Upon entering Maxwell’s Barber Shop, the barbers’ razors ring in harmony.
“Hey, Corbin, come on in,” Brian Richards, owner of Maxwell’s Barber Shop at 2800 E Memorial Dr., says. Almost as soon as he spots a guest, he can call out their name. Metal signs with wisecracks layer the walls above the barbers’ heads, including a board that states their prices, which reads “Free Harassment.”
And as promised, the barbers and customers alike take full advantage and sling jokes at each other’s expense, bellowing laughter all the while.
There are no hard feelings, however – these patrons have come to Maxwell’s for years, and the barbers have become more like brothers than businessmen.
Maxwell’s Barber Shop has been in business for 62 years with three different owners in its history. All three of them run the shop with the same ethos: the customer comes first.
Richards, current owner of Maxwell’s Barber Shop, began cutting hair in Fairmount, a small town about 40 minutes northwest of Muncie. Robert Kibbey, owner of the Main Street Barber Shop in Fairmount and Richards’s childhood barber, took note of the volatile job market in the factories where Richards worked. Kibbey offered him a steadier job in his Fairmount shop, which Richards accepted.
“A year after I quit and went to barber school, the Bell Packaging factory in Marion where I worked shut down,” Richards said. “God had his hand on the whole entire situation, and I feel he (God) led me where I needed to be.”
In that shop, patrons would often go to Kibbey instead of Richards for haircuts. Fairmount had a population of 3,200 when Richards lived there, which was too small to need two barbers, he said.
“When you already have a barber that has already been there… 52 years,” Richards said, “it’s hard to go in there and make a good living because most of the people go to him.”
By chance, Richards’s grandfather was visiting his brother in Muncie in December 2000. They both decided to get their hair cut at Maxwell's Barber Shop, where his brother usually went.
When Richards’s grandfather told Bob Maxwell and Marion Lee Maxwell (the owner and his father, respectively) that his grandson was also a barber, they asked if Richards was looking for a job.
“I’ve worked there ever since,” Richards said.
Bob was the owner at the time, and Marion was the owner before him. However, when both of his parents passed in 2009, Bob sold the barber shop to Richards and retired a year later.
Many barbers have worked at Maxwell’s, but currently there are three barbers and there will be another one joining them once he receives his barber certification, which will be in about one week.
According to the Beauty School Director,, requirements vary from state to state but usually require a 1,500-hour-long program involving classwork, apprenticeship and a final written exam.
Maxwell’s Barber Shop has many long-term clients who come in regularly for their haircuts, like Joe King, who has been coming to Maxwell’s for 35 years and is one of its longest-running clients.
“I love the camaraderie,” King said. “You go in there, you talk to the guys, see how they're doing – you get a great haircut for the money – I guess it’s just a sense of loyalty that keeps me coming back.”
Richards holds high standards for his barbers, asking not just that they can cut hair well, but also that they respect their customers and treat them like family.
“We go to the funeral home to give [final] haircuts, we go to the hospitals for our customers’ when their wives call us, we go to nursing homes to take care of them,” Richards said. “The way we look at it is that they’ve taken care of us for years. We can’t neglect them when they need us the most.”
On August 3, Richards announced on Facebook that law enforcement officers from any department and agency can receive free haircuts at Maxwell’s throughout August. It was a “knee-jerk reaction,” he said, to the wave of violence the previous month and the killing of Noah Shahnavaz in the line of duty on July 31.
“A large… percentage of people are out there trying to black the eye of law enforcement, and I just wanted them to know and understand that not everyone felt that way,” Richards said.
A former corrections officer at the Grant County Jail, Richards pitched the idea to his co-worker and partner Nick Richards, who suggested that they also take donations to return to the law enforcement community in the form of gift cards. So far, Maxwell’s has given 50 free haircuts to law enforcement officers.
“I think it’s something really good that… the whole crew is doing down there [at Maxwell’s],” David Brown, a Lieutenant of the Delaware County Sheriff's department, said
He used to work as a tool and die maker but felt a calling to public service, he said. Brown began part-time as a reserve officer, but his work with the police gradually drew him away from his trade job, working his way up to supervisor and later lieutenant at the Delaware County Sheriff's department.
“Most people think you’re crazy when you take a job and lose as much money as you make to do it,” Brown said, “but you only live once, and my goal is to get out there, live life, try things and give back to my community.”
Like Joe King, Brown has gone to Maxwell’s for his haircuts ever since he was a kid (in his case, five years old). He feels a sense of loyalty to the small, old-fashioned barbershop, he says.
“I was brought up [to] take care of my… local businesses,” Brown said. “Those are the ones in your community that are going to take care of you.”
Brown is grateful for the attention that Maxwell’s Barber Shop has received on account of Richards’ initiative with law enforcement, but more grateful for the impact it had with the law enforcement community, he said.
“People talk about doing this or doing that… but [Maxwell’s] put their money where their mouth was,” Brown said.
As of August 22, Maxwell’s has raised $1,100 for the local law enforcement community, which will be broken up into $20 gift cards and distributed to Muncie Police Department and Delaware County Sheriff's Office, among other local police departments. Though police officers try to express their gratitude, Brian Richards and Nick Richards are dead-set on giving back to their community’s police force.
“We [police officers] will try to pay for their services and Brian and Nick won’t take it,” Brown said. “If we try to leave a hefty tip, they say ‘Okay, but it’ll find its way into the donation box.’”
Contact Miguel Naranjo with comments at email@example.com.