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How they pry Marines out of downtown Oceanside

Darrius Pope cut hair 10 am to 8 pm in Pendleton barracks

Darrius Pope says the worst place for Black Marine to get trimmed is Japan.
Darrius Pope says the worst place for Black Marine to get trimmed is Japan.

Since the ‘80s downtown Oceanside’s Unisex House of Style focused on a Marine clientele. Ex-Marine Richard “Pops” Sanders launched the shop in the historic Dolphin Hotel on Coast Highway to serve men and women. But during its last ten years or so, it served mostly men. Its vibe as a cultural and social hub led many to say it was the closest thing North County had to the all-Black barbershop in Ice Cube's 2002 movie The Barbershop.

“It was It was literally home to a lot of Marines from the East Coast, West Coast, from overseas, wherever,” says USMC Sgt. Darrius Pope about Unisex. “There were hilarious characters. It was always the barbershop to come back to. People would come just to hang out before their haircut, after their haircut, and just to hang out to watch football and basketball.”

Pops Sanders. “When I wasn’t licensed, Pops allowed me to cut under him as an apprentice."

Pope, who is seven years into a 20-year commitment to the Marines, says Pops Sanders gave him his break. “When I wasn’t licensed he allowed me to cut under him as an apprentice when no one else did.” Working around a deployment aboard the USS Boxer, Pope eventually finished barber school and stayed loyal to Pops even though Pops’ declining health kept him out of his shop all last year. Pops died in December.

“In January they gave us two weeks to get out,” says Pope about the new ownership of the Dolphin Inn. “Pops told his wife and his daughter he wanted me to take over.” Pope bought the chairs and fixtures and put them in storage. He opened Clutch Cuts a few doors north in March.

“Just days after I signed the lease, Covid hit,” says Pope. He says he got the impression his landlord could not afford to cut her tenants any pandemic consideration for rent “I knew it was a bad situation. I didn’t panic.” Pope lives in barracks on Camp Pendleton. “I used space in the barracks to cut hair. I figured out if I cut hair from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. all day Saturday and Sunday and Friday nights I could make it happen.”

So for 18 weekends, Pope scheduled a haircut for 30 minutes in the barracks area. He says he charged $20 a cut. Rent at his new shop was covered even though it was closed in March, April, May and most of June.

“I’m always been up for a challenge.” Pope was in foster care until he was adopted at 11. He says his now-deceased birth mother struggled with drugs and prostitution. In fact, Darrius was born in a Detroit-area hospital. “I was born in the Wayne County jail. It even says so on my birth certificate.”

“The best thing I got out of the Marine Corps in perseverance through challenging times. You get discipline and structure to better your life.”

Gerado Diaz, owner/operator of the Kingsmen dry cleaning/tailoring shop

His latest struggle is negotiating the new Oceanside which is bent on upscaling. The city has encouraged the opening of new cafes, breweries, and wine bars. Once the major high-story condo and hotel complexes are finished this year, it is expected commercial rents will climb.

Currently being built in the space formerly occupied by Unisex is the Switchboard, a “Hawaiian-inspired speakeasy.”

Yet Camp Pendleton is not going anywhere. Thousands of Marines still need to get a haircut every two weeks. Sgt. Pope’s new Clutch Cuts must compete with at least 20 other barbershops in Oceanside that focus on military grooming. Marines can get their regulation fades on base. “There are barbers at every MCX [Marine Corps exchange],” says Pope. He says a PX haircut may run in the $8 to $12 range while a regulation cut in town runs between $10 and $25. Pope charges $20 at his shop.

“Marines don’t want to go to a MCX,” explains Pope “They only do it because they don’t have transportation.” He says some of the shops in Oceanside focus on quantity. “Some of them are what we call chop shops where you might wait for an hour to get a ten or 15-minute haircut,” says Pope.

Pope says his time in the Corps taught him the worst place for Black Marine to get trimmed is Japan. “They don’t know how to cut ethnic hair. It’s never good. Either the hair line was crooked, the fade was horrible, or there were patches. That’s when I started to cut my friends' hair.”

Pope knows he must prepare for January when he takes on a three-year assignment at MCRD to go through training to become a drill instructor. His time at Clutch Cuts will be limited.

The lot at Washington Street and Coast Highway will not be used to sell used cars again.

He knows that gentrification has arrived in downtown Oceanside. “I know it’s a good thing but for the history part of Oceanside it’s not so good. I wonder if there will be a place for some of these small businesses? Part of me thinks small businesses don’t have a place in the new Oceanside. Look at how they kicked out the [Firewater bar]. They just said you’re not good enough to be here.”

One of those concerned is Gerado Diaz, owner/operator of the Kingsmen dry cleaning/tailoring shop that has serviced Pendleton Marines on Coast Highway for over 50 years. He says his historic building built in 1912 has a new owner, and he does not have a lease, and has not been told if he can stay long-term.

One longtime proprietor of a different dry-cleaning/tailoring business who declined to be named says back in the 90s the city of Oceanside urged him and other military-serving businesses to move out of downtown. But recently he says the city of Oceanside has not provided any incentives to move away, even as the high-rise pier-view condos and hotels continue to be built.

Until the late 60’s Oceanside’s Coast Highway (then Hill Street) was known for new car dealerships. They were all enticed to move to Car Country Carlsbad. Since then many locals have complained that Oceanside’s main drag has been inundated with used car lots which brings the area down.

That is finally changing. Last year the Oceanside planning commission for the first time denied plans for a new used car dealership at a lot that had previously been used for used cars for decades. “They turned them down,” says real estate broker Richard Eisendrath about how the Oceanside planning commission vetoed a used car lot for the property on the 500 block of So Coast Highway. He says he is now fielding various offers from those who want to use the 15,000 square foot lot and its 3,000 square foot building for a restaurant.

Michelle Geller, Oceanside’s Economic Development Manager says Oceanside is bullish on small business. She says Oceanside has created programs to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19 by providing loans, utility relief, and a plan that lets restaurants utilize outdoor space for seating. She says the 6.3 per cent vacancy rate downtown “…is quite healthy. There may be a few high visibility vacancies along Coast Highway with ‘for lease’ signs that catch the eye leading to a perception that there is a higher than normal vacancy rate, but data do not support that.”

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Darrius Pope says the worst place for Black Marine to get trimmed is Japan.
Darrius Pope says the worst place for Black Marine to get trimmed is Japan.

Since the ‘80s downtown Oceanside’s Unisex House of Style focused on a Marine clientele. Ex-Marine Richard “Pops” Sanders launched the shop in the historic Dolphin Hotel on Coast Highway to serve men and women. But during its last ten years or so, it served mostly men. Its vibe as a cultural and social hub led many to say it was the closest thing North County had to the all-Black barbershop in Ice Cube's 2002 movie The Barbershop.

“It was It was literally home to a lot of Marines from the East Coast, West Coast, from overseas, wherever,” says USMC Sgt. Darrius Pope about Unisex. “There were hilarious characters. It was always the barbershop to come back to. People would come just to hang out before their haircut, after their haircut, and just to hang out to watch football and basketball.”

Pops Sanders. “When I wasn’t licensed, Pops allowed me to cut under him as an apprentice."

Pope, who is seven years into a 20-year commitment to the Marines, says Pops Sanders gave him his break. “When I wasn’t licensed he allowed me to cut under him as an apprentice when no one else did.” Working around a deployment aboard the USS Boxer, Pope eventually finished barber school and stayed loyal to Pops even though Pops’ declining health kept him out of his shop all last year. Pops died in December.

“In January they gave us two weeks to get out,” says Pope about the new ownership of the Dolphin Inn. “Pops told his wife and his daughter he wanted me to take over.” Pope bought the chairs and fixtures and put them in storage. He opened Clutch Cuts a few doors north in March.

“Just days after I signed the lease, Covid hit,” says Pope. He says he got the impression his landlord could not afford to cut her tenants any pandemic consideration for rent “I knew it was a bad situation. I didn’t panic.” Pope lives in barracks on Camp Pendleton. “I used space in the barracks to cut hair. I figured out if I cut hair from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. all day Saturday and Sunday and Friday nights I could make it happen.”

So for 18 weekends, Pope scheduled a haircut for 30 minutes in the barracks area. He says he charged $20 a cut. Rent at his new shop was covered even though it was closed in March, April, May and most of June.

“I’m always been up for a challenge.” Pope was in foster care until he was adopted at 11. He says his now-deceased birth mother struggled with drugs and prostitution. In fact, Darrius was born in a Detroit-area hospital. “I was born in the Wayne County jail. It even says so on my birth certificate.”

“The best thing I got out of the Marine Corps in perseverance through challenging times. You get discipline and structure to better your life.”

Gerado Diaz, owner/operator of the Kingsmen dry cleaning/tailoring shop

His latest struggle is negotiating the new Oceanside which is bent on upscaling. The city has encouraged the opening of new cafes, breweries, and wine bars. Once the major high-story condo and hotel complexes are finished this year, it is expected commercial rents will climb.

Currently being built in the space formerly occupied by Unisex is the Switchboard, a “Hawaiian-inspired speakeasy.”

Yet Camp Pendleton is not going anywhere. Thousands of Marines still need to get a haircut every two weeks. Sgt. Pope’s new Clutch Cuts must compete with at least 20 other barbershops in Oceanside that focus on military grooming. Marines can get their regulation fades on base. “There are barbers at every MCX [Marine Corps exchange],” says Pope. He says a PX haircut may run in the $8 to $12 range while a regulation cut in town runs between $10 and $25. Pope charges $20 at his shop.

“Marines don’t want to go to a MCX,” explains Pope “They only do it because they don’t have transportation.” He says some of the shops in Oceanside focus on quantity. “Some of them are what we call chop shops where you might wait for an hour to get a ten or 15-minute haircut,” says Pope.

Pope says his time in the Corps taught him the worst place for Black Marine to get trimmed is Japan. “They don’t know how to cut ethnic hair. It’s never good. Either the hair line was crooked, the fade was horrible, or there were patches. That’s when I started to cut my friends' hair.”

Pope knows he must prepare for January when he takes on a three-year assignment at MCRD to go through training to become a drill instructor. His time at Clutch Cuts will be limited.

The lot at Washington Street and Coast Highway will not be used to sell used cars again.

He knows that gentrification has arrived in downtown Oceanside. “I know it’s a good thing but for the history part of Oceanside it’s not so good. I wonder if there will be a place for some of these small businesses? Part of me thinks small businesses don’t have a place in the new Oceanside. Look at how they kicked out the [Firewater bar]. They just said you’re not good enough to be here.”

One of those concerned is Gerado Diaz, owner/operator of the Kingsmen dry cleaning/tailoring shop that has serviced Pendleton Marines on Coast Highway for over 50 years. He says his historic building built in 1912 has a new owner, and he does not have a lease, and has not been told if he can stay long-term.

One longtime proprietor of a different dry-cleaning/tailoring business who declined to be named says back in the 90s the city of Oceanside urged him and other military-serving businesses to move out of downtown. But recently he says the city of Oceanside has not provided any incentives to move away, even as the high-rise pier-view condos and hotels continue to be built.

Until the late 60’s Oceanside’s Coast Highway (then Hill Street) was known for new car dealerships. They were all enticed to move to Car Country Carlsbad. Since then many locals have complained that Oceanside’s main drag has been inundated with used car lots which brings the area down.

That is finally changing. Last year the Oceanside planning commission for the first time denied plans for a new used car dealership at a lot that had previously been used for used cars for decades. “They turned them down,” says real estate broker Richard Eisendrath about how the Oceanside planning commission vetoed a used car lot for the property on the 500 block of So Coast Highway. He says he is now fielding various offers from those who want to use the 15,000 square foot lot and its 3,000 square foot building for a restaurant.

Michelle Geller, Oceanside’s Economic Development Manager says Oceanside is bullish on small business. She says Oceanside has created programs to help small businesses impacted by COVID-19 by providing loans, utility relief, and a plan that lets restaurants utilize outdoor space for seating. She says the 6.3 per cent vacancy rate downtown “…is quite healthy. There may be a few high visibility vacancies along Coast Highway with ‘for lease’ signs that catch the eye leading to a perception that there is a higher than normal vacancy rate, but data do not support that.”

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I pointed out that the City of Oceanside no longer encourages military-oriented businesses to relocate out of downtown, so I am not sure the "pry Marines out of downtown" phrase in the headline reflects what is actually happening. Also, the fact that Sgt. Pope was able to resurrect the mostly-Marine barbershop business on Coast Highway also seems to indicate that there is no USMC uprooting. It does seem, however like all mom-and-pop small businesses may face the struggle going forward. Rents are going up for commercial as well as residential.

July 6, 2020

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