I attended Eastern Illinois University during a time of change, when longtime fixtures of the community disappeared and new things rose. EIU’s campus is very different from when I first set foot there, but the town of Charleston has changed as well.
Aaron’s Barbershop was local institution, and I was lucky to get my haircut by the man himself. His shop, tucked in a strip mall across the street from campus, is empty now—a sad remnant of the past. When I look inside, I can still see the red bench where I waited for a haircut, and the glass case that held old hair care products and candy for sale, and an old cash register. A thin layer of dust covers the empty shelves.
Aaron Buchanan opened his barber shop in the University Village strip mall at Fourth Street and Lincoln avenue, across the street from EIU’s campus, in 1963 or ’64. He charged 50 cents. My dad attended EIU from 1963 to 1967, and he remembers getting his hair cut by Aaron.
Aaron’s barbershop was originally located next to Ike’s Little Campus, a restaurant/bar where former Illinois governor Jim Edgar once worked, but moved to its location at 403 Lincoln Avenue in 1967. His wife, Peggy Jean, and he had six children, two of whom grew up to work alongside him in the barbershop.
In 1993, Aaron reminisced that Charleston had gone from a town of 27 barbers to about seven. His location, a short walk from the dorms, insured he always had a steady stream of customers. “There are kids in college who come to me and I’ve cut their hair all their lives, and I’ve cut their dads’ hair before them and maybe even their grandfathers’,” he told the Daily Eastern News.
Aaron was old school. He shaved the back of your neck and behind your ears with a straight razor using warm shaving cream and finished it off with a splash of aftershave. I can still smell the crisp medley.
Aaron Buchanan died in 2009, and his daughter, Denise Fudge, took over the business for several years. Gone was the friendly old man and his Coca-Cola memorabilia, but the memories remained. “Aaron’s… served as the epitome of small town Americana where people know when you are sick and care when you die,” longtime patron Doug McGaghie eulogized in the Times-Courier.
Aaron’s Barbershop finally closed its doors sometime after 2012. I graduated with an MA in History from EIU in 2008, so I moved away months before Aaron gave his final haircut. I’m glad I was fortunate to attend EIU at a time when I could get my haircut by the same man my father had 40 years earlier.
- “Local barber an Eastern tradition,” The Daily Eastern News (Charleston) 4 Nov 1993.
- “Barber of 50 years still not ready for his retirement,” The Daily Eastern News (Charleston) 18 Oct 2001.
- “Aaron’s was a constant in a wave of change,” JG-TC (Charleston) 29 Mar 2009.
- “Businesses adjacent to EIU have advantages — and challenges,” JG-TC (Charleston) 21 Mar 2012.