Working: Pam Swartz

By Patrisha McLean | Jul 17, 2009

“I’m just a really good listener,” said Pam Swartz, which is a good thing since her two careers have depended on it. “You always had customers who wanted to talk away,” she said about bartending. Styling hair in a one-person salon is even better for conversation since there is no bar in between and no one can listen in. “If they want advice they can get some,” she said. “Or they can just vent. Their secret is safe with me.”

Pam switched professions in 1985, when “I decided I didn’t want to be gone at night,” she said, after the first of two daughters was born. “There was a lot to learn about being a hairdresser,” she said, ticking off the skills: “Cutting, sectioning, perming, color, highlights, nails, facials and waxing.” She worked at the Hair Company for 10 years and when that salon closed her husband, Thomas, persuaded her to go into business for herself and convert their garage into a salon. Cheaper than renting a space downtown, the new salon would enable her to be close to home and make her own hours. “I was nervous about it,” she said, “but it was the right move.”

Now, at 9 a.m. from Tuesday to Friday and evenings on Wednesday, Pam steps next door into Techniques to cut, color and converse. “It really is amazing how many men will talk your ear off,” she said. With both sexes, “very infrequently is it just silly talk," she said. "It’s the kids, work, animals, just life in general or daily woes. There’s always something going on."

“They’ll talk the whole time you cut and color and then while they’re processing under the dryer they’ll just read, because they can’t hear.”

Pam said that if the winter is unusually long and cold the spring will bring in a flurry of clients wanting a new look. Generally, though, her clients stick to the same style year after year. For young women, it’s “long, layered and highlights.” She said that “perms have gone by the wayside,” except for her older clients, and the one trend that hit this area big was “when everyone wanted Jennifer Aniston’s haircut.”

How has she been affected by the bad economy? Some faithful buyers of her Grahm Webb Back to Basics products now “go buy Suave for 99 cents and call it good,” she said. And there are more attempts to do-it-yourself. “They haven’t gained anything because you have to pay even more to have your hair fixed,” she said, the telltale box shade colors of orange or black being “really hard to get out of your hair.”

Pam was known for what she now works with when she served up drinks at Washington Street Pub, Morgan’s, Bayview Street Garage, Cappy’s, Ferrarri’s and the Waterfront. “Pretty much all the way down my back,” she said describing her hair then, adding that even strangers admired how blond it was, and thick. Then one day “I went to get it cut because I needed the Farrah Fawcett style," she said.

“It ended up to here," she said. "It was a major freak out."

“Now, when someone says they only want a little off, that’s what they get. I can cut more if they want me to but a trim,” she said, stretching out her thumb and first finger, “is not this much. A trim is a trim.”
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