By Ryan Cornell
NEW MARKET -- After more than 70 years of cutting hair, one New Market barber has chosen to hang up the clippers.
James "Junior" Steptoe, 83, has worked at the same barbershop since he was a child, seemingly born with a comb in his hand. Following an injury sustained from a fall earlier this year, he decided to close the shop in May.
Steptoe's barbershop, formerly located at 9418 S. Congress St., was opened by his father in 1921. The shop was open six days a week starting at 8 a.m.
Steptoe learned to shine shoes at 10 years old and began giving haircuts not long afterward for 25 cents a customer. Before retiring in May, he was charging customers $7 per haircut.
After graduating from high school, he was drafted into the U.S. Army for the Korean War and returned to work full time at the barbershop when the war ended.
Steptoe, who now gets his hair cut by a friend in Harrisonburg, said he misses the people the most, including the regulars who would pop in every month.
"They would leave, go to college, and then they would come back and stop in to see you," he said. "They would go ahead to work and come back."
He's seen mayors come and go as customers in his shop, styles evolve from flattop cuts to long-haired coiffures, but he said one of the biggest changes has been the type of barber cutting the hair. These days, he said, female hairdressers are taking over the industry.
His wife, Martha, recounted when his sister tried barbering for two years.
"The men complained they did not want a woman touching them," she said. "Now it's the other way around, I guess."
Traditionally a magnet for socializing and town gossip, the barbershop has seen its role as a hub diminish over the years, Steptoe said.
He recalled the flood of customers that came in most Saturdays.
"That's when the farmers came to town and they would sell all day and they would talk to one another, but people don't wait anymore," he said. "So you don't get stories because people are in and out all the time and they don't wait long enough to tell their story."
Steptoe will be recognized for his years of service by the New Market Town Council at its meeting at 7:30 p.m. today.
Contact staff writer Ryan Cornell at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org