MT. PLEASANT — Walking into a barbershop is not always just about snipping away split ends or getting a shave — it can be an entire experience that involves community and connection.
No family knows that better than the Lamms, who closed out nearly a century of barbershop ownership last December when Dennis Lamm, 72, began preparing for retirement, passing on the torch and selling his shop, A Touch Above, to Chance Smith.
As he prepares for retirement, Dennis said he is excited to see where Smith will take the shop. Smith, who has worked under Dennis for seven years before taking over this January, said he is thankful to have the support of Dennis and hopes to carry on the Lamm family legacy by supporting and helping other barbers.
“I want to be able to help other people come up and succeed as well,” Smith said. “That’s one of the things that I learned from Dennis,”
For Dennis Lamm and his relatives, cutting hair as a profession goes back as far as the early 1900s. Since 1927, a member of the family has owned and operated a barbershop in Mt. Pleasant, a tradition started by Rex Lamm, Dennis’ uncle.
Rex Lamm’s first shop was the Temple Barber Shop, which was originally located on the south side of the Masonic Lodge building. Rex Lamm would move his shop several times before landing where A Touch Above currently sits on the west side of Mt. Pleasant’s downtown. Dennis Lamm took over ownership when Rex retired in 1970.
“Well, he was my uncle so he cut my hair,” Dennis Lamm said. “He was also my Little League coach and we went hunting with him … we all were around the shop, growing up,”
83-year-old Don Lamm, another of Rex’s nephews, remembers shining shoes in the shop as a high schooler.
“I also cleaned the shop every day at night … my dad, Bill, barbered with [Rex],” Don said.
He said the barber industry has changed since the days shoe shining as a teen.
“Back in those days, you didn’t have to have a license, you didn’t have to have training. You could just barber,” he said. “[Rex] started barbering when he was 14 years of age,”
Dennis similarly stumbled into barbering when he was 20 years old, following an attempt at becoming a collegiate football player that didn’t quite work out.
“I didn’t have a lot of direction, so I was one of those kids who was looking for something to do,” he said.
While neither Rex nor Dennis set out to become barbers, Dennis explained that being a barber requires a level of “passion” and an ability to “be comfortable around people.”
“When you start out, you’re cutting hair for doctors, your old high school principal, and you have to be comfortable with that,” Dennis said.
As much as the barbershop was a hub for the Lamms, it also became a place where friendships and connections began.
“There would always be a group of guys there talking sports. Rex was a huge sports fan,” Don said. “If you wanted to chat about sports, back in the day, you would go to Rex’s.”
As Dennis moves to a part-time position at A Touch Above, he said the aspect of barbering he would miss the most is the camaraderie and community that gets built at a shop.
“It’s the friendships. The older you get, you have contacts with people and you’ve seen them and gone through kids and parents dying and divorces, and you develop relationships,” he said. “Especially now, money isn’t as important when you get to my age. Just seeing guys come into the shop and having fun and just the friendships … I have regulars who still come to me and have been with me for several decades,” he said.
Looking back on 50 years of being a barber and a shop owner, Dennis attributes the longevity and success of the family’s shop to its ability to adapt to the ever-changing hairstyles and fashion.
“I saw a lot of changes,” he said. “My bread and butter haircut was the mullet. For 15 years, from about 1975 to 1990, the hair was long. That’s what I dealt with. The long hair is why a lot of barbers in the 80s went out of business. They didn’t know how to cut long hair,” Dennis said.