The Heller name has been a permanent fixture in the 1000 block of High Street for 100 years. Leonidas was the first of the four generations of Heller barbers. He began cutting hair in the 1870s, taught his son, Perry, the trade in the 1890s, who in turn taught his two sons, Max and Bert, to barber in the 1920s. Most of their barbering was done on the north side of High Street just a couple doors from the corner of St. Marys Avenue.
Perry opened a barbershop where the two-story building with the Heller name on top now stands in 1913. He moved the original shop one lot to the east in 1926 and had the two-story building constructed on the spot of the first barbershop.
Lawrence (everybody calls him Larry) Heller, the last of the line, has been cutting hair in the two-chair shop built by his dad, Bert, two doors east of the original one for 63 years, and has no intention of hanging up his scissors and comb any time soon. “As long as I feel good,” he says, “I'll be in here all day Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and till noon on Friday.
“My grandfather, Perry, got the family barber business rolling in 1910 when he moved his family from Fowlerton and opened a shop just a couple blocks south of here on St. Marys Avenue. Uncle Max and my dad grew up in his shop shining shoes, lathering customers, shaving necks and cleaning up, a task they greatly disliked because of the mess around the brass spittoon. Both of them went directly into barbering at age 16 instead of finishing high school. Back then there were no apprenticeships and no licensing law. Grandfather declared them barbers, and they started cutting hair.
“The shop in those days was sort of a community center or hangout with a card room in the back, along with a bathtub folks could rent for 25 cents. The pharmacy next door made booze from medical alcohol during Prohibition.”
After graduating from North Side High School in 1949, Larry considered attending Butler University to play football or Bowling Green State University for track. “I had been cleaning up in dad's shop since I was a kid. Dad suggested I consider being a barber even though I'd never get rich. He pointed out, however, that I would always have a job. He offered to pay for barber school so I took him up on it and attended Moler Barber School in St. Louis for six months and became an apprentice working with my dad who was a Master Barber.”
In order to become an apprentice in Indiana Heller had to pass the test at the barber college in Indianapolis. He took his neighbor Ken Parisot along to be his “test dummy” and passed with flying colors. A year-and-a-half later he was back in Indy to take the test for his barber license. This time he took his good friend Ed Bowser to be his “pretend customer” and once again passed and became an independent contractor in his dad's shop in 1952. Bowser not only got a free hair cut, but later became Heller's brother in law.
Business took a turn for the worse in the mid 70s when weekly or every-other-week hair cuts gave way to long hair. Heller took a second shift job at Dana and worked in the barber shop in the mornings with his father. He retired from Dana in 1996 after 23 years and five months and returned to the shop full time. “I've got customers who have been coming to me for 60 years and now I do their children and grandchildren's hair. I've cut four and five generations of hair in the same family. I'm the fourth generation of Heller barbers to cut the same person's head of hair. I also cut hair regularly at Harbor Assisted Living facility.”
Though none of Heller's five sons chose barbering as their career path, the family name will always be a part of the neighborhood atop the two-story building built by his grandfather.