Stories from intrepid reporters attending the Illinois Press Foundation Journalism Workshop at Eastern Illinois University
By Elizabeth McCammon
The swirling red and white spiral poles used to be a common sight in every town, but that sight has been disappearing in many towns across the country. A barber shop pole is a sight that is not seen very often anymore, but in Shelbyville Illinois that has changed.
Denise Johnson opened her small barber shop, Craigs Barbers, in downtown Shelbyville in the September of 2014. Johnson has had her barber’s license for 34 years and has worked for a beauty parlor, another barber shop, and L’oreal. The shop has been successful and business has been booming.
“It was very successful, and business just kept growing and growing,” said Johnson. As a result, Johnson hired Josh O’Laughlin as a second barber.
O’Laughlin started off as a propane technician, but due to a work related accident that resulted in two back surgeries and three years off from work, he had to find a new way to earn a living. O’Laughlin decided to get his barber’s license. Then, O’Laughlin worked for a barber shop in Pana, then a barber shop in Decatur before coming to work for Craigs Barbers.
The path to opening up and making this old-fashioned barber shop what it is today wasn’t an easy one. There aren’t a lot of schooling options for people who aspire to become barbers and the required 1,872 hours of schooling for Johnson and the 1,500 hours of schooling for O’Laughlin made it that much more difficult.
According to Johnson, paranoid barbers put down their razors and barber shops closed in the 80’s and 90’s due to the increasing problem with AIDS. As a result, more and more schools stopped their barber programs. Luckily, Johnson found a school to attend.
“I asked God where to lead me and I saw a barber’s college in Shelbyville one day,” Johnson said. According to Johnson, she attended college and eventually taught a couple of classes. That’s when Johnson and O’Laughlin met.
“I wanted to be a barber since I was 4 years old,” O’Laughlin said. O’Laughlin fulfilled his childhood dream when he obtained his barber license.
According to Johnson, Shelbyville was chosen as the place for the barber shop because she was from the area and a friend had told her that Shelbyville needed a barber’s shop. O’Laughlin also had reasons for wanting to work in Shelbyville.
“I prefer not to work in a big city,” O’Laughlin said.
According to O’Laughlin most of the customers are regular customers. A lot of local people go to Craigs Barbers, but even people from out of town come to the barber shop.
“You get close to the people,” stated O’Laughlin.
“It’s more of a passion, not a career,” O’Laughlin explained. According to O’Laughlin and Johnson, the barber shop provides a comfortable place for their customers to relax, socialize, and get a trim.
“It’s just the fun of getting to work in a good atmosphere and getting to do what you enjoy,” Johnson added.
The passion that O’Laughlin and Johnson feel for their line of work is definitely one thing that makes their barber shop in downtown Shelbyville stand out. Although a barber shop is not a common sight anymore, O’Laughlin and Johnson have kept business booming at Craigs Barbers.