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After 6 decades, a west side barber prepares for what’s next

Bill Taber has been in business on the west side since 1959. He relocated to his current location in 1967. It’s a few doors down from his original building. (Provided Photo/Doug McSchooler via Mirror Indy)

INDIANAPOLIS (MIRROR INDY) — On Sept. 3, 1964, the Beatles stepped on stage at the Indiana State Fair Coliseum sporting their iconic look: slim-tailored suits, Chelsea boots and mop-top haircuts.

The band played a 12-song set in the packed venue for thousands of screaming fans and made their way into Indianapolis history.

Bill Taber had only recently opened up the Oak Park Barber Shop on the west side a few years before the Fab Four’s concert. Taber looks back at their visit — but not as a fan.

“When the Beatles came over, I about starved to death for about 10 years,” Taber joked. “People did not get a haircut.”

Now 86, Taber is spending less time thinking about the past. Instead, he’s looking to the future: What comes next for the building he owns along South Tibbs Avenue, and what comes next for him when he finally hangs up the clippers.

Taber grew up in the Mars Hill neighborhood and attended Ben Davis High School. After, he joined the U.S. Navy, where he served as a signalman, the sailors responsible for communications between ships, during the last few years of the 1950s. 

Taber returned home after his enlistment. His stepfather, a barber, helped him find his trade.

“He said, ‘Why don’t you go to barber school?’ and that’s what I did,” Taber said. “On October 1 of 1959 I started cutting hair and I’ve been cutting hair on this street ever since.”

Taber’s main clientele were not the sort to look to four young men from Liverpool, England, for fashion advice. They were the men working at what was then known as the American Foundry, making engine parts for Chrysler vehicles for decades. Taber’s barber shop was just a short walk away.

The foundry, once central Indiana’s largest, closed in 2005 and was later demolished. Years later, an asphalt plant would open up on the same property, but the heyday for the barbershop, and West Indianapolis, were long past.

Seeing the neighborhood change

The shop’s proximity to the American Foundry, and Taber’s steady hands, made many loyal customers.

“I still got three of them that come here,” Taber said, “and that place has been closed for a good 20 years.”

Taber has worked on South Tibbs Avenue since 1959. His first shop was two doors down from his current location. He moved into his current building in 1967.

In his decades in West Indianapolis, Taber has seen the community change.

West Morris Street, he said, used to be an almost-self-sufficient community with locally-owned hardware stores, pharmacies, bridal shops, bowling alleys and even a movie theater all within a one-mile stretch. 

A manufacturing decline that began in the late 20th century closed major manufacturing plants in the neighborhood, like the General Motors plant, and when the money left, local business had to shutter. 

Besides the Oak Park Barber Shop, only a few other local businesses remain near West Morris Street, like Barry’s Pizza. The rest are businesses owned by large corporations, like Dollar General and Family Dollar.

“There may be local people running in there, and some of them might work in there, but that’s all owned by companies that don’t live around here,” Taber said. “Who knows where they’re from?”

Taber is proud of his business and has long tried to appeal to workers.

He keeps prices affordable for his customers. He currently charges $15 for a haircut — lower than chain shops and most other local barbers charge for haircuts.

He also makes himself available to people during their lunch hours. He takes his lunch at 11 a.m. every day he works. He heads to the American Legion Post 64 on Holt Road for a quick meal and returns to his shop before noon to be there for anyone who wants a quick cut. 

[This barbershop screens for the high blood pressure condition, hypertension.]

Working for his family

Inside the Oak Park Barber Shop, the first thing customers see is the classic barber chair of a late ’70s vintage. Once seated, Taber spins the chair and customers see walls covered with decades of photos given to him by customers. He places the new photos on top of older ones.

He has a lot of photos of his family. Taber’s three children have had their own children. He now has five grandkids and seven great-grandchildren. But his family extends far beyond blood relatives.  

“There have been a lot of nice people that came to me for 50 years,” Taber said. “They invite me to their birthdays and their funerals and all that because I know them personally. I’m just part of their family.” 

When she heard Taber was going to retire, one customer made him a custom drinking tumbler, complete with his name and an emblem featuring crossed scissors and a comb. He proudly shows it off whenever he can.

Other customers come to trade barbs with their friend. Jim Hissan has come to the Oak Park Barber Shop since 1990. He remembers when Taber used to have a small putting green in his barber shop, an amenity that kept customers entertained while he worked.

The two played golf together sometimes, and their competitive talk on the links often followed them into the shop.

“He’s only cut my ear one time,” Hissan joked. 

“Oh, is that all?” Taber replied. “We need to change that.” 

“And that was when he could still see,” Hissan said. “I told you about how good a round I played. It’s like you did it out of spite.”

Both laughed, but once the laughter died down, Hissan said how he really feels about the barber.

Taber is finally thinking about closing up shop. His hands are as steady as ever, but his eyes really are beginning to fail him.

He plans to retire as soon as he can find someone to buy his building, at 1244 S. Tibbs Ave.

“He’s a great guy,” Hissan said. “We’re gonna miss him. Big time. He’s been a longtime part of this community.”

Open for a limited time

There’s still time to get a haircut from Bill Taber. He is easing his way into retirement by staying open a few days a week until he finds a buyer for his building.

“When it sells, I’m gonna be gone,” Taber said. “I hate to leave the building vacant, so I’m working three days a week. That will hurt me. I don’t mind being here. It’s just like being home.”

The Oak Park Barber Shop, at 1244 S. Tibbs Ave., is open Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays. Taber opens at 7:30 a.m. and he keeps working until customers stop showing up.

Mirror Indy reporter Enrique Saenz covers west Indianapolis. Contact him at 317-983-4203 or Follow him on X @heyEnriqueSaenz