A Retired Chicago Cop's Second Act Is At A Barbershop

Mar 14, 2013
Originally published on March 14, 2013 7:43 pm

Increasingly, people are continuing to work past 65. Almost a third of Americans between the ages of 65 and 70 are working, and among those older than 75, about 7 percent are still on the job. In Working Late, a series for Morning Edition, NPR profiles older adults who are still in the workforce.

Some older Americans are passing up retirement in favor of starting businesses of their own. In fact, more than 20 percent of new businesses are started by people between the ages of 55 and 64. And one of those businesses is a barbershop in Calumet City, just south of Chicago.

It's called Rich's Den, and it's where retired police officer Richard Piña, 69, starts his day. Even on a snowy morning, business is steady. It's the "old-timers," as Piña calls them, who come in early. They grab a cup of coffee and hang out before going under the clippers. Some of them have known Piña for decades.

That means they've known his daughter Alex, 31, for a long time too. She also cuts hair at the shop, throwing in the occasional wisecrack and supplying the accurate names and dates to go with her dad's tall tales. She knows all of his stories. "They never get old," she says.

One chair over, Piña wields the clippers and handles the customers as if he's been doing this all his life. And despite having spent nearly 30 years on the Chicago police force, he has. He moved to Chicago and began training as a barber right out of high school.

"The town where I lived at was very small, very rural," Piña says. It was in western Ohio, where the Piñas were the only Hispanics and the only Catholics in town. "They teach you how to be a farmer or work in a door factory, and I figured I'd have a better chance up here. Barber school was easy. It was eight or nine months, and you get out and make fairly good money."

But when Piña got married and started a family, the police force offered more stability, a pension and health insurance. And, it turned out, the work was great.

"When you're a rookie policeman, you go out there, I mean you don't want to go home. It's so much fun. There's so much action, there's so many stories you have. And after a couple of years, you've seen so much, you've done so much, you don't even want to talk about it anymore — except when you go maybe to a cop bar with four or five cops and they start drinking, and everybody's got stories," Piña says.

He did a lot of plainclothes work, going after drug dealers, prostitutes and gangs. He was promoted to sergeant.

"I saw some stuff that people can't imagine. I always said I got tired of seeing dead bodies because as a supervisor, if there was a death, I always had to go and you'd see it two to three nights a week," Piña says. "After a time, that starts to wear on you."

So he kept his options open. He had other businesses all during his police career — other hair salons, a taco stand, a rooming house.

"I don't want to say I was an entrepreneur, but I was a hustler," Piña says.

And when this barbershop came up for sale, he had the money to buy it. It had been a barbershop forever, and Piña didn't change it much.

"Just kinda kept it like an old-time shop, and it's kinda worked all right for us," he says.

Piña has plastered the walls with sports and cop memorabilia. There are barber poles everywhere. A basic haircut is $13. It's $25 with a shave.

"A lot of barbershops don't do the shaving anymore. They don't use the hot lather, the straight razors. They've just gotten away from it," he says. "We always say we never cut anybody accidentally."

Piña's been retired from the police force for a dozen years, but he actually bought the barbershop several years before that. When he was still a cop, he'd work the midnight shift, then come straight to the shop and cut hair for a few hours. Now he still works that early shift, but just for four or five hours a day. His daughter Alex is the one who's here full time.

In fact, all three of Piña's kids work here. His elder daughter and his son are also cops, so they're only at the shop a few hours a week. But all of his kids started cutting hair when they were teenagers.

Alex says she went to barber school but did her "clinicals" at her dad's shop. "He would basically show me how or mess it up on purpose, and you'd have to fix it," she says.

She didn't plan to be a full-time barber. She has a degree in political science from DePaul University. But when she graduated, the city of Chicago, where she wanted to work, wasn't hiring much. So for now, the barbershop is her career. As for her dad, Piña isn't that concerned with making money for himself. Cops get good pensions, but he says you can't buy this kind of time with your kids.

"What parent is lucky enough to be able to work with their child and interact? We talk, we joke, we laugh, we talk about her brother, we talk about her mom, they talk about my girlfriend." They talk about politics, they talk about sports.

"It's really, really neat," he says.

But not perfect. Piña, a Southsider since he came to Chicago, is a White Sox fan. Alex roots for the Cubs. He shakes his head and sighs, "I don't know where she gets that from."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Now for our series Working Late, about older Americans postponing retirement. More and more people do retire but then they keep working so they can start a business. More than 20 percent of new businesses are started by people between the ages of 55 and 64. One such business owner is Richard Pina. He's a retired Chicago police officer who owns a barber shop. NPR's Ina Jaffe takes us to a place near Chicago called Rich's Den.

INA JAFFE, BYLINE: It's a snowy morning, but business at Rich's Den has been steady since around 6:30. The old-timers, as Richard Pina calls them, come in early.

RICHARD PINA: This is one of my favorite customers.

RICHARD KARULSKI: You ain't in no hurry, are you? I want a cup of coffee real quick.

JAFFE: That's Rich Karulski. As he sips his coffee, he figures out that he and Pina have known each other for 48 years. Let the banter begin.

R. PINA: You got to go back to work or what?

KARULSKI: No, no.

R. PINA: He hasn't worked in 15 years, and when he had a job he didn't work then. In other words, he was a city worker.

KARULSKI: Can't do that no more.

R. PINA: I know.

JAFFE: Karulski says you can't find a better barber than Pina, and that goes for his daughter Alex too. She's cutting hair one chair down, tossing in the occasional wisecrack, supplying the right names and dates for her dad's tall tales.

ALEX PINA: I just know where to fill in the gaps.

JAFFE: In his stories?

A. PINA: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

JAFFE: You've heard them all?

A. PINA: Oh sure. They never get old.

JAFFE: Richard Pina is 69 years old. An interview doesn't interfere with his work. He wields the clippers and handles the customers as if he's been doing this all his life. And despite having spent nearly 30 years on the Chicago police force, he has. He moved to Chicago and began training as a barber right out of high school.

R. PINA: The town where I lived at, it was very small, very rural.

JAFFE: It was in western Ohio, where the Pinas were the only Hispanics and the only Catholics in town.

R. PINA: They teach you how to be a farmer or work in a door factory, and I figured I'd have a better chance up here. Barber school, it was easy. It was eight, nine months, and get out and make fairly good money.

JAFFE: But when Pina got married and started a family, the police force offered more stability, a pension, health insurance. And it turned out, the work was great.

R. PINA: When you're a rookie policeman, you go out there, I mean you don't want to go home. It's so much fun. There's so much action, there's so many stories you have. And after a couple of years, you've seen so much, you've done so much, you don't even want to talk about it anymore - except when you go maybe to a cop bar with four or five cops and they start drinking, and everybody's got stories.

JAFFE: Pina did a lot of plainclothes work, going after drug dealers, prostitutes and gangs. He was promoted to sergeant.

R. PINA: I saw some stuff that people don't - can't imagine. I always said I got tired of seeing dead bodies because as a supervisor, if there was a death, I always had to go, you know, and you'd see it, you know, two to three nights a week. After a time, that starts to wear on you, you know?

JAFFE: So he kept his options open. He had other businesses all during his police career - other hair salons, a taco stand, a rooming house.

R. PINA: I don't want to say I was an entrepreneur, but I was a hustler.

JAFFE: And when this barbershop came up for sale, he had the money to buy it. It's in Calumet City, just south of Chicago. It had been a barbershop forever, and Pina didn't change it much.

R. PINA: Just kind of kept it like an old-time shop, and it's kind of worked all right for us, you know.

JAFFE: He's plastered the walls with sports stuff and cop memorabilia. There are barber poles everywhere. A basic haircut is 13 bucks. It's 25 with a shave.

R. PINA: A lot of barbershops don't do the shaving anymore. You know, they don't use the hot lather, the straight razors. They've just gotten away from it. We always say we never cut anybody accidentally.

JAFFE: Pina's been retired from the police force for a dozen years, but he actually bought the barbershop several years before that. So when he was still a cop, he'd work the midnight shift and then come straight to the shop and cut hair for a few hours. Now he still works that early shift, but just for four or five hours. His daughter Alex is the one who's here full time.

A. PINA: Nothing better than working with your family.

JAFFE: In fact, all three of Pina's kids work here. His elder daughter and his son are also cops, so they're only at the shop a few hours a week. He says Alex is the one who's really running the place.

R. PINA: But all my kids have cut hair in the shop since they were probably 14 or 15.

JAFFE: No, says Alex. It was 16.

A. PINA: You go to barber school but then I would do like my clinicals in here. And my dad would basically show me how or mess it up on purpose, and you'd have to fix it.

JAFFE: Alex didn't plan to be a full-time barber. She has a degree in political science from DePaul University.

A. PINA: I've always wanted to work for the city, for the city that works. I loved the idea of it.

JAFFE: But when she graduated, Chicago wasn't hiring that much. So for now the barbershop is her career. As for her dad, Pina isn't that concerned with making money for himself. Cops get good pensions, but you can't buy this kind of time with your kids.

R. PINA: What parent is lucky enough to be able to work with their child, interact? We talk, we joke, we laugh, we talk about their brother, about her brother, we talk about her mom, they talk about my girlfriend.

A. PINA: We talk a lot about politics, we watch a lot of sports.

R. PINA: Oh, we talk a lot of politics. Yeah, it's really, really neat.

JAFFE: But not perfect. Pina, a South Sider since he came to Chicago, is a White Sox fan. Daughter Alex roots for the Cubs. He shakes his head and says I don't know where she gets that from. Ina Jaffe, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: And Ina is with us here in the studio at NPR West. And Ina, in a way it's a very, very happy story about post-retirement life. But you've done several profiles in recent weeks about various people postponing retirement, and we've also been inviting listeners to share their stories. We've received hundreds of comments, Facebook posts, emails. When you look at all of these, do you find that people are generally working because they want to or because they have to?

JAFFE: Well, you know, Renee, it's not a scientific survey, but I would say the vast majority of people we've heard about are enjoying the paycheck and the work. For example, there's a man who's been his town's fire chief for 60 years and he also still runs a business in town, and he's 90. And, you know, we did that story about the 73-year-old fitness instructor in New York City. That brought a number of letters about race track workers in their 70s and 80s and the architect-slash-ski instructor who's also in his 70s. And then we heard about people who feel they're on a mission, that their work helps children or immigrants or the environment. And Renee, what's interesting is that most of these emails weren't from the older workers themselves. They were from family members and coworkers and sometimes employers.

MONTAGNE: Well, of course there are the Richard Pinas of the retirement world and I imagine you also heard from older workers who are not happy about their situation.

JAFFE: Oh, that's right. We got a letter from a woman whose husband is still working as a contractor because they need the money, even though now the work is really taking a toll on his aging body. And there's another email we got from the daughter of a woman who's in her 90s, and her mother's gone back to work because she's run through her retirement savings. And Renee, I just want to add one more thing, that we're really grateful to the people who shared their stories with us and we're hoping to follow up on some of them.

MONTAGNE: Ina, thanks.

JAFFE: You're welcome, Renee.

MONTAGNE: That's NPR's Ina Jaffe, who covers aging. For more on the series Working Late, go to NPR.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.