STERLING – Marty Wolf joked that he always ends up in Jean Dempsey’s barber chair because it’s empty.
But then the truth came out. Marty, who gets his hair cut every 2 weeks, rearranges his schedule to visit the Sterling Barbershop early in the week, when Jean is on duty.
Jean, 59, who started at the barbershop in 1986, has cut Marty’s hair for more than a quarter century. His boys used to be her customers.
But when she cut Marty’s hair last week, it was the last time. She is retiring today.
She said she avoids talking politics with her customers, but sports is fair game. Memorabilia for Chicago teams fill the shop’s walls.
“She’s a Bears fan; I’m a Bears fan,” Marty said.
After she finished his cut, he gave her a tip, then hugged her.
“I like to come in here and tease her,” said Marty, 56.
The Sterling Barbershop, which opened in 1926, is a downtown institution. It has three chairs. Two of them are for owner Richie Jomant, 31, and his brother, Josh Jomant, 28.
Jean splits the middle one with the Jomants’ father, Mark, 56. She works Mondays and Tuesdays; Mark handles the latter part of the week.
Richie, who bought the shop 5 years ago, calls it the “temple of truth.” Jean agreed, saying everyone gets caught up on local happenings while getting their haircuts.
Like Jean, Richie steers conversations away from politics.
“I have had customers talk politics, but it can get ugly,” he said. “They set you up with questions like, ‘What do you think about Obama?’”
Richie said he’ll miss Jean.
“What do I appreciate about Jean? Anytime I ask her to do something, she has always been happy to do it.”
“At least to your face,” his brother joked.
Josh said Jean is “fun to poke fun of.”
Jean said she’ll miss all of her favorite customers. Does that include Marty?
Of course, she said. Then again, she added, “I tell all of my customers they’re my favorites.”
To say goodbye
The Sterling Barbershop invites the public to say goodbye to longtime barber Jean Dempsey at its annual customer appreciation day, from 10 a.m. to noon June 15 at the shop, 4 E. Fourth St. Food will be provided.
Call 815-625-3331 for more information.