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Chamber recognizes longtime barbershop on South Congress St.
By Preston Knight -- firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW MARKET -- James "Junior" Steptoe drowns out the background noise around him, ever focused on the next head of hair.
The radio spouts the day's news, the scanner provides emergency updates, the phone rings on occasion. For his part, Steptoe adds the buzz of a hair clipper, the true music to his ears.
For 90 years, the barbershop, at 9418 S. Congress St., has served and survived. Steptoe's father started the business, and at 79, he is determined to keep it going.
The New Market Area Chamber of Commerce honored Steptoe's shop as its business of the year at last week's annual banquet.
Steptoe also was recognized as the chamber's citizen of the year.
"People in New Market are different than they are anywhere else in the world," he said Monday. "They're better."
Steptoe has cut nothing except hair since assuming control of the business after his father's death in 1966. The look and feel of the establishment and, more importantly, the way customers are treated, are largely unchanged.
"He's a good man," said Don Winstanley, 77, a Woodstock resident who has visited Steptoe monthly for the last seven years. "He's been here forever."
Steptoe said when his father opened the barbershop, it was one of the few jobs a black man could do. Local farmers soon became regulars, flooding the business on Saturdays.
At 10, Steptoe shined shoes in the shop, and some of those farmers, who were not overly concerned about their appearance, requested that the boy finish the haircuts started by his father.
"That's the way that I learned," Steptoe said.
Adorning the walls are pictures of the barber's combs during his patrons' travels to various places. His son-in-law took one to Iraq several years ago, and a plaque with the comb, noting Steptoe's support of the U.S. military, is among the photographs.
"I've never been anywhere," he said, "but my combs have."
Steptoe doesn't recall ever taking a vacation. And he's not about to contemplate retirement.
"You see people retire and sit around, and it's not long before they dry up," he said.
With a full range of customers in search of a $7 haircut, Steptoe expects to stay busy enough. On Monday, Winstanley came in shortly after a Broadway High School graduate's first visit.
Steptoe asked Winstanley if he wanted "the usual."
"Yeah," Winstanley said, "about medium I guess."
That's Steptoe's cue for his own sound of music.