DECATUR — The tonsorial arts may be fading away from corner shops nationwide, but the craft of barbering is experiencing a small renaissance in Taylorville.
National Barber College opened there in December 2011 and will graduate its ninth student next week. Five of the students — half of those currently enrolled — visited Decatur on Wednesday for a tour of shops, including Northgate Barbershop.
Owner Bob Stelbrink said he was happy to find people interested in joining the profession, which is the opposite of the trend these days.
“Who wants to be a barber? Think about the young people,” he said. “We’ve got to buy our own insurance. There’s no 401(k) program. There’s no sick days. There’s no vacation days.”
Stelbrink himself went to barber school on a whim in 1964, but his love for it hasn’t faded. He does not plan to retire.
But Debra Turvey, who owns the college, said demand for barbers is there, even as the number of them seems to be decreasing. She said she has worked as a barber in various capacities for 30 years and tells her students that they can be anything they want to be.
“You go back to cowboy time, the guy was the one going to the barbershop,” Turvey said. “They would go get all the way from a bath to a hot lather shave to a haircut, their shoes done, smoke a cigar, whatever.”
Barbers must log 1,500 hours of study and pass a written test to be licensed by the state. A full-time student at National Barber College can complete the program in nine months, but Turvey said the state allows people up to three years to meet requirements.
Bobbie Knott, 37, said she gets a huge adrenaline rush out of cutting hair. She is in her third month of study at the college.
“You’re changing somebody’s life,” said Knott, who lives in Taylorville. “If you help them with their appearance, you help them with their confidence.”
The college also drew Lacey Kleiboeker, 18, of Carlyle. She and her boyfriend live in Taylorville during the week so that she can attend the school.
“I thought it’d be an interesting field to get into,” she said. “Not many barbers are around anymore.”
Travis Collins, 29, will graduate next week. He plans to open his own place, T.C.’s Barbershop, in his hometown of Taylorville within the next month.
“I love it. I wouldn’t do anything else, honestly,” he said. “Even if my shop fails, I’d go somewhere else to barber.”
For more information about National Barber College, call 414-5416.