Jeff Jardine: Modesto barber’s loyal customers step up after vandal shatters his security

03/29/2014 8:00 PM

03/30/2014 10:38 AM

When you live in a city like Modesto, which shows up on way too many of those negative lists and where too many headlines herald bad news, a story like this one really jumps out for the right reasons:

Eight mornings ago, Larry Powell arrived at his downtown barbershop expecting to cut hair and swap stories with his longtime customers.

“It pays to stay in one spot and get to know people,” Powell told me. He’s been cutting hair along 11th Street since moving here from Orange County in 1988. That “spot” simply moved across the street when his shop was leveled 16 years ago to make way for the city-county government building.

As he approached the shop, he noticed a Modesto police cruiser parked in front with an officer behind the wheel.

“He rolled down his window and asked, ‘Are you Larry?’ ” Powell said. “I said, ‘Yes,’ and he said, ‘I hate to tell you this, but your shop was broken into.’ ”

The front window had been shattered. The 200-pound wooden American Indian that Powell hand-carved in 1991 as a conversation piece for the store lay face down on the floor.

“I had to move him out of the way to get the door open,” Powell said.

They entered cautiously. No perps in sight, but the place was a mess.

“There was glass this far back,” Powell said, standing next to the chair in the rear of the shop. Powell and the officer didn’t find the rock or brick or whatever the vandal used to break the window. And nothing was missing. What happened to Powell’s barber shop was similar to the recent vandalism at a former pizza restaurant a couple of doors away.

But what happened over the next couple of hours represented the best side of Modesto: good people, caring and responsive friends. Stanislaus Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova stepped up first. He alternates his haircuts between Powell’s shop and Elias Benitez’s Razor Edge on J Street. This time, it was Powell’s turn.

“When I got there, there was lots of broken glass outside and inside,” Córdova said. “Larry looked slightly shocked.”

Córdova retrieved a pair of gloves from his car, and began picking up the bigger shards while Powell swept. A few minutes later, while he gave the judge his haircut, several other men arrived at the shop. They, too, pitched in with the cleanup effort.

“They joked that it was the cleanest they’d ever seen the place,” Córdova said.

In fact, they told Powell to keep cutting hair and they’d do the sweeping. When he finished Córdova’s trim, the judge noticed small pieces of glass in the seams of the chairs in the waiting area.

“So I went home and got my Shop-Vac,” he said.

Among the other customers, a teen grabbed a broom and swept the glass from the sidewalk in front of the shop while an off-duty Alameda County sheriff’s deputy who lives in Modesto joined in. Another customer called a local glass company, summoning a technician to replace the window.

“The glass guy was out here in 20 minutes,” Powell said. “They made me feel good. This is ‘their’ barber shop.”

And their barber.

When the glass installation was finished, Powell had only $200 in cash. The bill totaled $780.

“I didn’t bring my checkbook, so I asked if I could pay him the rest in a day or so,” Powell said.

The glass guy wasn’t particularly enamored with the concept. Never fear. One of the customers covered the cost with a spot loan.

“He came in Tuesday and I reimbursed him,” Powell said.

Early last week, Powell contacted his insurer.

“The adjuster hemmed and hawed,” Powell said, “that the (building) owner should be the one paying.”

The landlord called Powell. “I heard the bad news,” she told him. “I’ve already filed a claim.”

She added that she’d send him a check to cover his out-of-pocket losses and then deal with her insurer to recover the cost.

“It was a blessing for me that everybody chipped in and helped,” he said.

Such is the benefit of making so many friends over so many years.

“He would have done the same for me if I was in that same situation,” Córdova said. “It’s good to be able to come in there and chat with someone who doesn’t deal with the things I deal with every day in court.”

If the pathetic little urchins who broke the window had driven by the shop by noon that same day, they would have been sorely disappointed.

It was like nothing had ever happened. Powell’s friends quickly restored both his shop and his faith in Modestans.

And his Indian carving stands tall again, too.

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