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.
MARK BENNETT: First BaconFest sure to cure your salty fried meat cravings
Bacon taught me a life lesson.
I wrapped strips of it around chicken livers and secured the cold, gooey bundles with toothpicks to earn money.
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.
New rules may keep moped riders on road
Rep. Dave Wolkins could oppose moped regulations for only so long, as more bikes zipped along the roads and were involved in an increasing number of accidents.
Nearly half of Indiana students get meal aid
Nearly 50 percent of Indiana public school students receive free or reduced-cost meals through the federal school-lunch program.
Hearing date set for Dugger charter school
The Indiana Charter School Board is scheduled to conduct a public hearing on April 8 related to a proposed charter school for the Dugger-Union Community School Corp.
Sullivan County ambulance overturns on Interstate 70
Two Sullivan County emergency medical technicians were treated and released from Terre Haute Regional Hospital after their ambulance rolled over in the median of Interstate 70, about 1 mile east of the Indiana 46 exit on Wednesday afternoon.
New trustee appointed to Indiana State board
Kathleen G. Cabello, president and co-founder of Cabello Associates Inc., has been appointed by Gov. Mike Pence to serve on the Indiana State University Board of Trustees.
Car from home invasion recovered
A stolen vehicle believed to have been used by suspects in a March 4 home invasion has been recovered.
- Sisters of Providence to close Woods Day Care/Pre-School in June
Stolen car used in home invasion recovered
A stolen vehicle used by suspects in a March 4 home invasion has been recovered.
Ambulance overturns on I-70
Two Sullivan County emergency medical technicians were taken to Terre Haute Regional Hospital this afternoon after their ambulance went into the median east of the Indiana 46 exit along Interstate 70.
Gov. Pence appoints new member to ISU board of trustees
Kathleen G. Cabello, president and co-founder of Cabello Associates Inc., will serve on the Indiana State University board of trustees. Gov. Mike Pence announced the appointment today.
Vigo County Jail Log: March 12, 2014
The following individuals were booked into the Vigo County Jail by area law enforcement on Tuesday and Wednesday, based on jail records.
Cold and snow returns after brief period of warmth
Another storm dealt yet another wintery blast to the snow-weary Midwest and a blizzard warning was issued in upstate New York on Wednesday after a day or so of spring-like temperatures teased the region.
Sheriff: Investigation affecting department’s current police work
The Putnam County Sheriff’s Department is putting the best possible face on a string of allegations lodged against one of its deputies.
Greencastle Council seat will remain vacant for now
The Greencastle City Council is still waiting to learn the appropriate next step in dealing with one of its members who is facing federal allegations of civil rights violations while in his role as a Putnam County deputy.
Former pitcher Tommy John now saving lives
Terre Haute native Tommy John is well known for his illustrious major league baseball career, which spanned 26 years and included 288 victories.
Downtown housing project on schedule
Demolition of buildings fronting Wabash Avenue from Sixth Street west to Fifth Street is on schedule to be completed by the end of this month, with construction of a new five-story building to house Indiana State University students and retail shops starting in April, said Nicole King, marketing coordinator for Thompson Thrift.
Where no one follows the law
Loughmiller’s Pub across Washington Street from the Statehouse is a favorite hangout for legislators and lobbyists who like the tavern’s menu of gourmet burgers and craft beers. State police are regular lunch customers, as are state officials who regulate the sale of alcohol.
Terre Haute man facing felony arson charges
A Terre Haute man faces a charge of class-B felony arson in connection with an August garage fire.
Stolen gun, drugs found in search after 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.
Vigo election board to give presentation at NAACP meeting
A presentation by the Vigo County Election Board will be the focus for the March 17 meeting of the Greater Terre Haute Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
Merom Water being acquired by Indiana American Water
Merom Water, a municipal water utility with approximately 125 customers, has been acquired by Indiana American Water, the company announced on Tuesday.
- More Local & Bistate Headlines
- Purdue shooting leaves one person dead