100-year-old barbershop supports community for generations
By Rebecca Berfanger // Photography by Jana Jones
It’s a rainy Saturday morning. Sherman’s Barber Shop in downtown Edinburgh feels a bit empty with only two customers and the owner, Richard Pile. One customer has just settled into the barber’s chair to get a military-style haircut, while the other patiently awaits his turn.
“It’s feast or famine around here,” Pile says, adding it might have been slow because it was just after a holiday or possibly because of the weather.
He has been cutting hair for nearly four decades. His grandfather, Tommy Sherman, had been a barber in Edinburgh starting in 1921. Sherman’s son-in-law and Richard Pile’s father, Robert Pile, took over the business in the mid-1960s and was a barber for nearly 60 years. With its classic rotating barbershop pole, black-and-white checkered tile floor, a display of model race cars, and a bulletin board covered in business cards for local contractors and menus for local restaurants, Sherman’s still looks the part.
One of the “feast” times, Pile says, included when troops from nearby Camp Atterbury would show up by the busload. When that happens, “We need to do all of those haircuts in one day. They’ll be lined up all the way down the street.”
During the lull, he shares the shop’s history. With a stack of photos and news clippings, he refers to one of his most famous customers, Columbus native and former U.S. Vice President Mike Pence. As is the case with all the shop’s other customers, “(Pence) never calls ahead,” Pile says.
With at least as much enthusiasm as he talked about the politician, the barber shows off a school photo of his son from a few years ago. Because of the child’s wild hair in the photo, “I could’ve killed him,” he says.
As the conversation builds, so, too, does the customer list: Almost all the chairs at the front of the store had filled with men of varying ages, including a father and his young child. The men patiently waited their turns for a no-frills, no-appointment, high-and-tight haircut for $8, the same price it has been for years.
Judging from their casual demeanors and friendly banter, it appears that many, if not all, of the men have been regulars of the shop, even if they didn’t know each other. And not all of them were locals. At least one was from Greenwood; another drove up from Columbus.
The man who brought in his child says he started coming to Sherman’s when he was young. While he did see another stylist for a while, he started coming back with his son in recent years. Other men had been coming since their days at Camp Atterbury.
“It’s hard to find anyone who does flattops,” says Steve Teike, who has been coming to Sherman’s for almost 20 years. “Old barbershops are just about gone. Richard is the last of his kind.”
A regular customer who comes in every three or four weeks mentioned that the barbershop reminded him of the one he went to growing up in Bloomington, which he says made him feel comfortable. “It’s a good haircut at a reasonable price.”
SaraBeth Drybread’s fond memories of Sherman’s Barber Shop go back many years. Officially known as the director of the John R. Drybread Community Center, which is named for her father and former town manager, Drybread is unofficially known as the Leslie Knope of town because, like the character on “Parks and Recreation,” her role in the community entails “ a little bit of doing it all.”
Drybread refers to another “Parks and Recreation” character, Ron Swanson (played by Nick Offerman), and Swanson’s hallowed relationship with his longtime barber, Salvatore Manfrellotti. The fictional barber, like Pile, also charged $8 for a haircut.
As for her memories of Sherman’s, she says, “for me, the barbershop was always a place where I would go with my dad on a Saturday morning to get his hair cut. It really hasn’t changed a lot in the past probably 50 years or so.”
Additionally, she says, “it’s really nice to have not only that type of business downtown that brings so many people in from outside of the community and inside of the community, but also someone who’s willing to help out to make events like that better for everyone.”
“Richard is always one of my first stops to take a flyer in, because I know he’s going to put it right there up in the window, and he’s going to have so many different people see that,” she says.
He also is known to help at events. At the Firecracker Festival on the Fourth of July, a Sunday when Sherman’s was closed but Pile and his family were still around to enjoy the festival, Drybread asked him about using the electrical outlets in the shop.
“All I had to do was go in. I said, ‘Richard, these generators are so loud, can we plug in and use some of your electrical outlets so we can turn these generators off?’ He was like, ‘Oh, absolutely. That’s not a problem at all,’” she says.
Not only did he offer his electric outlets, but he helped set up the area with rugs and extension cords.
Robert Pile was also a well-loved character, Drybread adds. “People loved going and getting their hair cut from Richard’s dad. He and Richard are just super funny people, and whatever is on their mind they’re going to tell you,” she says. “You get that in a smaller town. It’s nice to have that honesty and openness and have a place for people to do that.”
Sherman’s is one of the few places left “where people aren’t in there tweeting what others are saying,” Drybread says. “You can go in there, and you can speak freely and talk about whatever worldly or local topics you want to talk about, you can share your opinion and you can leave. And no one is telling other people.”
Those conversations also can lead to new relationships.
“It’s not just a service that people have to get, with getting their hair cut,” she says. “It’s also where business takes place.” She noted that sometimes people talk about sharing tools or even hiring fellow barbershop customers to work on a deck or other home project.
To celebrate Sherman’s — and Richard Pile’s — contributions to the community, for the 100th anniversary Drybread was planning a small celebration on a Saturday in August to include Pile’s family, the town manager and a member of the town council who would share a cake, a few gifts and a plaque that will say something like ‘100 years of keeping the town looking sharp,’” Drybread says. “It won’t be a huge to-do, but something to show our appreciation for the service to the community.”
In addition to Sherman’s celebrating its centennial, possibly the oldest continuous business in town, Drybread shared Sherman’s role in Edinburgh’s nearly 200-year history. The town celebrates its bicentennial in 2022.
“The more that you look back at the past and look back at history and learn about the people who literally built the community, I would put Sherman’s Barber Shop in that as a staple in our community,” Drybread says. “It was built by a family that helped shape the town and the community, and I want to see that last for another 100 years, and another 200 years, in our community. It is one of those services that everybody needs, and I always hope there is someone cutting hair at Sherman’s Barber Shop. I hope it always remains ‘Sherman’s.’”