Only in Indiana: Empty Chair

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - If you go to the Shadeland Barber Shop, you get more than just a haircut.

"I don't even have to tell him what I want, said longtime customer Eric Zike. "I just come in and sit down. He remembers."

We asked barber Max Maxwell what Zike wanted.

"He wants to please his wife," Maxwell said.

It's a Cheers-like atmosphere.

"They broke the mold with him. He likes people and he does like to talk a lot," shop owner Donna Mardi said of Maxwell.

I asked Maxwell about an offhanded remark he had made about not being very good looking.

"I don't know," he said. "I forgot what I said now."

The room broke out in laughter.

"We have a little fun with him about who talks more," Mardi said. "I think it's him.

It's a place where everyone knows your name and much, much more. That's how the word got out about Maxwell.

"Yeah, Max has been cutting my hair for what, 50 years?" said another customer.

At 89, Maxwell has decided to hang it up, and who can blame him? After all, he started cutting hair in 1955, the very same year the first McDonald's opened. Ike was president. James Dead died. The hot rods of the era are on display in a coffee table book in the waiting area of the shop where Maxwell has cut hair for the last 22 years. Many of his customers have moved around with him.

Yeah, 50 years, 50 years. He gives a great haircut plus he's like an old friend," another customer observed.

Many of his customers have been with him for a long time. What most people don't know is he still cuts the hair for many of those who can no longer sit in his chair. He goes to them.

He's just a great human being and even a better barber," Mardi said.

"Even though I only work one day a week, I do not enjoy it as much as I did before. Everyone is still nice but when your whole life changes," Max said.

His whole life changed two years ago.

"We went together for two years, married for 66. About the only thing I know," he told us.

He lost Iris, the love of his life and mother of their two daughters two years ago. Fortunately, he is surrounded by family.

"He's going to be missed. The two down here are going to do a good job but it's not going to be Max," another customer declared.

"Anything planned to do or just take it easy?" a customer asked Maxwell.

"I'm going to end up moving to Tennessee probably by the end of the next month some time," he shared.

We asked Mardi what she was going to do after that next Thursday.

"I don't know," she answered.

"It's hard to walk away from people. Just like family. You either walk away or they cart you away," Maxwell said, breaking up the emotion that was building around him.

"It's going to be a tough day. It's going to be hard. Just even talking about it is hard. It will be tough," Mardi said. Her voice was cracking as she thought about it, so she tried to concentrate on her customer's haircut.

For the first time in 63 years, Maxwell's chair will be empty.

But he's earned it.

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