By John Finefrock
Today is Ray Martinez Day in Archuleta County, per a proclamation unanimously approved by the county commissioners on Tuesday.
Martinez has been a barber in Pagosa Springs since 1968, and is retiring today.
“We congratulate Mr. Martinez on many years of service to the citizens of Archuleta County and extend our best wishes in his well-deserved retirement and for continued success in life’s pursuits.
“We declare September 3, 2020 as Ray Martinez Day in Archuleta County, Colorado and urge all the citizens of the county to learn from Mr. Martinez’ example of hard work and dedication to our community,” the proclamation reads.
Martinez grew up in Pagosa Springs and graduated from Pagosa Springs High School in 1967, when it was still located at the site of the present-day middle school.
“I didn’t want to go to college, even though my parents wanted me to,” Martinez said in an interview Monday. “I saw this sign that said ‘Barber College’ and I said, ‘What’s that all about? I went in and asked about it, they said, ‘If you study eight hours a day six days a week, you can be out on the street cutting hair in six months. I said, ‘When can I start?’ That was the clincher right there, six months and the fact that it said Barber College. I thought, ‘Well that’ll satisfy my dad and mom.’”
Martinez got his apprentice license in January 1968 and began working at a local haircutting shop in town.
His initial foray into cutting hair didn’t last long, as in May of 1969 Martinez was drafted to fight in the Vietnam War and was overseas through 1970.
Of the war, Martinez said he’s “glad I got it all behind me” and that it wasn’t “something to look forward to.”
After Vietnam, Martinez came back to Pagosa Springs and got his old job back at the barbershop.
In 1975, he was able to buy the building on Lewis Street that became the home of his own barber shop for decades.
Martinez noted that he had a seven-year hiatus from that building when he moved his shop to the shopping center where Natural Grocers is located now, but ultimately returned to the shop on Lewis Street.
“By this time, I had already had six years in that shopping center and my customers hated that parking lot. It was icy in the winter and full of motor homes in the summer. My customers kept saying, ‘Why don’t you move to your old building?’”
So he did, which is where he’s cut hair ever since.
Martinez commented on why he likes working on Lewis Street.
“Lewis Street is a great street,” he said, adding, “The beauty of Lewis Street is you don’t have a hard time finding a parking spot. Where on Main Street, it’s hard to find a parking spot. That’s why I just decided to go back there.”
Martinez explained the changes he’s seen around Pagosa Springs during his lifetime here.
He noted that the area where City Market is now “was a sheep and cattle field that belonged to Mr. Calvin Perkins. That was all empty, flat land up there, there was nothing up there as far as businesses go.”
He said that when the Pagosa Lodge, now the Best Western, was built uptown in the mid-70s “was the beginning of the business buildings up there.”
He explained that once development started to occur uptown, some locals were worried that the most vital parts of Pagosa Springs would move there.
“At one point in the early ‘70s,gonna be the new town, everything is gonna be up on top of the hill,” he said. “I remember the huge controversy when they moved the medical center up to where it is now, and people were saying, ‘How are the old folks gonna go to the doctor?’ And I always said, ‘Well, I don’t know any sick person that walks to the doctor here.’”
Martinez also commented on what was a fiery local debate about whether to allow Walmart to open in the community.
“I know it helped my business because now I get a lot of guys from Chama and Dulce and all the way down to Tierra Amarilla that come to our Walmart,” he said. “And since they’re in town, they get their hair cut, they go to our restaurants. I know that firsthand, it’s one of the best things that could have happened in Pagosa.”
Asked if he cut the hair of anyone famous, he said, “No, I don’t think so. The only time I may have had a chance was when John Wayne was in town, filming the movie ‘The Cowboys.’ I met him, but they bring their own people with ‘em and stuff.”
Asked if he had a favorite customer, Martinez replied, “I couldn’t say that out loud. I have learned I’m probably not ever politically correct, but I know when not to put my foot in my mouth.”
Martinez plans to spend some time with his family and fishing after he closes up shop. He bought a home in Arizona a few years ago but stressed it’s just for vacations and that Pagosa is his true home.
“I would never dream of calling anywhere else home. This is home,” he said. “I have no desire to go anywhere else and call it home.”
Martinez explained that instead of “retiring,” he feels like he’s “quitting.”
“It’s just that you get to the point where I’ll be 71 in October, been cutting hair for 52 years. What do I expect, to live to be 100? And cut hair until I’m 100? I feel like I wanna be in control of my life and it’s time for me to say that’s it. Fortunately right now, I’m not going out because the doctor tells me I have six months to live or I can’t afford to pay the rent. I’m quitting because I want to. I like the word quitting better because retirement is what old people do and I don’t wanna feel like I’m quitting because I’m old. The young people quit their jobs, old people retire, so I’m gonna quit.”