With Killeen bordering one of the largest military bases in the world, haircuts are at a premium in Killeen, especially on the stretch of Rancier Avenue outside of Fort Hood’s East Gate.
Elias Mercado, 35, sees his new business, La Barbería Barber Shop, as a boon for the Latin community in downtown Killeen, not competition.
“From light to light you have six barbershops,” Mercado said. “My main thing is that there is an opportunity for everybody here. Not one of us offers the same thing.”
Most of the other barber shops are of Korean or African variety, but La Barbería has a different niche, he said.
“La Garita (a popular Puerto Rican restaurant across the street) seats between 250 and 200 Latin soldiers every week, and those soldiers want to get their hair cut where people speak their language,” Mercado said.
To instill a sense of community, Mercado is throwing a fiesta outside the shop, 205 W. Rancier Ave., for his grand opening Sunday.
The event will include free food, drinks, a car show, a dunking booth, games for children and a chance to win a free tattoo from Cat’s Custom Tattoos.
Charles Jones, owner of the College Park Shopping Center, said La Barbería is shaping into a great addition to his urban shopping center.
“I like to bring in businesses that create business for each other,” Jones said. “I personally know everybody here.”
Jones and Mercado have known each other for more than a decade, he said.
Mercado arrived in Killeen in 1989 at the age of 9 from Puerto Rico.
“I came here in a tank top and flips flops, and I couldn’t say much more (in English) than yes and no,” he said.
“I have been fortunate, very fortunate.”
His career in business rose from washing dishes at Applebee’s, to area director for the franchise, a job that took him to countries throughout Latin America.
In 13 years with the company, thanks to his bilingual ability, he sold 67 Applebee’s franchises in countries such as Costa Rica, Brazil, Guatemala and Honduras.
“The traveling became a little old, especially with my family,” Mercado said.
Mercado has the support of his wife of 18 years and his three teenage children.
“Killeen is my home,” he said. “I’m glad to be home.”