MERIDEN — A Meriden barber is recovering from a year of hardships but said he has come out of it stronger.
Just before barbershops and hair salons were able to open in June 2020, owner David Ortiz received a call that Feel Fresh Hair Studios had been vandalized and burglarized.
Barber chairs were damaged, floor tiles had been pulled up and a sink was pulled out of the wall, causing other plumbing and floor damage.
Following the vandalism, Feel Fresh Hair Studio, 65 W. Main St., went from eight barbers before the pandemic, with about 250 appointments a week, down to just Ortiz with 130 appointments in a week.
“I’ve been by myself since June,” the 37-year-old said. “I’ve done everything on my own. I remodeled the shop completely, I’ve networked and got myself involved on social media.”
But the main thing Ortiz said changed was his attention to customer service.
“I’ve been giving my all,” he said. “I read in a book that you have to put your all into your work, so that’s what I did, and I’ve been rewarded.”
The shop now has new custom lights and barber chairs, floor tiles and equipment. Every inch of the walls in the shop is covered in artwork envisioned by Ortiz but brought to life by a friend.
“I was forced to figure it out,” the Meriden native said. “I’ve only received one grant through this entire pandemic for $5,000. Everything else was just from hard work and me being here seven days a week.”
Ortiz specializes in hair coloring as well as cutting designs in clients’ hair and beard grooming.
Ortiz and his brother Armando Ortiz, 39, gave each other haircuts as teenagers because they couldn’t afford to go to the barbershop. The older brother said at that time he didn’t expect his brother to take it as far as he has.
“Dealing with COVID is one thing,” Armando Ortiz said. “Then to add more stress, it could make anyone say ‘you know what I’m hanging it up.’ For someone to actually continue and do a lot better, shows the determination in that person.”
Beyond barbering, Ortiz also sells custom merchandise in the shop including hoodies, t-shirts and jackets that he designs himself.
On Tuesday, March 23 Ortiz’s website will go live allowing customers to shop his merchandise as well as book appointments. He also has beard and hair products available for purchase.
Pending approval from the state, the barbershop owner wants to open a cosmetology and barber school in the shop. His goal is to help build up young barbers under his mentorship.
Ortiz has also been helping his new neighbor, Raj Patel, owner of Downtown Wine and Spirits with business. The package store opened two weeks ago.
“People walk out of the barbershop and see that we’re new and open and want to look around and buy,” Patel said.
“Everything that could happen to a person, happened to me,” Ortiz said. “I was broken down so low at that time, I needed that, so I feel good now. I’m blessed.”