50 years and counting for Rockville Centre barber

Jose Dominguez came to Rockville Centre from Cuba 50 years ago, and has spent those decades cutting hair for customers.
Jose Dominguez came to Rockville Centre from Cuba 50 years ago, and has spent those decades cutting hair for customers.
Matthew D’Onofrio/Herald

“He’s one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet,” said Christopher Connors, a Rockville Centre native, who returns home from Charleston, S.C., to get haircuts from his childhood barber. He has been seeing Jose Dominguez since he was “a little dude” — and his entire family goes to Jose. “He’s a Rockville Centre legend, a hometown hero,” Connors said.

He calls the trip a pilgrimage. He and Jose — whom many locals know on a first-name basis — talk about baseball. The barber roots for both the Yankees and the Mets.

Jose is celebrating half a century as a barber in Rockville Centre, and he doesn’t seem to be slowing down.

He will turn 81 in April. He has lived and worked in the area since he moved here 50 years ago from Cuba with his wife, Cotilde, who died in 1991, and two daughters. In Cuba, Jose became a barber at 13. When he came to Rockville Centre in 1968, he continued cutting hair, and took a second job as a busboy at the old Arbor Inn on Woods Avenue. He bought the Pioneer Barber Shop on North Park Avenue 34 years ago.

“Everybody loves him; he’s just the best guy ever,” said Colleen Murphy, a Pioneer employee. Anna Dominguez, Jose’s second wife and fellow employee, was cutting someone’s hair at the time and looked over, nodding in agreement.

Murphy has known Jose for more than 30 years, she said, adding, “He comes in first thing in the morning to open and doesn’t close up until late. He doesn’t leave until everyone gets their hair cut.”

“It’s like family,” Jose said in his Cuban-accented, sometimes fractured English. “The customer here is family. They’re the best. In all of Long Island, the best customers are here. I consider myself lucky.”

He added that he does not put down other barbershops in the area. “Respect to everybody is best way,” he said.

Jose visits nearby nursing homes and hospitals to give haircuts to his older customers — some are ill and cannot come to the shop. He even makes house calls. “Completely free,” he asserted. “No charge.”

When customers visit his shop, they walk into a kitschy blast from the past: seafoam-colored walls and objects scattered across the barbers’ stations, including a bobblehead cowboy and a majestic white plastic horse. There’s even a toy train track attached to the ceiling with a working caboose that choo-choos overhead. The building is about 120 years old, according to Jose, who mentioned that Italian-Americans owned it before him. He refuses to change the interior out of respect for them.

Dozens of photos of him with community members line the walls, along with autographs of celebrities, including Donald Trump, and gifts from customers, such as a painting of a white-bearded man who resembles Poseidon and, coincidentally, Jose.

“Sometimes they don’t understand my English, but we still laughing together,” Jose said of his customers. “The people, they make me feel like I was born here.”

He misses his hometown in Cuba, he said, but not as much as he used to since his parents died. He still has a sister there. “It hurts to leave your family behind,” he said, “but we survive.” In America, he and Anna have three daughters. He has six grandchildren, and recently became a great-grandfather.

He didn’t do anything special to celebrate his 50th year in Rockville Centre, Jose said, but some customers brought in wine, flowers and chocolates.

He said he doesn’t believe he has any reason to celebrate, because he doesn’t plan on retiring soon. “You never know how long I be here,” he said. “I try to be here [at Pioneer] as long as I can; I still working with no problem, no tired. I feel healthy!”