Get Lou Gambill, owner of My Grandfather’s Place Family Barber Salon in Richmond Hill, to start talking and he’s happy to have an audience to listen as he delves into his grandfather’s world — a world full of Italian culture and barbering at Baltimore Harbor in the early to mid-1900s.
“My grandfather was a hardheaded Italian. His full name was Louis Frazzitta. He was a barber for 40-something years,” Gambill said. “He loved smoking cigars. He’d stand there with a cigar in his mouth and the ashes would fall on the man’s shoulder he was shaving. Boy, times have changed. Back in those days, a barbershop was a place where guys would come in and hang out, talk sports, place bets, play cards. It was a club.”
Frazzitta worked for his Uncle Nick as a lather boy. In 1927, he was licensed as a barber and later opened Lou’s Barber Shop in Locus Point, Maryland, near the inner harbor of Baltimore.
“I even have a picture of him when he was a lather boy from 1918,” Gambill said. “Back in the old days whenever you got a haircut, you always got a shave with a straight razor.”
Gambill said each man had his own lather cup filled with soap kept on a shelf. There were shaving mugs all over the place. A man would come in, pick up his cup and the lather boy would mix up the soap, lathering the man’s face and neck in preparation for the shave.
Frazzitta’s Italian culture was at the forefront of his personality, and the way he interacted with his family.
“I was the first grandson,” Gambill said. “My father’s name was Harold. When my grandfather found out they were going to name me Harold, he stormed into the room where my mom, his daughter, had just given birth and said, ‘I don’t think so. I think we’ve got a problem here. His name will not be Harold; it will be Louis. He will be named after me.’”
The Frazzittas were simple people, set in their ways.
“Nothing ever changed in that house. Thirty years later, we had to move everything out of the house when my grandmother died,” he said.
When cleaning out the old house, Gambill found a lot of childhood memories.
“When I was probably about 10 years old, we lived there for a while. For Christmas, my dad got me a Red Ryder BB Gun. About a week after Christmas I came home after school looking for my gun. My grandmother goes, ‘Santa Claus took it back. It’s too dangerous for you.’ My heart was broken.”
He searched everywhere for the gun, to no avail. Thirty years later Gambill was cleaning out the basement and found a rolled-up piece of carpet that stood upright.
“I lifted up that carpet and guess what popped out? That BB gun. Brand spankin’ new. She had a good spot. I never picked up that carpet,” he said.
Gambill will never forget the impact his grandfather had on his life.
“I remember telling my grandfather I wouldn’t cut hair, it would be the last thing on earth I would do,” Gambill said. “My grandfather passed away when I was a senior in high school, so he never knew I ended up cutting hair.”
In 1977 he went back to Locus Point and reopened Lou’s Barber Shop, calling it My Grandfather’s Place.
“Generation after generation would come in and say, ‘I remember your grandfather gave me my first haircut when I was a little boy.’ I would be cutting their kid’s hair,” Gambill said.
In 2007, Gambill moved his family south for better weather and opened shop in Richmond Hill. He still uses his grandfather’s barber chairs from the 1920s and cash register from the 1940s.
Other antiques on display include a 1920s towel steamer, a vintage red Coke machine, razors and empty glass bottles from common products used. There’s also a large picture of Gambill as a young boy with his grandfather — smoking a cigar, of course.
Gambill operates his shop with much of his grandfather’s mentality. For instance, he only accepts cash or checks, no plastic.
“If someone doesn’t have cash or a check, they can bring it back later. It’s the honor system. It’s a small town. We’ll find you. I’ll send Joey Bag-of-Donuts on you,” Gambill joked. “I’ve been here seven years and probably been stiffed three times.”
Along with salon services for the whole family, Gambill still provides hot-towel straight-razor shaves, a back massage after every haircut and, of course, friendly chit chat.
“You meet a lot of people. You have to have the gift of gab. And cutting hair, it’s not enough to go to school. You have to have some sort of a knack for it,” Gambill said.