Southport grad has cut hair for 57 years
Tom Bryant may have closed Bryant’s Barber Shop – a fixture near Shelby Street and Hanna Avenue for 53 years – but that doesn’t mean he is retiring his scissors. He’s putting them to use in a shop that he’s built in a barn on his homestead near Acton.
“I will cut hair until I can’t cut anymore,” said Bryant, 72, who still enjoys good health.
“There has been a Bryant’s Barber Shop in Indianapolis since 1929,” he said. “That’s when my dad opened his shop at Washington and State streets. He died when I was 10, and my brother took over for him. I started tinkering with the barber equipment in our basement and started cutting hair when I was 15. I’ve been cutting the hair of one of my clients – a trial lawyer – for 57 years.”
Bryant pointed out that his new shop features the chair that his dad used in his shop. “I got my first haircut sitting in that chair,” he said.
Bryant, who graduated from Southport High in 1963 and barber school in 1964, recalls that he once cut the hair of 11 boys one afternoon for 50 cents a pop. “I used to trim Louie Dampier’s (Southport basketball legend for those unfamiliar with the name) every week.
“My mom drove me to the Mafett Standard gas station next to the Tee Pee drive-in restaurant on Madison Avenue (2800 block) so I could wash cars on weekends. I had all kinds of money. I’ve always been a workaholic.”
Bryant was raised and lived in Lindbergh Heights, near Carson Avenue and Thompson Road, for 55 years. He and his wife of 53 years, Judy, raised their children, Denise and Pam, there. The Bryants have three grandchildren, Erin, Colton and Marlee, and one great-grandson, Aiden, who lives with them.
Bryant closed his shop because he sold the land that it sits on and the adjoining buildings and apartments to the University of Indianapolis, which will develop the property.
“They approached me four years ago, but when I told them what I wanted, they left me alone,” he said. “They approached me earlier this year and we came to an agreement. I’m going to donate $100,000 of the sale to the university’s swimming program because I have been swimming in their pool for 35 years. That exercise has helped to save my life. Swimming is really good for me.”
One of Bryant’s last customers to stop by the shop – which closed Dec. 4 – was Chuck Underwood. “I really didn’t need a haircut, but I stopped in and said, ‘By God, give me one last cut,’ ” said a laughing Underwood while taking off his hat to reveal that he was nearly bald.
“Even though I don’t have much hair, Tom always styled it. He was a good and personable barber, and he had a nice little shop. He cut my hair for 52 years.”
Another longtime customer is Ronald Corn, who first patronized Bryant in 1974. “I liked the way he cut my hair, and I stayed with him,” said the 1967 graduate of Manual High School. “If Tom was busy with a customer, I waited until he finished. Tom knew how I wanted my hair cut. This wasn’t a ‘fast-food’ shop.”
With Bryant, Corn was confident that he would always get a good haircut. “Bryant’s wasn’t like one of those places where you might get a bad cut and have to wear a hat for a couple of weeks, like some of my friends who got poor cuts at other shops.”
Bryant, who noted that between 40 and 50 barbers worked for him over the years at his four-chair shop, said the key to being a successful barber is to know about all the styles. “It’s better to learn them all because styles come and go, and everybody is wearing something different. While anything goes, fades are popular. There really is no ‘in’ style. A cut can cost anywhere from $12 to $25.
“I never did count my clients, just the money. Because that’s all Uncle Same is interested in,” said Bryant, whose income was supplemented by his real estate interests.
“If it weren’t for Christ, I wouldn’t have anything. He has blessed me deeply.”
Now with the additional free time, Bryant and his wife will have more time to travel, especially to Florida and the East Coast.
“I don’t know how many of my old customers will come see me at my new shop (Corn did last week). I’ll just have to wait and see.”