Erin Barrera takes father's place at barber chair

by: TYLER FRANCKE | WOODBURN INDEPENDENT - Erin Barrera, left, owner and manager of the King's Den Barbershop, poses with barber Amy Austin Monday at the shop's new location on Highway 99E.It would have been easy to give up a few months ago, said Erin Barrera, new owner of the King’s Den Barbershop in Woodburn.

After all, his father, Edwardo, who had owned and run the shop for more than 40 years, had passed in December 2012 after a long bout with cancer. The shop passed to his eldest son, Eddie, who managed it for only a short time before he succumbed to a sudden illness in January.

After losing his dad and his big brother, who had worked together in the shop for more than a decade, Erin Barrera admitted he considered closing the King’s Den doors for good.

“I just thought it would be so easy to sell everything and get on with my life,” he said. “But I couldn’t do it.”

To him, closing shop would have felt like turning his back on the legacy his father had built since 1972, when he first established the King’s Den on Highway 99E in Woodburn with his brother-in-law, John Mendiola.

“I just thought, ‘You know what? I want to keep that tradition alive,’” the 39-year-old Barrera said. With a chuckle, he added, “I almost feel ashamed now that I ever thought about closing it.”

As it turned out, the shop’s clientele wouldn’t have let him close anyway. As he wrestled with the decision earlier this year, he lost count of the number of supportive community members who came by the shop, begging him to keep it open.

“There were all these people talking about how their fathers brought them here when they were kids, and now they’re bringing their own kids. They said, ‘You can’t close it. It’s a historical place,’” he said. “They made me feel like they had my back, and it’s not going to fail.”

The barbershop business isn’t what it used to be, Barrera acknowledges. Old-school-style places like his, with the barber pole out front, soft oldies playing in the background and a menu of services that doesn’t include things like hair coloring or nail care, are becoming rarer and rarer.

“I had someone tell me the other day that this place is too 1950-ish. ‘You need to change with the times,’” he said. “But I’m not changing it. I grew up in this barbershop, and this is how it’s always been. It’s a place to come visit and feel at home.”

The new King’s Den does look a little different. It has a new location at 595 N. Pacific Highway, and Barrera’s added a new barber to his staff, Amy Austin. He said the move was partially motivated by a desire to return to the store’s roots, with a smaller, more intimate shop back on Highway 99E, but he also explained that some of the memories associated with the old downtown location are now too painful to confront.

But despite the new digs, Barrera said the atmosphere and business philosophy will stay the same as it’s always been.

“When people come in, I don’t see them as just another $10 or $12 haircut,” he said. “I see them as a friend. I know them; I know their family, their kids, their illnesses, what they’re going through, everything. They come in here, they’re going to get a handshake and a hug.”

The King’s Den’s new phone number is 503-902-0890. For more information, see the shop’s page on Facebook.

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