Good To The Last Clip

Leo Bustillos calls it a career after 60 years of cutting hair By Gary Luster

Courtesy photo FAMIlY TIeS—Three generations of Bustillos gather in front of Leo’s Clip Joint in Gardena. From left are grandson Joaquin, patriarch-grandfather Leo, grandson Brando and son Marty. Leo Bustillos is retiring more than a half-century in the haircutting business.

Many people think that having a suc cessful businessinvolves nothing more than setting up a YouTube channel, a podcast, or a flashy website. But Leo Bustillos is and always has been old school — which is a method and mindset that has served him well over the years. Using the tried-and-true principles of punctuality, fairness, and high-quality customer service, Bustillos, 87, has thrived as the owner and operator of Leo’s Clip Joint, a barber shop that has served the Gardena community for the past 60 years. “A lot of customers appreciate that I’m there on time and I’m never late,” Bustillos said. “I don’t believe in that.” However, as the saying goes, “all good things must come to an end” and after 60 years, Bustillos decided to hang up his clippers after a recent health issue. His son Marty said that his father developed a liposarcoma, a rare type of cancerous tumor, in his leg. After the tumor was removed in October 2021, Bustillos spent two and a half months in a skilled nursing facility and when he returned home, he decided that the commute from his home in Hawaiian Gardens to Gardena was too much and decided it was time to hang up his clippers. Although Bustillos is calling it quits, his family continues to employ his principles as successful practitioners of the “family business.” He has served as the inspiration for his son Marty to follow in his footsteps and set himself up as a successful hairstylist in Newport Beach. “Out of high school, I did some other work that I didn’t care for, so my father encouraged me to go to school and learn how to cut hair and I did that; ended up falling in love with it and that passed on to two of my daughters,” Marty Bustillos said. One of his daughters, Ataya, is herself a successful hairstylist while Marty’s other daughter, Kashia, has her hairstyling license but does not practice. Bustillos said that over the years he has literally served generations of families in Gardena. He has cut the hair of grandparents, parents and their kids. He said that once those kids grew up, they returned to Bustillos to have him cut their own kids’ hair. In addition to generations of families, Bustillos has served some high-profile clients over the years including several Gardena police officers and former Gardena Mayor Ed Russ as well as former Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills. who got a taste of what made Bustillos such a beloved figure in the local community—his principle of fairness. “I once had Maury Wills come in to get a haircut,” he said. “He came in and wanted to get his haircut before a couple of people who had come in before him. I told him that he would have to wait until the two people in front of him were served. He got mad and left, but then later came back. Apparently he liked that idea that I turned him down. I said it was first come, first served.” Along with treating all of his clients fairly, Bustillos provided high-quality service with the help of his scissors and comb, two barber tools that may seem quaint in today’s world of electric clippers and overly complicated hairstyles. But these two tools have kept him going for more than half a century. “I have people who come from far away because I use scissors and a comb,” Bustillos said. “One guy used to come all the way from Woodland Hills because I used scissors and a comb and only because I used scissors and a comb.” Bustillos, who hasn’t worked as a barber since October 2021 when he had his cancer removed, said that when he was cutting hair in his shop, which is located on Redondo Beach Boulevard and Denker Avenue, he averaged about 25 customers per day. According to Bustillos, today’s barbers tend to prioritize speed over quality which he said is a result of many customers wanting a simple buzzcut, which he noticed as a trend among younger barber patrons. But unlike those barbers, Bustillos always focused on taking his time with each customer, something that his customers seemed to appreciate. “I don’t push people in and out,” he said. “I take my time with each customer. I’m not going to rush.” In one instance several years ago, one customer came into Leo’s Clip Joint, saw that someone was ahead of him and because he was familiar with Bustillos’ deliberate and unhurried method, paid the guy ahead of him $100 so he could be next. With his work at the barber shop now firmly behind him, Bustillos looks forward to keeping busy in retirement taking care of his wife Eleanor, who recently broke her hip, and watching proudly as his family continues to make names for themselves as they walk the path he started so many years ago. Bustillos, who succeeded as a barber for more than 60 years because of his belief in the principles of punctuality, fairness, and high-quality customer service, has one final message for all of his clients, which pretty much sums up what made him so successful. “I’ve been blessed with a lot of good people coming to my shop and I’m going to miss the customers and my neighbors,” he said. “I just want to let all of my clients know that I thank them very much for coming into my barber shop for all of the years that I have been in Gardena.”

Courtesy photos
INTeRIORS—Leo’s Clip Joint has the feel of 60 years of doing business. The
calendar near his cabinet still shows Leo’s last month of business, October
2021. A cancer ended his days as a barber before the end of the year.
Courtesy photo
A TIMe TO ReFleCT—Leo Bustillos relaxes in the barber chair where many customers has sat as he cut their
hair since the early 1960s.
HAIRS TO ANOTHeR WORK DAY—Leo Bustillos is busy cutting the hair
of a customer. He has passed along his hair-cutting skills to his son and
Good To The Last Clip