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The art of beauty is her career and volunteer work

December 27, 2007|By DENNIS SHAW

Editor's note: This is one in an occasional series of profiles of area residents who share the stories of their lives and experiences.

If you stop by the Hair Dimensions Beauty Salon on Virginia Avenue in Halfway, you're apt to see an energetic woman busily cleaning, stocking supplies, running errands like picking up clients who have no transportation, or maybe decorating the shop for the season.

But more likely you'll see her standing behind a patron, washing, cutting or styling her hair.

That woman is Barbara Ullrich, whose job seems to be doing just about everything at the beauty shop. But first and foremost, she is "probably the oldest hairdresser in Hagerstown."

That's a distinction the 76-year-old has earned after 46 years in the business.

Barbara was born in 1931 to Howard Cunningham of Cearfoss and his Ohio-born wife. After marrying and bearing a son, Mitchell, she moved from Cearfoss to Pin Oak Road in the Oak Ridge development in Halfway.

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When her son went to kindergarten, she entered hairdressing school on North Potomac Street. After a year of schooling and a year of working, she opened a salon in the basement of her home. This was the start of many shops for her.

As business grew, she moved it to Larch Drive in Oak Ridge. Less than two years later, she went into business with a partner. They built a shop on Oak Ridge Drive and called it Oak Ridge Hairstylists. She was 28 at the time.

Five years later, they had enlarged the shop and she bought the entire operation. At one point, she had as many as 13 operators. Some of them went on to start shops of their own, among them Marsha Knicley-Masood of Sagittarius, Romaine Ridenour of Orchard Shopping Center and David Moyer of Hair Changes in Maugansville.

During this time, she had another son, Forrest, and kept busy in sports and scouting activities with her sons.

In 1980, she and her husband and two partners opened a restaurant on Jonathan Street in Hagerstown and called it Applause. It was known for its decor and French cuisine, but it lasted only a year, and she lost both her home and Oak Ridge Hairstylists.

She opened a smaller shop, called Fanfare, on the corner of Howard Street and Summit Avenue in Hagerstown. But five years later, she was ready for another change.

She took the job of managing the salon at Routzahn's Department Store in downtown Frederick.

"That was a big step," she says, "leaving my customers. But some of them followed me down to Frederick."

However, "that didn't work out," and two years later she moved back to Hagerstown and started all over.

First she returned to her roots in Oak Ridge, working for the woman who now ran the shop, and started to build up her clientele again. Then came a manager's job at Carol Craig's in the South End Shopping Center, and several years later she went to work as a manager at Ace of Blades on Railway Lane.

Finally, she came to Hair Dimensions, where she has been for the last 15 years.

Located behind Vince's Pizza at 17516 Virginia Ave., Hair Dimensions had been in business almost as long as Barbara had been in the hairstyling business. She fit right in there. She and her two colleagues, Betty Haberbeck and Tammy Pleasant, are actually independent operators who rent the shop.

"I like it that way," she says. "It's kinda like your own place. You can come and go. If you're not busy, you can leave. But actually," she adds, "we're just as busy now as ever."

Barbara looks back on a lot of changes in the hairdressing business in the nearly half a century she spent in it. Part of the change is the terminology.

"All of us hate the word 'beautician'," she says adamantly. "It was OK years ago, but it's not now. Call us hair designers, or hair stylists, or cosmetologists, but not beauticians."

"There's a lot of technology in the business now, too," she says. "It requires more schooling to keep up with the changes. With most modern shops, it's more like a spa thing now. The smaller shops have a hard time keeping up. You're talking big money now. Some patrons have a tab of $200. I have older customers who are on fixed incomes, so I try to keep my expenses down for them and still meet my obligations."

Many of the chemicals that hairdressers use are just as toxic as they used to be, she says. One time, as a member of the local hairdressers' association, she went to Salisbury College to take classes in subjects such as psychology, chemistry and art. She went to class one day to find the instructor dressed in a suit designed for germ warfare. He said that's what he would wear every day in their profession with its chemicals.

Barbara lost her younger son, Forrest, in 1990, but learned to live with this loss with the help of her faith and good friends.

"You do not forget, but you must live on," she says.

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