Barbershop is likely county’s oldest local business

Barbershop is likely county’s oldest local business
Scott Daniels

John Dinger took over from Sam Mears in 2001. The barbershop has been in continuous operation for about 130 years, if not longer.


A small, unobtrusive red building on South Broadway in New Philadelphia is home to a historic achievement: Though there have been a few owners over the years, it is likely the oldest continuously operating business in Tuscarawas County.

Dinger’s Barbershop, owned by John Dinger of Gnadenhutten, has been keeping customers in good trim since sometime in the 1880s. The building itself is still older, predating the larger and more ornate Victorian era structures surrounding it.

“We have record of a customer mentioning in 1910 that he had been coming here to get his hair cut for 22 years,” Dinger said as he snipped away at the latest of the tens of thousands of men who have occupied the chairs since that time. “So we know it goes back at least that far. We really have no way of knowing what was here before that, but it’s possible it has always been a barber shop.”

The building traces back to about 1840, a time when men visited the barber to be shaved.

Sam Mears, the previous shop owner, still comes to the old place to cut hair every Monday and Tuesday morning to give Dinger a break and keep busy at the career he chose for himself in the 1960s and has never regretted. The shop still wears the remodel Mears accomplished in 1972, a remodeling which he does regret somewhat.

Pointing to an old photo on the wall, Mears reflected on the way the place looked up until that time. “It looked just like that picture, pretty much,” he said, “the old chairs, marble sinks and big wooden back wall with mirrors — everything but the gas lights.”

All of it came out in favor of the then-fashionable rough wood paneling and modern fixtures of the Nixon era. “It wasn’t two years later that all that Victorian stuff became really popular again,” Mears said.

A few short slabs of marble stashed in the back of the building are all that remain.

The building still has a dirt floor in the basement. Taking walk-ins only, there has never been a telephone in the shop. “I just didn’t want to fool with the interruptions,” Mears said.

The shop was operated, beginning in 1910, by three generations of the Shawver family. Mears came on board in 1961 and took over when illness forced a sale later that decade. Dinger began cutting hair with Mears in 1990, taking over in 2001.

Dinger’s Barbershop has the traditional revolving red and white barber pole out front and little else to mark it. Inside are some of the mounted deer and fishing trophies Mears notched up in 60 years of cutting hair. An avid fisherman and outdoorsman, he and wife Ann made annual trips to get away from the shop for some fishing in Canada with a group of longtime friends.

Dinger divides his time between the barbershop and his successful sheep farm, Cross Creek Club Lambs, and customers know they’ll most likely catch the barber pole turning outside in the afternoons.

Like many local businesses, the coronavirus outbreak meant a hard few months of no income as salons and barbershops across the state were shuttered in March. Reopening saw a deluge of furry men anxious to regain respectability, then a tapering off to a more normal customer count.

Mears has cut the hair of five generations of the same families in his time with the scissors. “The biggest change in the business I saw in that time was the frequency customers used to come get hair cuts,” he said. “In the ‘60s pretty much 85% of the business were flat tops, and they didn’t want those cuts to get very long, so they were in every 10 days or so. Now guys let things get pretty shaggy before they get it cut.”

Mears has never thought twice about his chosen career. “This is the job I wanted, and I wouldn’t change anything,” he said. “My kids always said their dad didn’t do any work; he just went downtown to have fun and talk to friends. That’s pretty much right.”

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