INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — The experiences in Jo Knox’s life are as colorful and varying as the local art that hangs in his haircutting shop.
Jungle landscapes, Western scenes and photos of Route 66 are on exhibition in the small two-chair studio Jo has owned for 35 years.
The vivacious 75-year-old man shows no sign of aging as he tells the experiences that have made up his life — while listening to the many stories of his customers.
“This is a storytelling business,” Jo said. “All you have to say is a few key words and they’ll tell you their whole life story. Each one has some good, some bad, and some heartbreaking.”
Jo has been cutting hair for 50 years and prides himself on his local business that doesn’t do perms or have barber services, but is a local haircutting shop for the whole family.
Jo’s story is similar to so many others in the Tahoe area. “You come for one season and you never leave,” Jo said. “If you make money, you can stay.”
Jo admits to making a lot of money, and to losing a lot as well. The haircutting business has always been his security blanket while he tried his hand at other things.
“I think everybody should try everything once,” Jo said. “If you base your life on experience, that’s a rewarding life.”
Before sharpened scissors, Jo’s young hands held a weapon. At 18, Jo fought in Vietnam and says today how he was “lucky to not get killed.”
This experience early in his life contributed to a life long outlook in which Jo says he decided to “never get upset in life” and that “happiness is a choice.”
He says with a laugh that he then followed a buddy to barber college in Southern California because it “was a great place to meet girls.”
Owning a haircutting shop became the one business the beach bum would always come back to.
Jo’s hands also threw many footballs during his time as a coach at Incline High School. He led the team to a title win in 1977 and decided to “go out as a champion.”
He spent time as a fisherman on a 40-foot boat, and then the Newport Beach native worked his hand at the ranching business.
For 20 years, Jo built ranches and broke horses in the Carson Valley, and commuted to his shop five days per week.
“I don’t want to work that hard anymore,” Jo said. “It was fun, but sure a tough time making a living.”
Jo is no longer “getting busted up riding broncos” and about six years ago he sold the ice cream parlor that is adjacent to his shop so he could do only hair.
Jo sees about 15-20 customers per day and says his business allows him the free time to play and enjoy all that Tahoe has to offer.
The 75-year-old goes fishing most days after work if he isn’t hiking or biking with his buddies. He believes life is about health, not money.
“’The guy with the most toys wins’ is a sorry expression,” he said.
Jo pointed out the decrease in service industry jobs and how their place in people’s lives fills a purpose.
“People are in such a rush, but here they come in and sit down, relax and have a conversation,” he said.
Jo and his employee, Kathy Hucke, say the simple ingredients of touch and good listening are of great importance.
“There’s trust in that and it builds relationships,” Jo said. Apart from a haircut, Hucke said many clients just pop in to the shop to say hello or to get a hug.
“I didn’t realize my opinion was going to help someone,” Hucke said.
She says she and Jo give advice to their clients, and their time with them is akin to a sort of therapy.
“We even have psychiatrists come in here and tell us their problems,” Hucke said with a laugh.
Because Jo enjoys what he does and knows his business is successful, he just signed another five-year lease for Jo Knox Hair Design.
“That will make me 80 when it’s up,” he said. “But it’s not brain surgery … it’s simple, it’s just haircutting.”
The shop is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 to 5, and Jo proudly exclaims that “if your hair doesn’t look becoming to you, you should be coming to us.”
“I think everybody should try everything once. If you base your life on experience, that’s a rewarding life.”