BY PAUL BICKLEY
In July 2014, Rodney Pheifer visited Ward’s Downtown Barber Shop in Bloomington to look at two chairs for his expanding barbershop in Monrovia, Indiana. “I bought the chairs right away,” he says. “Driving home, I thought about how cool the shop was and its great location — a glass storefront on a downtown street.”
Two days later, Pheifer bought the business, located at 220 N. Walnut, and renamed it Hot Rod’s Downtown Barbershop.
Located next to The Bluebird Nightclub, the shop harkens back to a bygone age. The exterior sports a red, white, and blue awning; a hand-painted window sign; and a spinning, lighted barber pole. Inside, vintage straight razors, oil cans, hubcaps, and car bugle horns line the walls. In a nod to the shop’s history, retired barber Hyscel Ward’s framed photo of Floyd Grigsby (of Grigsby & McAdams Barber Shop, which had occupied the space for some 25 years before Ward took over in 1980) is still on display. “I like old things, and this place is like a museum,” Pheifer says. He adds, “I think Hyscel would be proud that it’s still going.”
Pheifer still works at the original Hot Rod’s in Monrovia, which explains the Bloomington shop’s unusual noon to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday hours. But Pheifer says the arrangement has worked out well. “I get students here in the afternoons and working people and diners in the evenings,” he says.
Still, the schedule requires dedication to the craft. Each day he’s in Bloomington means a 90-minute commute on top of at least eight hours in the shop. The Saturday before Indiana University’s spring break last year, he worked a 15-hour day.
Pheifer senses a national barbershop resurgence. “What was common is now rare and intriguing,” he says, reporting that bands playing at The Bluebird sit in his barber chairs for photo sessions and student filmmakers shoot scenes at Hot Rod’s. Pheifer, a master barber, adds that today’s men’s styles — fades, pompadours, and 1920s and ’30s business cuts — require tools and techniques not all stylists are trained to use.
And barbers generally charge less than salons. Haircuts at his shop run $12–$14, straight-razor shaves are $12, and full-beard trims are $10.
The bottom line, Pheifer says: “Customers should feel good about what they got and what they paid for it.”