Larry Hall retires as barber
Larry Hall has been a barber for so many years it was difficult for his customers to imagine he’d ever retire.
Hall has been a familiar face in downtown Fairfield for more than 50 years, having cut hair at the corner of Broadway Avenue and Court Street since 1961. In recent years, Hall has cut down on his hours at the office, working only Mondays and Tuesdays. In 2013, Hall decided it was time to reduce those hours to zero.
He said he told only a select few customers he planned to retire. He thought most of his clients would either beg him to stay in business or they wouldn’t take him seriously, believing he could cut hair forever. After all, it’s what he’s done his entire adult life.
Hall grew up on a farm in Van Buren County and attended high school in Birmingham. He became acquainted with a barber in that town named Rex Hootman. Hall used to stop at Hootman’s shop for the lunch hour, and before long he realized he might want to be a barber, too.
Shortly after graduating from high school in 1957, Hall enrolled in barber school in Des Moines. In those days, new barbers had to work as apprentices for 1.5 years before they could strike out on their own. Hall split that time between Columbus Junction and later Iowa City after his friend Dick Abernathy convinced him to move to a bigger town.
Within a year of moving to Iowa City, Hall was on the move again. Abernathy suggested the two of them should find work in Fairfield, and that’s where the two set up shop in 1959.
Abernathy and Hall worked together in Fairfield for a few months at a shop on Sixth Street owned by Maynard Barton. In March 1961, Barton bought the barbershop at 61 E. Broadway, which he had previously owned years earlier but sold to live in Montana.
At age 21, Hall had been a fulltime barber for three years and had moved around a great deal. His move to the barbershop at Broadway and Court would be his last, for it’s where he would stay for the next 52 years.
On Aug. 4, 1965, Hall received terrible news about his business partner. Barton and his wife Myrtle were killed in a car accident. From that point forward, Hall was in charge of running the business.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Parsons College was buzzing with activity. Barbers such as Hall made a living cutting the hair of thousands of college kids. Hall said he was most comfortable cutting students’ hair because he was roughly their age and had more in common with them. That, too, has changed with time and now he feels more comfortable conversing with the older set.
The 1960s were also noteworthy for the cultural changes sweeping through society, particularly regarding hairstyles. Hall said it was once commonplace for a man to get a haircut every week or two to preserve a finely trimmed look. Flat tops were particularly popular, and Hall specialized in those. As for Hall himself, his wife Judith said he sported a haircut similar to that of “Fonzie” from the show “Happy Days.”
“He had the thickest head of hair and now I don’t know where it all went,” she said.
“I think my wife wore it out,” Hall joked.
Young men were becoming accustomed to growing their hair out during this time. Hall attributes this fad to the musicians of the day.
“When the Beatles came, that’s when our barber business went south,” he said. “
Hall said he focused on cutting short hair because that’s what he practiced most in barber school. He did not particularly like cutting long hair and thus cut few women’s hair. He also said at that time it was not culturally acceptable for a woman to cut a man’s hair, so most men went to male barbers. However, that has changed, too. Hall said it is one of many reasons there are so few independent barbers today.
In 1965, Fairfield supported 17 full-time barbers. By 1982 that number had fallen to four. Hall said his line of work, an independent barber, has drawbacks that cause young people to shy away from entering the profession, such as no health insurance and no paid vacation. Hall and his wife rarely took vacations in the early years of his practice and when they did the vacations were never extravagant.
“We spent our vacations at the state fair,” he said.
The business has seen its share of commotion in 50-plus years of operation. In the early 1970s, the Halls were on one of their vacations to the state fair when Larry learned the apartment above his shop had caught fire and the occupant inside had died.
The fire forced Hall to close his shop for six months while it was being remodeled. He passed the time working as a carpenter with his brother, Rex. He enjoyed the work and continues to do carpentry as a hobby to this day.
In the 1980s, a deer went berserk and ran through three storefront windows in the downtown, including Hall’s, where it was finally captured by authorities. By the time it got to Hall’s barbershop the deer had a broken leg and was bleeding badly. Hall was in the store at the time working on a customer. He said he heard the deer run through the other storefronts but assumed it must have been a car crash and never imagined an animal was responsible for those sounds.
Judith and Larry said they plan to spend their newfound free time traveling the country to make up for the vacations they couldn’t take years ago. In the past few years the couple has gone on an Alaska cruise and visited Glacier National Park in Montana. As much fun as they’ll have on vacation, Judith said it has been hard for her husband to put down the razor and shears.
“He has hated the thought of giving up the long-time relationships he’s made,” she said.