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Bridgeport hair stylist is whirlwind success

Keila Torres Ocasio, Staff Writer / Published 12:20 a.m., Saturday, September 10, 2011

Alex Martinez, owner of Al’s Millenium Cuts, takes a little off the top for client Joey Lupone, of Derby, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2011 at the shop at 4003 Main Street in Bridgeport, Conn. The business used to be located in downtown Bridgeport but it was destroyed in last year’s tornado. Photo: Autumn Driscoll / Connecticut Post

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BRIDGEPORT — When Alex Martinez, then 22, opened his own barbershop at 415 East Main St. in April 2000, it was small.

“It was just me and one other barber,” Martinez said. “I was the youngest barber on East Main.”

To his surprise, so many people stopped at Al’s Millenium Cuts that the men were cutting hair until 2 a.m. the next day. By the end of the month, Martinez doubled his staff and by year’s end, there were seven barbers renting chairs in his shop.

It was a dream come true for the Harding High School graduate, who grew up on the East Side and started out cutting relatives’ and friends’ hair in his basement. In 2005, Martinez expanded the shop to include a hair salon, and a tattoo parlor was later added in back.

Last spring, Martinez, 33, who now lives in Milford, spent thousands of dollars creating a small gym, photography and recording studio where disc jockeys could spin live music for his young, urban clientele. But then, on June 24, 2010, a tornado traveling roughly 100 mph touched down in Bridgeport, shattering the windows and tearing the roof off the four-story building.

“I had just signed a new lease,” Martinez said. “I had just finished (the gym and studio). I didn’t even really get a chance to use it. I don’t even have many pictures.”

Days later, Martinez realized renovations to the building could take months, and his insurance only covered about half the damages. The only place he could rent right away without a long-term lease — while he searched for a new permanent location — was a hole in the wall up the street.

Barber Zeke Santiago, 28, of Stratford, said the new place was so small, the barbers were forced to share stations and supplies. Then, an opportunity to move to the commercial corridor on Main Street opened up, and in April 2011, exactly 11 years after its birth, Al’s Millenium Cuts was reborn at 4003 Main St.

Leaving the East Side, which has had a hard time shaking its past of crime and corruption, has made the shop a more family-friendly business, Martinez said.

The new Al’s has shiny black leather seats and sleek black stations with silver trimming throughout. But the fitted baseball hats, large, flashy watches and Ray Ban sunglasses on display, the stand-up comedy show playing on the flat-screen televisions and the diverse backgrounds of those working in the shop are clear markers of a shop that will never lose its urban appeal.

Next up for Martinez? He plans to open up a hairstyling school in the space next to his shop — and maybe establish another Al’s in a nearby town.

But fear not, Bridgeport.

“I will always have my business in Bridgeport,” Martinez said. “I love the people here. I will expand to another city, but I won’t move out of Bridgeport.”

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