RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Doctors gave Rutherford hair stylist Manny Padron 48 hours to live when he was just 19.
The Newark native had just been pulled from a car accident that killed one person and put another in a coma.
But he bounced back -- with a new attitude.
"An experience like that really puts things into perspective," Padron, now 34, told Daily Voice.
The communications degree he was pursuing at Bloomfield College no longer mattered. Nor did Padron's dream of becoming an actor, especially since the accident left his face disfigured.
Padron kept returning to the one thing he'd done his entire life: cutting hair.
Padron practically grew up in Blanco's, a famous Newark barbershop across the street from his Bloomfield Avenue home. A Cuban man and his two sons ran the place. Padron, also Cuban, wanted to be just like them.
"They dressed sharp and had cool personalities," he said. "People just gravitated toward them."
Padron was 13 when his parents sent him to live with his aunt and uncle in California.
"I was like the Fresh Prince of Bel Air," he recalled.
Padron couldn't find anyone on the West Coast to cut his hair the way they did at Blanco's -- so he began doing it himself. Pretty soon, kids at school were asking him to give them the same 'do.
"The first time I cut my friend's hair was in his driveway with a Norelco beard trimmer," he said.
Padron moved back with his parents at the start of his junior year, then turned their Belleville home into his personal barbershop.
"My parents would come home from work and there would be kids from school sitting on the couch eating cereal while I was giving another kid a haircut in the garage," he said.
By senior year Padron had gotten himself a chair at a salon up the road from Blanco's on Bloomfield Avenue in Montclair. He worked there until the crash -- and for two years during his recovery.
"I realized I was spared for a purpose," Padron said. "It was to serve people with the gifts God gave me."
Padron was 23 when he opened his own place in Belleville. After five years, he moved to a storefront in Lyndhurst. But that couldn't contain his success, either.
Two years ago, Padron opened Substance Salon on Park Avenue in Rutherford.
"I went from a one-man show in a garage to a brand that stands for quality," he said.
When he looks back, Padron doesn't think about nearly dying. It's all about building a brand.
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