TERRE HAUTE —
People streamed through this section of downtown Terre Haute in those days.
“You could hardly walk by here,” John Hochhalter said, pointing toward the sidewalk outside the window.
The bustle has faded since the early 1960s. Hochhalter remains. He’s still barbering in the same shop he and late business partner Kenny Thomas opened a half-century ago this week. Still smiling. Still bleeding Blue and White as a lifelong Sycamores fan. Still reviewing sports, politics, news and the word on the street as he “sharpens up” the guy sitting in the barber’s chair at Esquire Hairstyling. Still energized and busy.
A haircut “should take about 20 minutes. With me, it lasts a little longer,” Hochhalter said. “I like to talk a lot. I enjoy my customers.”
When another downtown barbershop laid off Hochhalter and others, he and Thomas decided to open their own place at 30 N. Sixth St., between Wabash Avenue and Indiana State University, and the duo canvassed the campus to drum up customers. When a massive fire destroyed a dozen stores and five businesses on the adjacent block on March 20, 1963, Hochhalter and Thomas forged ahead and opened their shop just a few days later. No second thoughts. “Oh, no,” said Hochhalter, who was just 22 years old then. “We were rarin’ to go.”
When Interstate 70 opened in 1967, shifting the hub of city commerce to the south side, they kept at it, downtown.
When men began wearing longer hair in the 1970s, prompting many barbers to quit, Hochhalter and Thomas got more training for those new styles. “Longer hair never hurt us,” Hochhalter said.
When Thomas left the profession in 1982 for a full-time career in county government, Hochhalter continued on.
At one time, four barbers manned the shop. Customers “lined up to get in here,” Hochhalter recalled. Nearly 150 barbers filled the ranks of the local barbers union, including 100 in the downtown district, he said. They met monthly, kept similar prices and took Thursdays off. “Downtown was booming,” Hochhalter said.
For the past two decades, he’s worked on his own, by appointment. The industry has changed through the popularity of unisex salons, reducing the number of traditional barbershops catering to the guys. “It’s just a lost art,” Hochhalter said. “There are hardly any barbers around any more.”
His appointment book stays full, though. Through the years, his clientele has included politicians, business leaders, people working downtown, sons whose dads were also customers, and local college administrators, professors, students, coaches and athletes, among others. In one stretch, three of his regular customers were future billionaires. Hochhalter cut the hair of future Dodgers and Yankees pitching star Tommy John, then a high-schooler. “He wore a flat-top back in those days,” Hochhalter said. Five of the past six ISU presidents — including current president Dan Bradley — have sat in Hochhalter’s chair, dating back to Raleigh Holmstedt.
“Raleigh used to come in here, smoking his pipe and joking around,” Hochhalter recalled. A barber on the shop’s staff was once carrying on and making wisecracks about ISU and didn’t realize the guy in the chair was Holmstedt. Hochhalter just laughed at the memory.
Today, Hochhalter has regulars as old as 95, still dropping by for a weekly trim. He’s heard, and shared, lots of stories. “I wish I could remember everything I’ve known,” he said, chuckling.
Last Wednesday, with jazz music quietly emanating from a speaker on the wall, autographed sports memorabilia covering another wall, and bits of March sunlight flickering through the shop window, customer Rich Kjonaas leafed through a magazine, awaiting his turn. Kjonaas was a regular back in the 1980s and resumed that routine about four years ago. “I come here as much for the advice as the haircut,” he said, drawing a grin from his barber. A few minutes earlier, Hochhalter wrapped up Brian Conley’s haircut by running a massage machine across his neck. Conley, a real estate executive, started coming to the shop in 1976.
Hochhalter, who took his first barbering job 54 years ago, hopes to be handling their appointments for years to come.
“I feel like I’ve got another 54 years to go,” he said. “I know that won’t happen, but I feel like I could.”
He’s one of those special people who discovered his life’s ambition early and lived it out. Growing up in Montezuma, Hochhalter’s dad took him to barbershops in nearby Clinton for weekly haircuts. “I just watched the barbers and saw they had a good time,” he said. “I was about 14 or 15 years old, and I knew that’s what I wanted to be.”
He’s 72 now. His career, along side that of his wife, Alyce — a retired Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College prof — helped raise their son and daughter. Today, he barbers because he likes the work, not because he must. Though old-school barbershops have experienced a nostalgic resurgence in some trendy locales in large cities, such as the Art of Shaving at Keystone Crossing near Indianapolis, Hochhalter figures he represents the last of traditional barbering’s heyday era.
Customers keep walking into his shop near the corner of Sixth and Cherry streets, though. And, he’ll keep sharpening them up “till my legs give out.”
The work still makes him smile, and still holds its place among his passions, behind his family and sports. Throughout his family life, he’s been surrounded by college graduates. Hochhalter took a slightly different path, doing his schooling at Indiana Barbers College, and he’s glad he did.
“It’s just me. I chose to be a barber, and I’m as happy as can be,” he said. “There’s not many people as happy as me.”
Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or email@example.com.
TERRE HAUTE —
People streamed through this section of downtown Terre Haute in those days.
- Local & Bistate
Purdue shooting leaves one person dead
A Purdue University engineering student opened fire inside a basement classroom Tuesday, killing a teaching assistant and prompting officials to put the campus on lockdown, police and the university said.
VIDEO: Sax at the Crossroads
Saxophonist Michael Reed spiced up the Crossroads of America under long-awaited sunny skies around noon Tuesday, March 11, in downtown Terre Haute.
THS grad Miller among students in adjacent building when shooting occurs
Kris Miller and his roommate were in a computer lab of Purdue’s mechanical engineering building Tuesday when they received a call that a shooting had occurred next door.
Bosma moves gay marriage ban bill to friendlier committee
Republican House of Representatives Speaker Brian Bosma sent a bill that proposes a constitutional ban on gay marriage to a more conservative-leaning legislature committee Tuesday, because it lacked support on the first committee to which it was assigned.
We enter the deep freeze again
If you had to step outside to get your newspaper this morning, you might have noticed it’s painfully cold once again.
Levy redirects school funds
If the new “protected levy” legislation goes into effect later this year, it would mean “a substantial reduction” in revenue for Vigo County School Corp. bus transportation, capital projects and bus replacement funds, according to the district’s chief financial officer.
School debt levy redirects funds across Indiana
School officials and state legislators from around the state are searching for ways to keep the school buses running — and children safe on the streets — pending the loss of millions of dollars for school transportation.
More than 50 school districts in Indiana stand to lose at least 20 percent of their revenues for transportation, new buses and other big-ticket projects under a new law that requires them to first pay off their debts.
VIDEO: Sen. Donnelly updates T-S editorial board
Passage of a long overdue U.S. farm bill could be completed by the end of this month, Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., said Tuesday.
Vigo coroner tries again for salary increase
After being denied last year, Vigo County Coroner Dr. Susan Amos is again seeking to have her county salary increased to match that of several other county office holders.
Police find stolen handgun, drugs during traffic stop
A traffic stop Monday night on Third Street led to the arrest of a Terre Haute man on drug-related charges and recovery of a stolen handgun that had belonged to a Vigo County Sheriff’s Department reserve deputy.
Street closings for March 11
• The intersection at 29th and Harrison will be closed until noon today for water line replacement.
• The southbound lane of 25th Street from Barbour to Grand avenues is closed today for fire hydrant repair.
Vigo County Jail Log: March 11, 2014
The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Monday and Tuesday, based on jail records.
ISTEP+ testing begins today in Indiana
The student body of Woodrow Wilson Middle School issued a collective battle cry on Monday as it began a week of standardized testing.
Red Cross kicks off fundraising campaign
Disaster can hit at any time, whether from a tornado or fire that leaves a family homeless.
Man arrested on multiple burglary charges
A Montezuma man has been arrested in connection with residential burglaries in Parke and Vigo counties and on suspicion of illegal sale of firearms.
$1.4 million revamp of Third Street in works
Plans to spruce up Third Street through downtown are taking shape.
New principal picked for Hoosier Prairie
Hoosier Prairie Elementary has a new principal, Jennifer Russell, effective today.
Possible bookkeeping 'abnormalities' under scrutiny at TH airport
State authorities are investigating possible “bookkeeping abnormalities” at the Terre Haute International Airport-Hulman Field.
UPDATE: Putnam deputy indicted
A Putnam County Sheriff’s deputy who also serves as a Greencastle city councilman has been indicted by a federal grand jury on allegations of deprivation of civil rights in his police duties, and he has been placed on administrative leave as a deputy.
UPDATE: Indictment alleges deputy committed violence against suspects
A Putnam County deputy, Terry Joe “T.J.” Smith, 37, has been arrested on a federal indictment charging him with committing violent acts against suspects.
Feds arrest Putnam County deputy on charges of violence
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A sheriff’s deputy from a rural Indiana county has been indicted on federal civil rights charges.
Vigo County Jail Log: March 10, 2014
The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, based on jail records.
Police: Meth organization dismantled in Vigo County
Five people face criminal charges after police dismantled an alleged methamphetamine organization in Vigo County, according to an Indiana State Police news release.
Food Inspections: March 10, 2014
The Vigo County Health Department inspected the following food establishments during the week of Feb. 24 - 28:
Canvasing families: Mothers confront life with diabetic children
Four Wabash Valley mothers who sat around a circular table Thursday night couldn’t hold back tears as they talked about their children’s battles with a lifelong disease and their hopes for helping other affected families.
MAX JONES: Newspapers can be fun, too; check out Readers’ Choice
Smart and savvy newspaper readers (that’s all of you, of course) know full well that their daily consumption of news and information isn’t an exclusively high-brow pursuit.
Changed wording to SJR-9 delays debate on right to hunt, fish
A much-debated ban on same-sex marriage wasn’t the only proposed constitutional amendment to get knocked off of this November’s ballot. Gone, too, is the less contentious proposal to protect Hoosiers’ right to hunt and fish.
You’re home now: A veteran’s Midwest move that almost wasn’t
To say that Michael Curry was stressed is an understatement.
A service member who has been in the U.S. Army for more than 21 years, he had just arrived in Vigo County with his family — wife, four teen-age children, mother-in-law and two dogs — when he learned the home loan he had obtained in Texas was denied.
Valley lawmakers assess legislative session’s trials, tribulations
As state legislators head into the final week of the state legislative session, five of them from the Wabash Valley met with citizens Saturday at the Vigo County Public Library in downtown Terre Haute and engaged in conversation about the “ups and downs” of the recent session.
Families often unaware of helpful groups for kids with disabilities
One Saturday morning event in Terre Haute aimed to raise awareness about the resources available to people with disabilities.
- More Local & Bistate Headlines
- Purdue shooting leaves one person dead