Barber Nick Palomares keeps hair that was shorn from the heads of John Lennon and Yoko Ono in a golden frame. It’s been 47 years since he trimmed their locks, but Palomares remembers it like it was yesterday. Meeting The Beatles co-founder and his artistic wife was “like a miracle.”
“That was too nerve-wracking,” the 81-year-old recalls with a chuckle. “That was way too much to ask of anybody.”
Lennon and Ono were among dozens of famous people he’s met throughout his 57 years as a barber – the last 45 stationed at the Fresno Yosemite International Airport, a milestone he’s celebrating this month. His 14 foot-by-20 foot space is covered wall-to-wall with framed photos of musicians, actors, athletes and politicians that he’s met at Nicholas Jet-Set Haircutting For Men. It’s perfectly positioned for celebrity-watching with its glass entrance facing the walkway that leads to baggage claim. The majority of his celebrity visitors only stop by briefly to say hello, but he cherishes every interaction.
His snapshots of stars – beside being exciting for visitors and a thing of pride for Palomares – is also about supporting the city he loves.
“I sort of like the fact that it becomes a statement to say, ‘Fresno is not a hick town, because otherwise you wouldn’t have these people coming here.’ So what they say about Fresno is not true. … If it wasn’t for Fresno, there wouldn’t be anything because we’re the fruit basket of the world, you know? They don’t think about that, that all the fruit and things they have on their table is probably from this area.”
It becomes a statement to say, ‘Fresno is not a hick town.’
Nick Palomares of his collection of celebrity photos
All the photos in his shop are of people he met at the Fresno airport, with the exception of a few, including Lennon and Ono, who wandered into his old barber shop on San Francisco’s popular Nob Hill that he opened in 1960. Palomares moved to his Fresno location in 1972 so his wife, who grew up in the city, could be closer to her family.
Meeting Lennon and Ono in 1970 remains a highlight of his career and life. They had wandered into his Nob Hill shop during one of their visits to San Francisco, and he trimmed the backs of their hair and around their ears with a razor. He’s never used that razor again – no matter how much money clients have offered to have their hair cut with the same razor. Palomares can still picture little things about the couple, like the way Ono’s earlobes appeared straight instead of rounded and the mole on Lennon’s forehead. He says they had a friendly conversation about art before heading off to view an exhibition.
Lennon was at the top of Palomares’ dream list of potential clients. Palomares admires the way Lennon had an impact on the music, hairstyles, lifestyles and fashion of the 1960s and ’70s.
As a barber in Fresno, Palomares’ list of famous visitors is long and includes actors Chuck Norris and the late Richard Kiel; athletes Michael Jordan and Jerry Rice; musicians Carlos Santana, Dolly Parton, Little Richard, and The Righteous Brothers; and television and radio personality Dick Clark.
Palomares – who grew up in Lemoore as the son of a farmer who grew tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers – became a barber after he served in the U.S. Navy as a signalman. He got his inspiration after cutting a friend’s hair in the Navy. He liked that he was good at it and that it was artistic.
“I have a creative mind,” he says. “I like to study hair. There’s a lot to that part of it that isn’t taken up by other barbers.”
Palomares has become a celebrity among his coworkers at the Fresno airport, who call his shop “iconic.”
“Mr. Palomares’ milestone anniversary is truly a testament of his professionalism and gracious personality that resonates with his clients, passengers and guests,” the airport’s director of aviation, Kevin Meikle, wrote in a statement. “We are pleased he has been an established presence at Fresno Yosemite International Airport and look forward to celebrating many more years of this unique airport amenity.”
Palomares doesn’t plan to retire anytime soon. The friendships he’s made cutting hair keeps his work enjoyable.
“I have a lot to be here for, my men friends and all that,” Palomares says. “It’s a big part of my life.”