Sunday, January 13, 2008


“If you enjoy going to work, you don’t have a job and in this last year it has become a job. I have no regrets though, I have a good life and it has been a lot of fun.”

Lodi, Ohio. That is where this story begins. Bob Vandemark grew up in the little town of Lodi just 28 miles south of Elyria. His father was a barber but always discouraged him from entering the profession. “He would tell me that the job just wasn’t for me. He said that there was a lot of idle time and that I wouldn’t like it. The shop he worked in was small and in a small community so there were a lot of times where he had down time so that is why he tried to discourage me from becoming a barber as well.”

After graduating from high school in 1948 Vandemark worked for United Dairies in Lodi for a couple years. Then came the Korean War and the draft. “Living in a small town everybody knew everybody so I went to the draft board and asked them when they thought my number would come up and they said December. So rather then being drafted into the Army I signed up for the Air Force. Nothing against the Army or anything, I just had an interest in the airplanes.”

In August of 1950 Vandemark was headed to basic training in Wichita Falls, Texas and remained there for 7 or 8 months in aircraft and engine mechanic school. From there he headed to Illinois for four months of electrical specialist school. The east coast of Canada was next for Vandemark where he was an aircraft mechanic. He ended his Air Force career in Washington DC at Andrews Air Force Base for almost two years where he was first an air craft electrician and then a Supervisor of the Specialty Shops.

After spending four years in the Air Force Vandemark returned home to Lodi and worked as a bookkeeper for a large truck stop. “In a one mile stretch we had 4 or 5 24 hour restaurants and 4 big truck stops and I kept the books.”

After kicking around Lodi for a couple years Vandemark realized that his GI Bill was about to run out, it was then that a friend of his approached him with the barber school idea. “He said that he was heading to Akron for Barber School and said I should come along. I thought about it for a little bit and then I said ok and I grabbed my hat and coat and off we went.”

When Vandemark graduated the Barber School sent him to work in a shop in Chagrin Falls. Vandemark was there for a year before a man named Ralph Michaels came looking for him. Michaels owned the Greystone Barbershop in downtown Elyria where he ran a five-chair shop. Michaels lost two of his Barbers leaving him in a bind and sent him on a search to fill those spots. The search sent him to Lodi twice in an attempt to secure the young Barber he had heard about. Vandemark at first turned Michaels down but after Michaels persisted he thought more about it. “When I thought about it I looked at the drive I had from Lodi to Chagrin which was 60 miles and to Elyria would only be 28 miles. The other clincher was the fact that the owner of the shop in Chagrin was planning on moving from where they were into a new mall and we knew the chair rentals would go up so I thought it was a good time to make a change.”

The time is 1959; Vandemark is earning $1.75 for a haircut at his new home in the Greystone Hotel Barbershop. Three years later Michaels asked Vandemark to become a partner in the business, so he bought in as a half partner. Less than two years later Vandemark bought out Michaels completely when Michaels decided to move to sunny California.

Vandemark said that back in the early 60’s downtown Elyria was truly the focal point of the city where all of the top businessmen and politicians would go for lunch, drinks and of course haircuts. “At noontime all of these presidents and vice presidents of the big industries like Bendix, General Motors and Timm Springs all of those guys would head downtown to the Hotel Restaurant for lunch because that is where everybody went. We had one client who would go in, find a table, order a bowl of soup and chicken salad sandwich then come get his haircut and we would have him back by the time his food got to his table.”

Once the Turnpike and the Holiday Inn moved in up north things started changing for downtown Elyria. The large companies like Sears and JC Penny’s moved out of downtown and took a lot of business with them. The Greystone Hotel closed the rooms in 1965 but the ground floor businesses remained for a couple years. In October of 1974 Vandemark moved one last time just a couple of doors down to where he stayed for 33 years.

Vandemark made it a point during his years owning the Greystone to not allow any political campaign signs in his shop.
“You would never even see a sign in my yard at home. Jack Baird is a good friend of ours, we golf a lot together and I like him a lot and although we would go to his fundraisers and support him that way, we never had a sign of his in the yard.”

Vandemark was so careful about this that he was even careful about the calendars that hung in the shop over the years. “People were always giving me calendars and mostly from insurance companies but I had customers from many different insurance companies coming in so I just didn’t see how I could hang one up and not the others, it just wouldn’t have been right. The only calendar that was given to me that I did hang up with advertising was Elyria Manufacturing; with them I didn’t feel there would be any conflict of interest."

After Vandemark bought the shop outright in 1963, the hotel was running strong and the shop had four barbers working. A few years later the hotel and its restaurant closed from poor management. Vandemark said that hurt a little but the big hit came in 1968 when the mall opened.
“Sears moved out, Penny’s moved out, Grant’s moved out, Singer Sewing Machines closed up, The Kline Clothing Store moved out and the downtown traffic just really dried up.”
If that all weren’t bad enough then came the next hurdle for the Barbers: The Beetles. “It was the late 60’s early 70’ when the Beetles came along with the long hair. Everybody started wearing long hair clear down over their ears and business kept dropping and dropping.”

Even after the Barbers had gone to styling school it was too late with some of their customers having already switched over to local beauty shops. It was during this time that the shop went from the four Barbers down to just two, Vandemark and Val Chismar. Over the years it changed from 4 to 3 to 2 to 3 to 2 then back to 4 Barbers. “It’s like any business, you have your ups and your downs. I think at a certain point if my wife hadn’t started working with the schools I probably would have had to get out of the Barber business. But we struggled and made it through and ended up being just fine.”

It was October of 1959; Vandemark had just moved to Elyria and was living in the YMCA. A fellow Barber set up a blind date for him with a girl named Marilyn. At first things were not all that great, Vandemark said that after the first date he didn’t like her and she didn’t like him. But then three weeks later Vandemark said he was “sitting around with nothing better to do” so he called her again and over time he said “we grew on each other.” A year and a half later they were married. On January 21st they will celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary. As Marilyn described the blizzard they had to endure on the day of their wedding, Bob chirped in; “I told you it would be a cold day in hell before we got married.”

The Vandemark’s have two children, daughter Kathy who lives two blocks away with her husband and two children and son Jim who lives close by with his wife and three kids.

Vandemark said one trait that he sees in his son Jim that he feels he passed down to him is his work ethic.
“Jim would go into that Jewelry store half dead, they would have to carry him and probably other then the fact that I had to be off for about two months for by-pass surgery I don’t think that I have had 5 days where I was off because of sickness in the 47 or 48 years. There were a couple times where I went in and had to leave in the afternoon because I was just too sick. Marilyn is the same, when she retired from the schools she had accumulated like 190 sick days. It just wasn’t in our work ethic.”

Vandemark said that after being in downtown Elyria since 1959 he has seen the good, the bad and the ugly. We wanted to know if he sees any spark that could return Elyria to what it once was. “No, I’m sorry I don’t. As a matter of fact the mall is hurting. I go out there and walk in the mornings when I can’t play gold and my gosh the amount of empty stores out there, I bet there are 20 empty storefronts even one or two in the food court. I think downtown will end up being a lot of offices. Downtown Elyria has gone from high class to just a little below and it will be what it is going to be.”

“Now that I am retired I probably won’t do much different then I have been doing. We have the kids and grand kids to keep us busy and golf of course and my wife has compiled a large honey-do list for me.”

Vandemark, an avid golfer and member of the Oberlin Golf Club, said he would be heading down to Florida to play golf for 8 days with friends. In March he and Marilyn have a vacation planned where they will get into the car and just go. “Which ever way the wind is blowing that morning is the way we will go.”

Vandemark said he will certainly miss some of the people at the shop but said he doesn’t think he will miss going to work. “It was always an enjoyment but just within the last year or so it has become a job. If you enjoy going to work, you don’t have a job and in this last year it has become a job. I have no regrets though, I have a good life and it has been a lot of fun.”
Vandemark left the shop with no retirement parties, cakes, banners or balloons. He just showed up to work at 8 and punched out for the final time at 6.
My Final Thoughts
Bob left the shop with no retirement parties, cakes, banners or balloons. He just showed up to work at 8 and punched out for the final time at 6 after completing a jam-packed schedule. He has given only two interviews about his retirement, one to Shawn Foucher of the Chronicle Telegram and of course to TMC NEWS. The Chronicle got their story after receiving a phone call from one of Bob’s clients suggesting the article. As far as I am concerned, well I have been getting my hair cut in his shop for years so he had to grant me an interview. If Bob had his way he would have finished his shift on that final day and just quietly walked out of the door.

Throughout the interview he spoke quite a bit about the clientele that he had served over four decades proudly boasting that they were the areas finest and classiest people. A humble smile would appear as he spoke of long time clients who moved away years ago yet would still make the long drive back to downtown Elyria for him to cut their hair. There is a special reason a person would make such a long drive for a haircut, probably passing a large number of other barbershops along the way. His clientele echoes the words he uses to describe them; you see they too have been proud to have had one of the areas finest and classiest people cutting their hair for so many years.
On December 31, 2007, Vandemark left the shop as he had lived his life, with class, professionalism and dignity.


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