What's Up, South Texas: From prison to business owner, barber credits God with life transformation

Gerardo Galvan says learning how to cut hair in prison changed his life

By Japhanie Gray - Reporter

SAN ANTONIO - The Old School Galvan Barbershop on St. Mary’s and West Josephine streets has been around for several decades.

Efrain Palacios, the current owner of the building where the barbershop is nestled, learned the shop had been operating as a barbershop since 1947.

“Fifteen years ago, it was nothing like this,” Palacios said. “The St. Mary’s strip has transformed completely, bringing in a lot of transplants from here and there.”

For the last decade, Palacios said he’s been getting his hair cut in the small barbershop in his building for a reason.

“It's old school,” Palacios said. “It has been under several owners and the tradition has still survived. The barbers use straight razors, which is something I grew up with, plus it is a family like atmosphere.”

He said the typical customers are people living in nearby apartments and people who walk or ride bikes.

“It all comes back to the experience,” Palacios said. “It has been preserved nicely.”

Palacios gives all of the credit to the current business owner and barbers.

“They are just great and get along with everyone so well,” Palacios said.

Gerardo Galvan leased the building from Palacios in 2006.

“I worked as a barber under the previous owner and he was great, but things were a lot different than what they are now,” Galvan said.

Galvan said one of the main differences was the strict rules in place.

“He would have signs up about no cussing and there was nothing on the walls but Bible Scriptures,” said Galvan of the previous owner. “I personally didn’t mind it, but I knew a lot of our clients felt under pressure when they would come.”

With Galvan in charge, the entire scenery has changed.

“I am really into taxidermy and old antique things and sports signs, so I decorated it with all of these things because it's a homey feel for me and I have gotten a lot of great feedback from it,” Galvan said. “It makes them feel homey and makes them feel comfortable, and that is what makes them come back. The whole experience makes them come back.”

Galvan said his path to becoming a barber was a difficult one. He served time in prison as a teenager, but he said that's where he learned how to cut hair.

“I had to be very careful to make sure I gave that client a satisfactory haircut, because I could have gotten beat up about it,” Galvan said, joking about his past.

He said it was God that put him on the right path.

“I felt God pressing me to go chase barbering, and here I am owning my own barbershop,” Galvan said.

Not only has Galvan impacted his clients with his positive attitude, he has had an impact on his workers as well.

“I was told by a friend that I should come by and get Gerry to cut my hair, and when I did, I would always ask questions about barbering and stuff,” said Jesse Gonzales, a full-time barber at the shop. “He told me he would teach me and he did. After four years of schooling, here I am.”

Gonzales' clients get a unique experience -- they get to sit in his custom-made Spurs-themed barber chair from the '50s.

“I love the Spurs,” Gonzales said. “So this chair brings a lot fans out and, hopefully, if any players want to come get a cut, they are more than welcome.”

He added that his main love goes toward his clients.

“When I get a haircut, I feel like a million bucks, so when I can make someone feel like a million bucks, I have done my job,” Gonzales said.

In addition to offering haircuts to clients throughout the week, the Old School Galvan Barbershop also operates as a place of worship where Galvan holds a Bible study every Wednesday at 7 p.m.

Galvan said it is all about touching the community as God has touched his life, which is why he keeps a smile on his face and affects the lives of others one strand of hair at a time.

The barbershop's old school tradition continues on in the community and that is what’s up in South Texas.

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