Rockit Barber Shop, Oscar Colorado Vazquez

By Salvador Cerna

Most immigrants leave friends, loved ones and their community behind as they set off in search of the American dream. Once they arrive in the United States, their economic, social, and cultural contributions can help strengthen our economic infrastructure, enrich our cultural framework, and make the U.S. a more dynamic nation. This has been the case for every group of immigrants, whether they arrived recently or 100 years ago.  Oscar Colorado Vazquez, owner of Rockit Barber Shop, located at 1650 W. 18th Street, has an immigrant story of his own. 

Oscar is from a small village in the Municipality of Chiconquiaco in the center of Veracruz, Mexico. “I was born and raised in an impoverished community atop of La Sierra Madre.” He stresses, “There are no roads to get to and from my village: no electricity or street lights, no local school, no health care for young people, and no running water. As you can see, we lacked every basic service. My community is impoverished!” 

He recalls coming to the United States at a very young age to work and help support himself and his family back home, “I was only 15 years old when I decided to go to the U.S. and leave my friends and family behind. I am the middle child of ten siblings, and we were very close. But I also knew that if I stayed, my options and opportunities were going to be limited.” 

With a smile on his face, as if remembering fond memories of a time gone by, he tells how he learned his trade, “I was either nine or ten when I started cutting hair. You see, there were no barbers in my town, so I was responsible for cutting my little brothers’ hair.” He continues, “because there was no electricity, I never used an electrical clipper. Instead, I used a manually- operated hair clipper similar to a pair of scissors, but they have a special wide head for cutting hair.”  

After many years in the restaurant and entertainment industry, he says he started his own business to spend more time with his family, “I worked at restaurants, I was a bartender at nightclubs, and a dishwasher. I decided to quit these night jobs when my daughter was born because they took away precious time I could spend with my family. So, I decided to open up my own business as a barber, and that is how Rockit Barber Shop was born here in Pilsen over seven years ago.” 

Oscar explains that to succeed in a business like his, you always need to put your clients first, “every client that comes into my shop will feel welcomed and respected. I strongly believe in treating people like I would like for people to treat me. First impressions are crucial, and clients will return if they receive good service and have a positive experience.” He adds, “At the end of a hard day’s work, as I am closing the doors of my barbershop, I leave with the satisfaction that I provided my customers with the best possible service I could offer.” 

Oscar painfully recounts how the pandemic impacted him at the beginning of 2020, “Covid-19 forced me to close for three months. Clients stopped coming, and bills began to pile up.” He describes how challenging it was to keep the business open, “On the third month of the pandemic, City officials informed us that we would remain closed. So I went to the shop, picked everything up, gathered chairs, mirrors, and equipment, and placed it in the middle of the shop, and I made the painful decision to close. However, I had a heart-to-heart conversation with my wife and co-worker, who convinced me to stay open; if things did not change, we would close by the end of the month.

Once the city began to ease restrictions and allow essential businesses to reopen, Oscar says things began to improve. “As soon as people discovered that I had reopened, they started coming. Let’s keep in mind that many folks had not had a haircut in three months. “My clients were unrecognizable. Their hair was long or uneven because they had tried cutting it themselves, and they were all wearing facemasks.”

Oscar explains that what also helped was the assistance and support from organizations like ESDC and its partner organizations like IL SBDC, “Staff from ESDC came to the shop to check how I was doing and showed a sincere interest in what I was going through. They helped me apply for funding and walked me through the process.” He adds, “I was lucky to receive a grant from them. Now that things have picked up, I will use it to improve the business, add more signage on my windows, and purchase new equipment. Without an organization like ESDC, it would be hard for small businesses to keep their doors open, especially when we go through unprecedented times. Most recently, with the technical assistance of ESDC, Oscar has hired three new barbers and is searching for a hairstylist. 

Oscar recommends, “All businesses in the community must come together to support one another, especially during challenging times. Speak out and provide recommendations for a thriving and vibrant business district. It starts with us, the business owners, working hand in hand and supporting one another. I believe ESDC is helping us get to this point. 

Rockit Barber Shop, 1650 W. 18th St., (312) 877-5277