The lobby of the 1912 Burns building on East Houston Street is still. Modern furniture pay homage to the building’s past. The deep low hum of a psychedelic band playing on a record player from Traveler Barbershop is just loud enough to drown out the faint traditional lobby music. Through the glass window, you will catch a glimpse of Chuck Holdridge in his zone, blade or buzzer in hand, surrounded by an array of hair care products and whiskey selections.
Holdridge, 41, is a native San Antonian who, like everyone else, has had brushes with fate and struggled with aspirations. Hairstyling, he said, first piqued his interest when he was a high school student at Clark and he’d accompany his girlfriend to a salon that had an apprenticeship program allowing its participants to offer $10 haircuts. He described the vibe as “rock n’ roll.”
Despite the sparked interest and a fear of an office environment job, Holdridge went to college at Texas State University where he pursued a degree in business. However, he soon realized that the idea of working in the beauty industry was always in the background of his mind.
“We would talk about what businesses did in a booming economy and what businesses did in a lousy economy,” Holdridge explained. “They talked about different industries such as the automobile industry, the manufacturing—this and that—to show how the industries respond during different economic times. And then there was the beauty industry that just kept going. No matter what.”
Still, after college, Holdridge joined the United States Army Reserve in 1998 to serve his country and was deployed to Afghanistan. It wasn’t until his second deployment, some years later, that he realized that it was time to follow the signs. When he returned from his second deployment, he told his wife he was going to enroll in beauty school and she was very supportive. In the summer of 2007, while still active military, Holdridge began his journey at the Aveda Institute that was located at the Pearl. He went from never holding a brush before to working for a salon the Aveda company had owned.
“It’s actually the salon I used to go with my high school girlfriend where she would get her hair cut at,” Holdridge laughed. “I was like, ‘Wow this came full circle’.”
After four deployments under his belt and almost two decades in the Army Reserve, Holdridge continued through with his education and earned a management position, working throughout other Aveda salons. But he didn’t like the administrative and academic rules of compliance so he absorbed as much as he could until he felt like it was time to do his own thing.
“And about that time, I stopped doing hair behind a chair—I had started doing hair at the house—for like beer money, like kind of a side hustle,” Holdridge said. “It was mostly guys, friends of mine, then friends of friends, coworkers of my wife. Most nights I was doing a cut or two in the living room, drinking beer, hanging out. It was really fun and I was like ‘I really like this,’” Holdridge explained. “This is different from being in a salon. It was the barber world. I just enjoyed it. I always felt like I never fully understood women’s hair. And what women wanted with their hair. My customers loved it but things like blowouts and updos and styling I always felt really insecure about. As I was transitioning more to men’s hair, I was like I feel really good about this. This is what I like—I felt more comfortable in that environment and so I got my barber license.”
After searching unsuccessfully for a place to set up shop, Holdridge worried he wasn’t going to find a barbershop he could see himself in. He had already quit his job as a hairdresser at Aveda and didn’t want to disappoint his wife.
Then, chance took over. Holdridge reconnected with an old friend, Mario Guajardo, when he needed shirts made. Guajardo owns a company, Richter Goods, which operates out of the old Broadway News building on Broadway and Appler Street, along with other businesses run out of trailers such as Bexar Goods, Mila Coffee and Rise Up.
That same week, Holdridge, a fan of vintage trailers himself, was cruising through Craigslist when he came across an Airstream that was once a hair salon in Austin. Everything began falling into place. He didn’t have to work at someone else’s barbershop. He could open his own. With Guajardo’s permission to park his trailer in the lot, Holdridge opened Traveler Barbershop in November of 2016. It took off faster than he’d imagined.
Holdridge says his time in the military gave him skills that transitioned well into a small business practice mindset. Finding what motivates those around him positions Holdridge to be a better manager and people person. What Holdridge loved about the military was the mentorship; being put in situations you’re not prepared for; having the opportunity and guidance to nail down situations where, in many work environments, you’d be let go for messing up. In the military, you don’t always get to choose your team but it’s everyone’s job to motivate each other and make sure the task gets done, he said.
After a couple of years learning how to manage a growing business and with a support system around him, business was bursting at the seams and a unique opportunity came about for Traveler Barbershop.
David Adelman, the local developer behind AREA Real Estate, approached Holdridge with the idea of setting up a brick and mortar location in the heart of downtown San Antonio inside the Burns building at 401 E. Houston St., but Holdridge was reluctant because of customer parking until he realized, compared to other major cities, downtown San Antonio isn't hard to navigate, he said.
Apart from parking challenges, Holdridge was also thinking bigger. He disclosed that, in fact, the most challenging thing he experienced was everywhere but downtown. After opening Traveler Barbershop Airstream on Broadway three years ago, he had been on the hunt for a brick-and-mortar location for a couple of years. Holdridge had been chasing real estate properties in hopes of a location that could possibly house 10 chairs. After months of miscommunication, disappearing agents and leads that lead nowhere, Adelman made Holdridge’s move easy and he realized that he didn’t need some extravagantly big space after all.
"It's funny, working downtown and moving downtown. I feel like you meet a tremendous amount of people down here who aren’t from here," Holdridge said. “I‘ve been coming down here since 10th grade you know and you hear people who are like, ‘Downtown is blowing up, the Pearl is blowing up,’ and I’m like” It’s not blowing up. Blowing up to me means boom and bust and that’s one of the things I love about San Antonio, is that it doesn’t bust,” Chuck concluded.
“I feel like this town is really diverse, where one sector may slow down another sector kind of picks up. It’s a constant ever-improving kind of town. Here you are integrated into the community. People are searching for things they relate to, so if you take your time and do something right, you feel pretty confident it’s going to stick around.”