90 cents and customers could get a shave for another quarter. He doesn’t offer the shaving service anymore, but haircuts are $20 today.

“I’m 88 years old,” he said Friday. “Ain’t nobody working at that age anymore.”

But the customers kept him at it for so many years. “I worked because I enjoyed it and the customers were really good to me,” he said. “I’m going to miss them very much.”

Ayala grew up in Merced near 12th and N streets. A photo hanging in the shop taken in 1948 shows him and his Merced High teammates in basketball jerseys.

He finished high school in 1950 and entered the Army. As a member of the 82nd Airborne Division, Ayala spent time in Texas, New York and the jungles of Panama. Ayala said he always planned to come back to Merced.

“It’s my home,” he said. “I love my home.”

When he got back to Merced, Ayala took advantage of the money the government would pay for his education to go to barber school. He worked in a shop for five years before opening his own location in 1960.

The original Tino’s was inside what is now Merced Shoe and Boot Repair, which is next door to where Tino’s sits now. Business was good early on, Ayala said, but it really took off in the mid-1960s when the popularity of the Beatles exploded.

He said he had customer after customer looking to have their hair styled like the Fab Four.

The 1970s brought women coming into the shop to have their hair styled like Dorthy Hamill, the ice skater who won an Olympic gold medal in 1976. “Everybody loved the way she looked,” Ayala said.

Over the years Ayala cut the hair of well known Mercedians, like businessman Jack McNamara and C. Ray Robinson, a lawyer who used to own the Bear Creek Inn.

With 65 years in the heart of downtown, Ayala said he’s seen the economy rise and fall, but said the future looks bright. He pointed to the upgrades to the El Capitan Hotel and Hotel Tioga, as well as the growing presence of UC Merced.

Tino’s is inside the historic Central Hotel building, which officially got that name in 1900. The structure evolved and grew over the next few decades, according to a timeline from the Merced County Courthouse Museum.

In the shop Friday for a trim was 60-year-old George Mora, who said he’s gone to Tino’s for haircuts since 1972. Before he started talking about the San Francisco Giants with Ayala’s son, Tino Ayala Jr, Mora said he would miss the shop.

Customers could walk right in and sit down, and Ayala already knew how they wanted their hair styled.

“It’s very sad,” Mora said. “He’s a legend. He’s touched a lot of people in this community.”

Ayala said he looks forward to working on his lawn and his golf swing, but he’ll miss his customers.

“It’s too bad after all these years, but it’s time,” he said.

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Reporter Thaddeus Miller has covered cities in the central San Joaquin Valley since 2010, writing about everything from breaking news to government and police accountability. A native of Fresno, he joined The Fresno Bee in 2019 after time in Merced and Los Banos.
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