A lifetime at The Loop: Barber retires, sells business after 47 years
By David Blanchette
For 47 years, Gary Donohoo has been cutting hair at The Loop barbershop at 203 W. Morgan St. in downtown Jacksonville. That era came to an end on March 22 when he retired and officially sold the business to a friend, Cindy Adams, who will continue to operate at that location under the name Li’l Ole Barber Shop.
“I like my work and I enjoy coming up and visiting with people,” Donohoo said. “Barbers, bartenders and beauticians, we hear a lot. I never talk about my customers or the stories they have told me, but I did repeat funny stories.”
Donohoo purchased The Loop and started barbering there on April 1, 1976. He never left and has seen generations of customers through his nearly five decades in business.
“I have customers today that I started working on in 1976,” Donohoo said. “I worked on a lot of kids back in the 1980s and 1990s. As time went by, the number of kids dropped off a little bit, and most of my customers the past 20 years or so have been in their 30s to the 90s and it’s mostly just regular haircuts.”
Donohoo has seen several hair trends come and go during his years in business, including the long men’s hairstyles of the 1960s and 1970s that actually helped his business.
“That put a lot of barbers out of business because a lot of barbers refused to cut long hair,” Donohoo said. “I took a two-day class in Springfield in 1975 that cost me $500, and they taught us how to razor cut and style and blow-dry hair. It was the best money I ever spent.
“We also used to shave faces and around the ears, but we quit that in the 1980s when AIDS came in. But with these clippers now, they cut so close you don’t need to shave.”
Donohoo grew up in the Pike County community of Pearl. He served in the U.S. Navy on an aircraft carrier in Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. Then, after getting out of the service, his older brother Kenny, who was a barber, inspired him to join the profession.
Gary Donohoo lived in Pittsfield for a while and moved to Jacksonville in December 1971, shortly after marrying his wife of nearly 52 years, Sharon. He played as a drummer in a band that had gigs in Jacksonville plus he attended barber school in Springfield — and with Sharon working at Bound to Stay Bound, the couple decided that living in Jacksonville was the best choice.
September 1971, Donohoo started at National Barber College in Springfield. He graduated in September 1972, then went to work for Clement Anders at Anders Barber Shop in Winchester that same year in December, where Donohoo served two years and three months in an apprenticeship.
Donohoo left Anders in July 1975 to barber at the Men’s Room at Fairhills Mall in Springfield. After working there for seven months, he had the opportunity to purchase The Loop from the previous owners, Jim Parker and Bill Fairfield.
Donohoo was the sole barber at The Loop for all his 47 years in business. When he decided to retire, he asked his nephew Roger Donohoo, the owner of three central Illinois barbershops, to take over the Jacksonville shop. His nephew agreed at first, but then decided he had too much on his plate already. That’s when Gary Donohoo approached Cindy Adams at Hair on the Square in downtown Jacksonville.
“Gary found out we were closing down and he asked if I had anywhere to go,” Adams said. “I was excited and honored that he asked me.”
From Sacramento, California, Adams moved to Jacksonville in 1997. She graduated from beauty school and worked at Hair on the Square for 12 years. She got to know Donohoo through a mutual friend with whom she worked, Gary Hoots. Adams has been cutting and styling hair for 25 years.
“I’m going to keep most of what’s here at the barbershop, I like the old time look of the place,” Adams said. “It’s been a barbershop for almost 80 years, and we want to keep it a barbershop.”
Adams and Chris Thomas, also from Hair on the Square, operate Li’l Ole Barber Shop, and Adams specializes in men’s haircuts and beard trims. The shop, which is right next to Don’s Place, is open from 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Monday through Friday and from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturday. Adams does veterans’ haircuts for $10.
Donohoo intends to keep busy in his retirement. Besides cutting hair part-time, he will continue playing drums and singing. He currently performs with Geezer, an area band that includes two friends who are also members of the local band Tapestry. Donohoo’s two sons, Troy and Craig, also play drums but did not follow their father into the barber business.
Donohoo couldn’t imagine having done anything else with his professional life, and what he enjoyed the most was talking with his customers.
“A good personality helps, and you need to be a conversationalist,” Donohoo said. “Some customers want to talk, and some don’t — and we pick up on that.”