It took 12 years of living in Santa Barbara for me to find my kind of barber shop. I’d gone to a classic joint with a spinning pole outside, but I grew to find the scissors and the “jokes” too blunt. I’d even tried a salon but quickly realized I didn’t want the complimentary chardonnay or large bill that came with a basic cut. Then I met Alex and Erin Guerena.
At the time, the married pair were renting their chairs at the The Palms Barber Shop on Calle Laureles. I immediately liked their vibe, and then suddenly, during a conversation with Alex about Werner Herzog films that somehow transitioned into our favorite cuts of steak, I got the best haircut of my adult life. I’ve been going back ever since.
Starting this winter, however, I’ll be heading down to 1924 De La Vina Street. After seven years of putting in their dues, the Guerenas have struck out on their own and opened Haven Barber & Shop. They’ve transformed the dusty Midway appliance store next to Cajun Kitchen into a sunny space painted a very light pink, with help from their sledgehammer-wielding dads and a team of customers that included a contractor and electrician.
The idea, Alex and Erin explained, is to make Haven all-inclusive, open to all kinds of people with all kinds of hair. They’re just as comfortable with clippers as they are with shears, and they can handle everything from tight fades to light trims. “We have a broad spectrum of customers and styles,” Alex said.
Beyond the combs and chairs, the Guerenas also want Haven to be a community space for shows and events. Erin talked about a vegan pop-up and Alex is starting a model car club. They recently hosted a day of Dune Coffee, Onus doughnuts, and vintage streetwear. “There are so many people doing cool things here,” Alex said. “We want it to be a rallying point for them.” The shop also has a front area that showcases a rotating lineup of art. Right now, it’s photographs on loan from UCSB of the Chicano punk scene in East Los Angeles. The rest of the airy floor plan is decked out in arcade games, post-modern furniture, and a lot of happy plants.
Born and bred in Santa Barbara, Alex, 27, and Erin, 35, started their first date as friends at Muddy Waters. They ended the night watching shooting stars up on Gibraltar Road. At the time, Alex was working at Velo Pro Cyclery and Erin was tending bar at the Mercury Lounge. “We had jobs, but not careers,” Erin said. They went to barber school in Ventura together (Erin was its first woman to graduate), and while they cut their teeth at The Palms, a time they’re immensely grateful for and called “enriching,” they didn’t cut a lot of hair. Not at first, anyway. It took a long time to establish their regular customer base, which now numbers in the many hundreds. “Looking back, it’s cool to see we’ve built our clientele from basically nothing,” Alex said.
The couple acknowledge they’re part of a recent wave of new barber shops, catalyzed, they think, by popular shows like Boardwalk Empire and Peaky Blinders that portray cool early-20th-century cuts. “Guys are a little more creative, a little more daring with their styles these days,” Alex said. But Haven stands out. “We may be part of the revival, but we’re different,” Alex said.