Leon's Barbershop, 3044 Sherman Ave., is one of the oldest Black barbershops in Indianapolis having been at its current location for 30 years.
Owner Leon Taylor, who has been a barber for 45 years, heads the oldest group of Black barbers in the city.
Taylor's barbers include Lena Talley, 41 years, Illinois "Chico" Sam, more than 30 years, and Tom Jones, 25 years. "We've always had four chairs in here," said Taylor. "That's all we've ever needed." Leon's hours: 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday.; 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday; and 12 p.m.-6 p.m. Monday.Richard Nixon occupied the White House, bell-bottoms were the fashion of the day, and Americans were at odds amongst themselves over the Vietnam War. This period of such significant change was the ideal time for two Indianapolis women, Lena Talley and Cheryl Livers, to pursue jobs as barbers, which was certainly not a traditional career for women in 1970.
A friend encouraged Talley to consider becoming a barber because she had "a personality that blended with people." After completing training at Poro Barber College in Indianapolis, Talley went to work at Moore's Barber shop at 25th and West streets, but not for long. Nine months later, in October 1971, she moved to Leon's Barbershop, which was at 34th Street and Sherman Drive, where she has been employed for 41 years.
"Working around men all the time is quite an experience," said Talley, who stayed with Leon's when the shop moved to its current address at 3044 N. Sherman Dr.
You can hear just about anything discussed in a barbershop: sports, celebrity gossip, who is getting married, divorced, or cheating on his spouse. Over the years, Talley has given advice to men about their marriages, children and jobs.
"They'd give advice and ask for advice," Talley said. "It's fascinating to hear men talk with women about things like sports. We have to be up on all of the teams, players, standings and the latest sports news because that is what our clients are going to talk about when they come in here."
Talley and Livers said things have changed in their profession over the years. When Livers, who has been a barber for 44 years, first began cutting hair, men would make sure that they stayed well groomed through regular visits to the barbershop.
"When I first started, men took better care of themselves," said Livers. "We would not only give haircuts, but perms, massages, tints and shampoos. A Black man would always get his hair cut."
Livers and Talley said hairstyles evolved over the years. Along with everybody else, the barbers went through different fads, such as Afros, braids, and even baldness, a la Isaac Hayes. "Now, they have what you call ‘barber-stylists,'" said Livers, who has known Talley since both started barbering.
The two Black barbers said they used to be able to make a good living from their profession, but it seems as though fewer people are getting regular haircuts nowadays. Still their clientele, many of whom mirror the ladies' ages, remain faithful.
Leon's Barbershop has a team of barbers that have been together longer than any group of Black barbers in Indianapolis, said owner Leon Taylor. Besides Talley at 41 years, Taylor's other barbers are Illinois "Chico" Sam (30 years) and Tom Jones (25 years). Taylor has been cutting hair 45 years.
"She has been an asset to us," the owner said of Talley. "She gives the shop a different flavor; adds a special dimension."
Michael Harden, who has gotten his hair trimmed by Talley at Leon's for more than 30 years, agreed. "No matter where I have moved, I have always come back here to get my haircut," said Harden, who lives in Hendricks County. "It's a typical Black business; great atmosphere, lots of good conversation and you get to see everybody again."
In her 41 years as a barber, Talley remarked, "I don't think there could have been a better person to work under than Leon."
Livers added, "During my years as a barber, I cultivated relationships that have lasted a lifetime. The kids grew up and became parents. Our customers are a big part of our lives. They become family; barbers don't retire, they just fade away."