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Traditional barber reflects on a half-century of cutting hair

Posted on Thursday, January 26, 2023 at 10:21 pm

By Woodrow Polston

Harold’s Vandalia Barber Shop and Institute of Higher Learning located at 215 B South Main Street is operated by Master Barber Harold Williams. Having been in the barber business for more than 50 years, Williams has established a regular customer base over the years, including many who come into the shop just to shoot the breeze. Williams said that he started out in St. Louis.
“I started in 1969 in St. Louis and I have been in Vandalia since 1972,” said Williams. “I also had a shop in Farber for a while, which was a good exercise in starvation because of the lack of walk-in traffic there at the time. There was a lot of competition in the barber business when I first opened up here in Vandalia. I believe there were about five other barbers who were operating in the area. Back then, when we went to barber college we had to spend 1,000 hours of schooling and practical. After that, we had to spend a year and a half as an apprentice under another barber, and that was tough,” he added.
As Williams wielded his clippers, a variety of conversations circled around history and politics. Williams explained that his business title “Institute of Higher Learning” was an exaggerated definition of the barbershop discussions he has with his customers.
“There are quite a few people who come in simply for the philosophy here,” said Williams. “We sit and talk about this and that in the barbershop—everything from local stories to world news. This area certainly has a rich history worth discussing. You know, every town has its stories and Vandalia is no exception,” he added.
Williams had just finished a haircut for a satisfied customer who handed him $12, but he refused the $2 tip. His customer, former Van-Far High School Principal Ron Stallcup exclaimed, “Well I will split it with you then,” and handed him $1 back. As he finished up his last haircut for the day, Williams prepared to close the shop around 5 p.m.
According to, Traditional barbers will focus primarily (if not entirely) on men’s services, like cutting, grooming, and styling hair and facial hair. You can expect old-school straight razor shaves, neck massages, classic haircuts, (potentially) trendier hairstyles, hot lather facials, and beard or mustache trims. The American Barber Association recognizes master barbers as those who have been actively practicing the craft of barbering for at least seven years or have been designated by their State as a “Master Barber.” Masters barbers are exemplary in professionalism and skill level.
Harold’s Vandalia Barber Shop is open Tuesday through Thursday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call 573-594-3521.