Indiana Daily Student

Barbers of Bloomington

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<p>Hyscel Ward waits for business on a slow Monday afternoon at Ward's Downtown Barber Shop on North Walnut Street next to The Bluebird Nightclub. Ward has been cutting hair in Bloomington for over 50 years and has been at this location for 35 years.</p>

 

Hyscel Ward waits for business on a slow Monday afternoon at Ward's Downtown Barber Shop on North Walnut Street next to The Bluebird Nightclub. Ward has been cutting hair in Bloomington for over 50 years and has been at this location for 35 years.

Fred Rumple is the owner and master barber stylist at The Golden Shear near East Third Street and South Jordan Avenue. He is of medium height and hefty build. His hair is white and, like all barbers, is well combed. He has a bright face and jolly demeanor. If you were to add a beard and a big red hat, Fred Rumple could be Santa Claus.

“You hang out long enough in this place, you learn things,” he said. “Some things you don’t wanna know.”

Fred knows everyone who walks into his shop. He gets some first-timers, but mostly regulars walk in. 

“We figure they’re gonna be around a while,” he said, helping Matt Joseph, a regular customer, into the barber’s chair. “Just like Matt here. Matt’s been around here forever, hasn’t he? Took him through high school, now we’re trying to get him through college — did your mother cut your bangs?”

“Just a little,” Matt confessed.

“Tell her I know that I noticed that right off,” Fred said with a laugh. “I’m gonna take you down up around the ears again, a bit shorter. Get all this junk off the back.”

“Just one request,” Matt said. “Leave the sideburns alone.”

“Well we’re gonna leave you the king, man,” Fred replied. “You’ll be out singing ‘hunk-a, hunk-a burnin’ love’ with the best of ‘em.”

And with that, Fred goes to work. He sprays Matt’s hair with a water bottle so he can work with it better. He combs the hair up and holds it with two fingers, then skillfully switches hands and trims Matt’s hair with a pair of scissors. He uses an electric razor to make a few trims along the back and sides, then comes back with the scissors to put the final touches on Matt’s hair, making sure to leave the sideburns alone. 



Fred knows exactly what he’s doing; he will have owned The Golden Shear for 25 years next February and has been cutting hair for 34 years.

“Fred knows everybody. He can give people advice, find people jobs, get people a lawyer. He gives directions. He knows everything,” said Teresa Deckard, another barber at The Golden Shear. “He’s like my big brother; he’s great.”

***

Across town at 10th Street and the Bypass is Hoosier Barber Shop. In the front half of the store, Brad “The Barber” Fair cuts men’s hair, while in the back, stylists have female customers. Hoosier Barber is one of the few barber shops that serves both men and women. 

“The women come in, ya know, they get their hair done by the beauticians,” Brad said. “I learned a lot about females when I got in here. Trust me, females are very emotional. I didn’t know how emotional they was ‘till I got in here.”

From the back of the shop, the women roll their eyes and groan. 

“Please stay back there, before I put the partition up. I don’t wanna have to segregate us,” Brad said with a smile. 

Stylist Jeanelle Crouch has worked at Hoosier Barber for eight years but has been working with hair for 12. She also said working in such close quarters with the opposite sex has opened her eyes to men’s ways.

“The barber shop is pretty sacred for men as the beauty shop experience is for women, so to have them both in the same place is an interesting balance,” she said.

Today, the balance rests on a bag of towels in one corner of the store. Brad, apparently, borrows beautician Tiffany Williams’s towels to assist in his barbering, with which she has a problem.

“I would give you a bag of towels, but if you so much as touch my towels again ... ” she said.

“We wouldn’t ever have this conversation again,” Brad said. 

“I promise.”

“No, if you even touch my towels, I will cut your hand off,” Tiffany said.

“I will take that deal if you give me a bag of towels. You give me some towels, I swear, you won’t hear from me again,” he said.

“OK fine, but I’d hate to do somethin’ to ya if you ask for a towel,” she replied.

The argument, for the moment, was settled, and the pair went back to work with their customers on their respective sides of the shop.

“See, this is what it’s like at the barber shop,” Brad said. “We have these little arguments about little stuff like towels all the time. At least three a day.”

In Brad’s chair is Dwayne Cole, who is one of Brad’s best customers; he has been going to Brad for the past four years. 

“He’s real good, he’s a real good barber. He treats me well, gives me discounts every once in a while,” Dwayne said. “Excellent barber.”



Brad is one of the youngest barbers in town; he graduated high school in 2005 and went to barbering school the following fall. 

“Barbering is the best job for me. I thank God every day for this job. I’m not really a hard worker. I like to be my own boss,” he said to the chagrin of the women in back. “This is more me, ya know, laid back. I can work at my own pace.”

Brad also likes the small, local barber shop more than the large chain shops and enjoys getting to know his customers in an environment that is more conducive to generating relationships between barber and customer.

“It’s authentic,” he said. “Great Clips is kinda like a factory. They come in, cut you up. Well, we do like regular shaves. Great Clip’s don’t do that, and a few other things we give. We’re like more of an old school barber shop for people who want that 

old feeling.”

***

Hoosier Barber is sparsely decorated, just a few posters and a basketball goal are on the wall. Ward’s Downtown Barber Shop, however, is covered in IU gear from top to bottom. Collectible basketball calendars dating back to 1982 line the walls. Pennants, posters and pictures are scattered around the shop, which is the oldest in Monroe County.

The owner, Hyscel Ward, continually tells stories of players and coaches. Ask him about how he got started in barbering and he’ll talk about his roots in southern Indiana, which leads to his encounters with local legends, which eventually leads to his run-ins with former IU basketball coach Bob Knight. 

He says he once was a big IU fan but isn’t so much anymore.

“Mainly because they fired Bob Knight, and they should’ve fired Myles Brand,” he said. “I like this coach they got out there now, the only thing I disagree with is his pacin’ back and forth during the game. I wished he’d just sit down there on that bench and watch what his players are doin’.”

Ward has been cutting hair for 50 years; he remembers the day he got his license — May 31, 1960. He used to work at Woody’s. Now he’s on North Walnut Street, right next to the Bluebird Nightclub. 

After working at Woody’s, Ward worked at College Mall for a few years and developed a client base of IU athletes. He has trouble remembering all of them but can look at the calendars on the wall and remember seeing many of the basketball players in his chair.



“Yeah, there’s a lot of ’em up there that I used to cut their hair,” he said. “I cut the swimming team’s hair, I cut a lot of basketball players’ hair, I cut a lot of football players, baseball, track.”

He remembered the Bob Knight era best. He almost cut Coach Knight’s hair once, and he met him a few times. 

Ward said he used to cut former IU Athletics Director J.W. “Bill” Orwig’s hair, and he convinced Knight to stop by. 

When he did, however, Ward said the owner of the shop convinced Coach Knight to sit in his chair rather than Ward’s and promptly started criticizing his coaching choices.

“I just thought, boy, if Bob Knight’s got the temper they say he has, he’s gonna cold-cock him. But he never said one word to that guy. He never did come back though,” Ward said.

Ward’s hands are worn; 50 years of cutting hair will do that. His hair is well combed, albeit white and thin. He wears thin-framed glasses with thick lenses. His voice is slow, and his accent is strong; he tells stories that touch on basketball and barbering and Bloomington and more. 

He is a true-blue Hoosier.

He has seen good teams and bad teams, been to countless high school and college games. He played high school basketball in Orleans, Ind., and still remembers those games like it was yesterday. From across the room, he can point out a teammate based on position in a group photo tacked to one of the mirrors. 

“I go down to my old high school, to all the games, to the basketball games,” he said. “So many of those grandparents’ kids are playin’. See, last year about five of the players graduated. I don’t think they’ll be as good this year. But see, that coach is one of the best coaches. If he’d get a job at IU, they’d win.”

After high school, Ward served in the Army before returning home and going to work in a factory with his father. The chemicals in the factory, however, made him sick. So he went to barber school.

“After that all happened, I thought I should just go to barber school, and I’m glad that I did,” he said. “See, I’m 76 now. Not too many people are working at one occupation for 50 years. Yeah, I still love basketball. I just wish we could get that same attitude going here again.”

***

Back at The Golden Shear, Teresa started sweeping up hair clippings. It was about 3 p.m.

“I want three more people by 4:00,” she said.

“I don’t know about that today,” Fred said. It was a cold and rainy day, and at this time of afternoon, there’s never a lot of traffic. 

“Fred,” she said matter-of-factly, “I’m sweeping the floor.”

“It’s a barber shop thing. As soon as you start sweeping up, more people come in,” Fred explained. “They just can’t let it stay clean.”

Sure enough, not much later a friendly face appeared at the door. Ron Thompson has been coming to The Golden Shear consistently since 1988 when he got out of the military, but he has been a patron of the barber shop for much longer.

“I started coming here as an undergrad back in the early ’70s ... there weren’t a whole lot of people getting haircuts in the ’70s,” he said. “If it’s not broken, you don’t fix it. You don’t have to tell Fred anything. You just get in the chair, and he goes to work.”

Fred has had plenty of experience to know what customers want in a hair cut. At the end of the day, he said, most of his clients don’t want much.

“The first guy I ever cut as a licensed barber was this little old guy,” Fred said. “And after I was done I asked, ‘How’d you like it?’ and he said, ‘Oh, it don’t matter. I’ll be back in two weeks anyway.’ And he taught me a good lesson, that guys don’t give a damn about their hair. It’s women who care about men’s hair. So two weeks later, he hops up in the chair and says, ‘OK, she liked it. Do it again.’”

Fred finished up the cut and started to brush hair off Ron’s shoulders.

“Well Fred, I don’t see any dark hairs on this bib,” Ron said.

“Well, there’s at least one or two,” Fred offered.

“When I first came here, Fred, they were all dark,” Ron said.

“Well, I don’t know,” Fred said with a smile. He held up a mirror to show Ron the back of his hair. 

“Looks good, Fred,” Ron said. 

Fred finished brushing off the extra hair from Ron’s shoulders, gray and all, and took off the apron. Fred lowered the chair and walked Ron to the cash register.

“That’s what we’re here for,” Fred said.

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