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.
Swim by 7 program
Swim by 7 is a collaborative effort involving the United Way of the Wabash Valley and the Vigo County School Corp. As envisioned, all VCSC kindergarten students would participate in the learn-to-swim program once the new VCSC Aquatics Facility is constructed and ready for use at Voorhees Park.
Candidates file finance reports
The Democratic race for judge of Vigo County Superior Court Division 2 boasts the most fundraising of all campaigns for the May 6 primary election.
Mayor Duke Bennett leads community discussion on litter
Talking trash in the neighborhood can get down and dirty.
Public hears about grant to clean up E. coli in Otter Creek
Greg Dunham has known Otter Creek since his childhood. “I walked that creek. I lived in that creek and I was all the time fishing in it, so this was news to me” he said about the concern of Escherichia coli (E. coli) in the Otter Creek watershed.
Lilly to buy Novartis Animal Health
Eli Lilly and Co. plans to acquire Novartis Animal Health for about $5.4 billion, a move believed to strengthen and diversify Lilly’s own animal health business, Elanco.
VIDEO: Indiana State breaks ground for $4.3M riverside track and field facility
Indiana State University officials, community leaders and donors broke ground Monday on a new, $4.3 million track and field facility on the Wabash riverfront, along North First Street.
Panel approves new school benchmarks
A panel of Indiana business and education leaders were met with boos and jeers from attendees after they voted overwhelmingly Monday to support new math and English standards set to replace the Common Core in classrooms this fall.
Man to face several charges in Linton shooting death
A homicide northeast of Linton is being investigated by the Greene County Sheriff’s Department.
Board approves bond structure to fund central pool project
The Vigo County School Corp.’s $9.8 million aquatics center is “on schedule” and “the budget looks good,” Superintendent Dan Tanoos told the School Board on Monday.
Judge: Indiana hasn’t given good reason for same-sex marriage ban
A federal judge has said that attorneys defending Indiana’s gay marriage ban haven’t given a valid reason why the state should not recognize the out-of-state marriage of a lesbian couple, one of whom has a terminal illness.
Police: Death from natural causes for 2 bodies found in home
Death by natural causes has been ruled in the deaths of two people whose bodies were found Sunday evening inside their Pimento area home in southern Vigo County.
10 men, 1 woman added to Fire Dept. ranks
Eleven recruits joined the ranks of the Terre Haute Fire Department on Monday during a swearing-in ceremony at Terre Haute City Hall.
Mayor to host Earth Day event for children
Mayor Duke Bennett has partnered with Indiana State University and the Vigo County Public Library to invite children grades K-5 for an evening of hands-on, environmental learning at the City’s first Earth Day Extravaganza. The free event will be today, Earth Day, from 4 ot 6 p.m. at the library.
City to host Arbor Day award reception Wednesday
Terre Haute’s urban forester and Mayor Duke Bennett will host Terre Haute’s first Arbor Day Urban Forest Award reception at 6 p.m. Wednesday at The Ohio Building.
2 bodies found in Pimento home
Police were at the scene of a death investigation on Sunday in southern Vigo County.
“It’s a double death investigation,” Vigo County Chief Deputy Clark E. Cottom told the Tribune-Star at the scene.
BOSTON MARATHON: Not intimidated
One reason Mike Morris — and many runners can relate — has been a distance runner for 30 years is it’s restorative powers. Not to the body but to the mind.
Even when he was in grade school, it was obvious Justin Huxford was a special kid.
He was the first at Rio Grande Elementary School to walk 100 miles around the school grounds over the school year, one of just a handful of kids to meet the goal.
Answering the call
Static was the only thing on TV or radio. People were on their knees as they prayed. It was, as if for three whole days, the world stood still.
TH wins 8th Tree City USA ‘Growth’ award
Terre Haute was named a 2013 Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation in honor of its commitment to effective urban forest management.
ISU hosts Ukraine panel today
In Ruth Fairbanks’ morning commute to work recently, she heard two news stories on the radio about Ukraine. Considering her drive-time is just five minutes, it demonstrates how unstable — and newsworthy — Eastern Europe is these days.
Their dream rises: Mother-daughter duo team up to expand eastside bakery
As she gently formed a round sourdough, Marta Shelton seemed to hold her dreams in the palm of her hands.
Church resurrected: Prairie Creek church that burned in the midst of a winter storm ready for rebirth
From the ashes of a devastating winter fire comes out a church reborn.
Vigo School Board to approve central pool bond resolution
On Monday, the Vigo County School Board will receive an update on a planned, $9.8 million aquatics center that will be built in Voorhees Park.
Inconsistent help: FEMA’s disaster decisions frustrate state, local leaders
Pamela Jackson thought she was lucky to escape harm as a tornado bore down on her neighborhood last November. She huddled in a bathroom with her two disabled sons, critically ill husband and six other family members as the twister blew out windows and tore the roof off her house. Hers was one of scores of homes and businesses in Howard County that were damaged or demolished by the storm.
A team of Vigo County high school students — and its robot — are gearing up to compete against 127 teams from throughout the world in an upcoming international robotics competition.
VCPL to install free ‘little libraries’
Coming soon to a neighborhood near you: A Little Free Library.
Flaws in new ed standards ‘too substantial’
A State Board of Education member formally requested Friday that an education panel abandon a proposed overhaul of Indiana’s education standards and instead recommend that the state’s previous benchmarks be reinstated in classrooms this fall.
A real page turner
Victory was sweet for the Franklin Elementary teammates, who won their first ever Battle of the Books competition Thursday at Meadows Elementary.
Rep. Bucshon leads discussion on minority care in Vigo County
The list of problems seems endless: Lack of health insurance, mental illness, cultural barriers and stigmas about routine medical check ups, to name only a few.
Vigo County students, educators recently made a 2-week trip to Terre Haute’s sister city of Tajimi
Six Vigo County high school students and two educators, including superintendent Dan Tanoos, recently returned from a two-week cultural exchange trip to Tajimi, Japan.
- More News Headlines
- Swim by 7 program