Freddie Niblack cutting hair at Garage 17 Barbershop
Freddie Niblack cutting hair at Garage 17 Barbershop in Brownsburg (photography by Amy Payne)

Clean Cut: It’s More Than Just Business for Garage 17 Barbershop

Freddy Niblack has been a barber for more than 30 years. In March 2023, he left his job at Dappered Man in Brownsburg to pursue his own location, Garage 17 Barbershop.

“Honestly, I was a little burnt out, but when I came to Dappered Man, my heart kind of healed there,” he said. “Elaina [Bibler, owner of Dappered Man] was so supportive. I was always amazed at how well she did with kids, especially special-needs kids, and when my building came up for rent, she supported me all the way.”

He set up his hours, Tuesday through Saturday, and got to work, but a social media post changed everything for the experienced barber. A Brownsburg mother posted on the Brownsburg Chatter Facebook page about taking her young son with special needs to a local hair salon.

Front of Garage 17 Barbershop in Brownsburg

“She said her son had trouble handling the activity and loud music, etcetera, and basically they were asked to leave,” Niblack said. “I was eating dinner with my parents at the time and when I saw the post I didn’t even think about it. I sent her a message and said, ‘My shop is closed on Mondays. I can be there in 30 minutes. Please bring your son and I’ll take care of him.’”

Niblack said he sat on the floor with the young boy, who requested hugs every few minutes. He cut the customer’s hair, being careful around sensitive ears, moving slowly so as not to startle, and watched the young boy’s mother sob in the waiting area.

“She still brings him to me and that’s what started it all,” he said. “That post received 80 to 100 comments that were from parents in the same position.”

It’s not uncommon for loved ones of individuals with special needs to know the struggle of trying to do a task that others might find simple. It might be the noise, the distractions, or simply the fear of a strange environment that can make a trip to the barber shop difficult.

By early April, Niblack was scheduling special-needs kids and adults on one Monday per month. He’s closed to the public, and it allows him to create the atmosphere some of his clients need to get through the haircut.

He even purchased special clippers, each one more than $100. They are quieter than standard clippers and the blades don’t break the skin if it happens to touch.

“If you knick their ear, they’ll always remember that,” he said. “I’ve had several come to me crying and holding their ears because they don’t want to go into the shop, but if you clip for a minute or two and then give them a break, it’s better. We don’t want them to be terrorized. I’m often undoing what’s been done. Mom and Dad didn’t feel like they had any options. They’ve sat on the kids, used terrible clippers, nicked ears or simply never cut their hair. They don’t have access to professional tools and it makes things worse.”

He doesn’t charge his Monday clients either.

“Most parents with special-needs kids are paying so much money for so many different things,” Niblack said. “This is a group that is kind of left out, so I don’t do it for a pat on the back. I have a community of people that support me and the community I serve.”

It doesn’t hurt that Niblack has decades of experience. “I think as a veteran barber, you have more patience,” he said. “A lot of barbers don’t like cutting kids’ hair because it’s like hitting a moving target. It can be a challenge but someone has to do this for them. They deserve the right to feel and be treated like everyone else.”

The community support continues to pour in, and Niblack said what he’s doing has triggered a response from other business owners.

Freddie Niblack and family at Garage 17

Bibler covers Niblack if he needs a day off, and even comes down to his shop on Mondays to sit with certain clients who adore her and sit on her lap while getting their haircut.

Dr. Jack Swartout, a Brownsburg dentist, works with children and adults with special needs, and has been supportive of what Niblack is doing.

The team at Mandy’s Ice Cream has always displayed paintings created by special-needs kids and Niblack has always admired them. They insisted the next set of paintings would be hung in Garage 17.

On Mondays the kids know that once the haircut is complete, they can head over to Mandy’s for an ice cream.

“We had one lady buy gift cards at Mandy’s to give to the kids here,” Niblack said. “Random people have dropped off money and we don’t even know them. Brownsburg has wrapped their arms around me and my shop. You can feel the love from our community and it’s the same love these parents and kids have been missing. I’m so proud of our community and just feel blessed.”

He’s also trying to pass along his knowledge and patience to others. Niblack has welcomed students from A+ Barber School in Indianapolis for special classes.

“I feel like there’s not enough barbers trained to work with people with special needs,” he said. “Eventually they’re going to have a special-needs person in their chair, and we talked about how to work with different clients.”

Tending to special-needs clients wasn’t covered in barber school 30 years ago, Niblack said. However, he said it’s important that younger generations learn how to work with everyone as they develop their skills.

“Just because a person is different doesn’t change who I am or the license on my wall,” he said.

With his box of fidget toys, money for ice cream, and a willingness to cut hair from the floor, the barber’s chair or elsewhere, Niblack and his staff provide a respite for families who have been looking for support for many years.

Niblack said if he lost it all today, he’d do it all again.

“When I go home at night, my heart is full,” he said. “A lot of these people in the community are doing things in silence because that’s what’s in their heart. I just want parents to know they have a home to go to.”

Garage 17 Barbershop is located at at 17 South School Street in Brownsburg. For additional info, call 317-717-0127 or visit their website. 

You can also learn more by checking out their TikTok.

Comments 1

  1. Tonya Militello says:

    Freddy and his team really are above and beyond amazing! Freddy is such a genuine, loving, fun, talented, energetic and all around incredible man!

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