By Matthew Wood
Ron Pilcher has been cutting hair for 40 years at Sunset Clipps in Ocean Beach. That all changes this week when he passes the torch to the next generation.
“I’m 70 now,” he said. “My wife is getting ready to retire. It’s time to hang up the scissors.”
It’s a veritable changing of the clipper guard, so to speak.
It was a long journey to find who would take over the shop at the corner of Santa Monica and Sunset Cliffs. Enter Jason Bullard, 45, a trained stylist and longtime OBcean with big plans for the place. He says taking over the shop is a dream come true.
“I’ve been here (in OB) 22 years,” he said. “I always drove by that place and loved it. I wouldn’t want to have any shop anywhere if it wasn’t this one.”
Bullard said it wasn’t until about two years ago that he came in to check out the place. He says he and Pilcher hit it off immediately.
“I told him this is a great shop. He’s a lucky man, I would love to have a shop like this,” Bullard recalled. “He says, ‘What do you think of this place?’”
The two made a gentleman’s agreement that when Pilcher was ready to sell the shop, his first call would be to Bullard. That day came a little over a year later … or so Bullard thought. Pilcher told him he was ready to sell, only to change his mind a little while later.
“I remember feeling really empty, because I was fantasizing about the place,” Bullard said. “He was like a ballplayer who wasn’t ready to hang it up yet.”
But the time would come soon enough. Around February, Pilcher finally decided he was ready to call it quits.
“I had Ron’s card on my mirror and would look at it every day,” Bullard explained. “The day I took it down, that’s when Ron calls me. He told me, ‘Guess what. It’s time.’ I immediately put the card back up.”
Bullard said that moment changed his life. He lost nearly 40 pounds and had a rejuvenated spring in his step.
“I would have to say it’s the best thing that’s happened to me. It’s an amazing life shift.”
Pilcher’s career in cutting hair actually started long before taking over the shop on Santa Monica. Growing up in the Chicago suburb of Elgin, he came back from serving overseas with nothing to do. He started hanging out with a friend who worked at a shop in downtown Chicago.
“He always had plenty of money and said he really enjoyed it,” Pilcher remembered.
So he found himself in barber school, with dreams of fat pockets of his own. That dream took him to a Beverly Hills salon, cutting the hair of L.A.’s most fashionable.
Next thing he knew, he was in San Diego, looking for his own shop. He found the spot in OB, bought a house in 1977, and the rest is history.
Pilcher’s current clientele can succinctly be summed up as … well, pretty old. But also very loyal. It isn’t easy getting a spot in his barber’s chair, especially since he cut down his hours a few months back to just working mornings.
“It’s pretty much appointment only,” he said. “It wasn’t like I didn’t want walk-ins. I just didn’t have time.” He pauses. “And that’s not boasting. It’s just from being around here forever.”
These are guys who have known Pilcher for years. Much of their time spent in the chair is done while busting Pilcher’s chops.
Bullard said he loves that atmosphere but would really like to make it a more inclusive place.
“I have two goals: First, I want to handle all of Ron’s clients better than he did and keep them happy,” he said. “But I also want to create an environment where the whole family will be happy. I want women to be comfortable coming in here.”
He also has big plans for the shop itself, which could definitely use a makeover. Bullard, who has interior design experience, readily offers up his aesthetic vision for the shop. He wants to serve beers to those who want them. But he also wants to have Playstation systems set up for the kids (complete with headphones so they don’t bother the rest of us) and a more inviting waiting area.
“It should be an enjoyable experience,” he said. “Not like going to the dentist.”
So, as Pilcher rides off into the sunset — he plans to move to Arizona this fall to a house he has built — Bullard’s time has finally come. We’ll see what he does with it.