THE SCHIZ: Barber keeps on clipping at downtown Worthington shop
The constant bzzzz of the razor in his hand. The ding of the ancient cash register as he collects the fee from a customer. The whirrrrrr of the small vacuum that sucks up hair from the floor. And the mostly good-natured banter of his customers as...
The constant bzzzz of the razor in his hand.
The ding of the ancient cash register as he collects the fee from a customer.
The whirrrrrr of the small vacuum that sucks up hair from the floor.
And the mostly good-natured banter of his customers as they catch up on the day’s and week’s events.
Such is the soundtrack of Jim “The Schiz” Schissel’s working life.
For more than 50 years, Jim has been surrounded by those sounds -- and he has yet to tire of them, or his occupation. Being a barber suits him just fine.
A 1958 graduate of Worthington High School, Jim credits a couple of random occurrences for putting him on the path to the hair trade.
“In 1960, I was working construction in the Cities,” he related. “I was riding my motorcycle to work one morning and a car hit me and broke my leg. I was laid up for 14 months.”
During high school, Jim had worked for local retailer Barney Bishop, so when his injury made it impossible to continue in construction, he returned to Bishop’s store.
“There was an ad in the Daily Globe for a barber school that was opening in Sioux Falls,” Jim continued. “So I was in the first class at that school in 1962. I had no idea I was going to be a barber one day, and the next I was going to this school. That’s how fast it happened.”
With his barber training completed, Jim first plied his clippers in Brookings, S.D., but he soon got a call that convinced him to come back home to Worthington.
“Bill Smith had a shop in Meier’s Pool Hall, and he called me up and wanted me to come to Worthington,” Jim said. “The first time he called, my answer was ‘No way.’ But then the second call, I said, ‘OK.’”
By that time, Jim was already engaged to Rose Lang, with whom he’d gone to high school. They were married in 1964 and had two children: Mike, who lives in Rochester and works for Menards, and Lisa, now employed at the Worthington Hy-Vee. They have two granddaughters.
JIm worked for Smith for three years, then went into partnership in 1966 with Carroll Koepsell, opening J&C Barbershop across the street from the pool hall. They stayed in that location until 1992, when fire destroyed the building.
The barbering duo relocated in a former office space on Third Avenue, and the sign in the window still reads J&C Barbershop, although Schiz and Koepsell parted ways in 2004.
Now, it’s a solo operation, but Jim is never alone for too long. Whether they need a haircut or not, he has regular visitors, starting in the early morning with a few downtown workers who stop in to catch up on the news and shoot the breeze before their businesses open for the day. The barber shop is an alternative to -- or for some, an addition to -- the coffee klatches that meet around town. In the afternoon, there’s another round of drop-ins, including two retired sheriffs who stimulate conversation about Worthington’s past.
“They remember things you wouldn’t believe,” said JIm with a shake of his head. “Back in the day when cops still walked a beat, we’d have a cop in here nearly all the time. They’d say, ‘You guys know stuff before we do.’”
And from early morning to late afternoon, there are customers looking for haircuts -- most of them regulars, with the occasional newcomer to keep things lively.
“I’ve had some customers since 1963,” said Jim, noting that “some of them have, of course, passed away.”
There was a time when Jim was so busy that he didn’t ever get a chance to sit down. But now he’s grateful for a lull in the action and the chance to rest his legs.
“I’m not near as busy as I used to be, but I couldn’t be that busy, because my legs couldn’t take it,” said Jim, who had knee replacement surgery a couple years ago.
Tuesday is the shop’s busy day, owing to it being closed on Saturday. The weekend used to be his busiest time, but when Jim hit age 65, he decided to open only four days a week and chose to take Saturday off the schedule. That caused a bit of an uproar among his clients who find it hard to fit in a haircut during the week.
“But I told them I will be here at 7 (a.m. on weekdays), if you want to get a haircut before you go to work,” Jim related.
So even though the sign on the door says the hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, the shop actually opens an hour earlier than that.
And there are times when it doesn’t open at all. Jim has been known to post a sign on the door saying “Closed -- back in a week.” Until he sold his motorcycle two years ago, that was the case for an annual motorcycle trip with two of his high school chums.
“I put on a few hundred-thousand miles,” said Jim. “We took our first trip in 1960.”
A favorite destination was the Smoky Mountains, Jim’s “favorite mountains on motorcycle.”
It was hard for Jim to get rid of the motorcycle, but necessary, he shared, due to his bad knee.
“I don’t miss it as much as I thought I would,” he noted.
Over the years, Jim has witnessed many changes in hairstyles. During the long-hair years of the 1960s and 1970s, he even had a lot of female customers. And although his barber training included the fine points of a close shave, he sticks to haircuts.
“You would have to get as much for (a shave) as you do for a haircut, because it takes just as much time. And the guy would need a transfusion if I did one again,” he admitted.
When he started, the going rate for a haircut was $1.50. It’s now $10, but still a bargain, Jim points out, compared to fancier salons.
Jim, age 76, continues to renew both his shop and personal barbering licenses every year, and also annually trades in his clippers for a newer model. But the cash register -- which was already old when the shop acquired it in 1966 -- and a vacuum machine used to suck up the hair are both original equipment.
And except for the new knee, The Schiz is all original, too. And he has no plans to throw in his clippers.
“I’ve liked it ever since I started. I have no desire to retire,” he stated. “What would I do?”