His hands move swiftly, switching from scissors to a straight razor. An assembly line of combs, brushes, and guards for his clippers stretches across his desk.
Latin jazz whispers softly from the stereo only to be drowned out by basketball and discussions in Spanish about the Bible. His wedding band rests on a miniature wooden guiro, a Latin-American percussion instrument. Proudly placed behind it is a wooden cutout in the shape of Puerto Rico.
A lot can be learned about barber Israel Mujica Jr. from looking at his rented workspace in the Berenice Beauty Salon, located at 1320 NW 34th Road, just off 13th Street. Mujica is Puerto Rican, a family man, a churchgoer, a basketball enthusiast, a musician and — now — a business owner.
Fifteen years after moving from Puerto Rico to Florida, Mujica is fulfilling his dream of opening his own barber shop. J’s 503 Barber Shop, a 1,700-square-foot shop located at 5109 NW 39th Ave., Suite D, is expected to open in May.
“By the age of 30, I wanted my own barber shop, and God permitted me to have my barber shop at 30,” Mujica said. “I could’ve done it in Puerto Rico, but the opportunity came here.“
The J in his new shop’s name stands for Junito, Mujica’s nickname, and the 503 represents May 3, the day Mujica and his parents moved from Puerto Rico in 1999.
“The biggest goal to open this barber shop is to help the community,” said Mujica, who said he sees about 100 clients each week. “Right now, most of my clientele are Hispanic, and I want to win over the American people.“
Mujica started cutting his family members’ hair with clippers from Wal-Mart when he first moved to Florida at age 16. He later went to barber school for two years in Kissimmee.
“I can do any type of hair,” Mujica said. “It doesn’t matter what culture it is, I can do it. We use the razor method, and you don’t see that a lot in other barber shops,” he said of his technique using a straight razor and other barber tools.
Harry Arzuaga, who has been a client of Mujica’s for more than three years, said the best part of getting a haircut from Mujica is that he makes clients feel like family. Arzuaga, 38, said he considers Mujica to be a friend, and as with many of Mujica’s clients, the two play basketball together on Wednesdays.
“That’s never happened with me with another barber,” Arzuaga said.
Like many of Mujica’s customers, Tony Gonzalez learned about Mujica through word of mouth and has followed Mujica from shop to shop for more than five years.
“A lot of it has to do with culture,” said Gonzalez, 33. “He’s Puerto Rican, and I’m Puerto Rican, and there are a lot of Hispanic customers. It’s pretty cool to watch him get his own business. It might inspire other people in the Latin community.“
Miguel Marrero, a licensed barber for six years, is one of the four barbers joining Mujica at his new shop. Marrero, who is also Puerto Rican, met Mujica eight years ago when Marrero moved to Gainesville.
“Since I moved to Gainesville, he’s been my first and only barber because he is so good at what he does,” Marrero said. “He does fades, lines, designs. I’ve learned so much from him.“
When Mujica is not working or playing basketball, he is spending time at Church El Pabor with his wife, Sharelis Villanueva, 29, and their two children, Yarielis, 6, and Yandel, 4.
Members of the church donated money to pay for the five barber chairs that will be used in Mujica’s new shop.
“This is the opportunity of his life to do something different because he’s always been working for someone else,” said Jose Diaz, senior pastor at Church El Pabor. “He’s a good guy. He deserves it.“
But the process has not been without obstacles.
“His dad had a stroke the day after our son was born, so that was a setback,” said Villanueva, Mujica’s wife. “It was almost five years ago, and we’re still helping.“
Mujica views his father as inspiration to keep fighting for his dream. The two-year process of opening his business was riddled with disappointments, and the language barrier made it even more difficult, Mujica said.
“We tried many times ... and nothing would happen,” Mujica said. “God has opened the doors for me and has blessed me, and that’s why I’m saying this is the time now. It’s everything. It’s my dream. I’m doing it for my family and for myself, too.“
J’s 503 Barber Shop will be open 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays.