Coralville barber to retire after cutting hair since 1965

A cut above the rest

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CORALVILLE – Dave’s Barber Shop is the type of place where within five minutes of entering, you have heard a couple of stories and several words that can’t be printed in a family newspaper.

Of course, an hour later, as a 3-year-old boy gets his hair cut, the talk is all Christmas toys and the snow.

Come Saturday, those conversations will occur without the shop’s namesake, Dave Sondag. He’s retiring after more than 45 years of cutting hair in Coralville, including out of the same storefront near the intersection of First Avenue and Second Street since 1968.

“Everyone asks, ‘What are you going to do? What are you going to do?’ ” Sondag, 67, said of retirement. “I say, ‘I don’t know. I have to figure that out.’ ”

Minus a brief break from barbering in the 1980s, he’s known what he was going to do since 1965, when he started cutting hair after a talk with a local barber led him to take up the profession.

Think about that for a moment. When Sondag became a barber, the Beatles-inspired mop-top haircut was all the rage.

Sondag worked for Tom Ridenour until the two became partners about a decade and a half ago. Ridenour retired several years ago.

Now, Mike Walker, who started at the barbershop five years ago, will take over. Walker said he won’t change anything but plans to hire a new barber.

That means people will still walk into the long and narrow space with the windows looking out onto the Coralville Strip, settle into one of the two 1940s-era barber chairs and get a haircut that is heavy on talk of the day’s news, sports and, depending on who’s present, some ribald humor.

Rex Brandstatter of Coralville has been going to the barbershop since the 1960s. Now 63, he joked that he keeps coming back for one reason:  I “hope to someday get a good haircut.”

Coralville City Administrator Kelly Hayworth, a client since 1988, said having a locally owned small business thrive for so many decades is good for the city.

The barbershop survived the 2008 flood, although being under 4 feet of water shut it down for five months and had Sondag cutting hair out of the garage of his Iowa City home.

Hayworth also said Dave’s is full of rumors and stories, so going there helps him keep his finger on the pulse of the city.

“It was and is a source of information for people,” said Hayworth, 51. “It’s a place you can go and find out what is going on.”

Sondag’s retirement is a reminder that barbershops are not as common these days. Dave’s doesn’t see many kids any more.

On Thursday, though, Matt Harding of Iowa City brought his 3-year-old son, Charlie, in to get his straight brown hair, reaching below his ears, cut by Sondag. The longtime barber asked the boy about Christmas toys and sledding, but Charlie was shy and mostly nodded his head yes or no in response. He perked up, however, when the haircut was done and he got to pick a sucker – he grabbed two, actually – out of a drawer.

Alvin Riggan, 49, of Ainsworth has been getting his hair cut at what is now Dave’s Barber Shop since he was a boy wreaking havoc in Coralville.

“I feel like I’m losing a friend,” he said Thursday after getting what will be his last trim from Sondag.

Sondag estimates he’s given up to 250,000 haircuts. Former Iowa Hawkeye football coach Hayden Fry is in that count. So is former men’s basketball coach Tom Davis.

Hawkeye mirrors, pennants and prints dot the walls of the barbershop, but Davis said his teams were rarely the topic of conversation – at least when he was there.

“You just let your hair grow if you lost too many games,” he said.

Sondag works six days a week and estimates he’s had about two weeks of vacation in the past ten years.  He’ll enjoy spending more time with his grandkids, traveling and maybe taking up golf again. But he’s sure he’ll miss the barbershop.

“It’s just all the people and all the days and all the years,” he said. “It’s just been my whole life.”


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