By Donald Wittkowski
Tom Oliver learned at an early age that he could make money at a barbershop.
As a youngster, he would accompany his father to the barbershop to get a haircut every week – yes, every week.
While there, his father’s friends would give Oliver some money if they could jump ahead of him in line. They had just finished up their workday and were too impatient to wait in line for a haircut, so they would each pay the kid 50 cents for his spot.
“By the time I got in the barber’s chair, I would have about five bucks. That was my spending money for the week,” Oliver recalled, laughing.
These days, Oliver is still earning money at a barbershop. He has been the owner of Ideal Hairstyling & Barbershop in Ocean City since 1980, taking over an iconic local business originally founded in 1942.
Trish, his wife of 49 years, and his 42-year-old son, Patrick, are also part of the business. Trish got her barbering license so she could work in the shop and spend more time with her husband.
“It’s the people. It’s the camaraderie,” Trish explained of why she enjoys the barbering business. “I think it’s the socialization that keeps me going.”
Patrick, meanwhile, decided to join his parents in the barbershop after spending time as a painter and not liking his prospects.
“Hanging on a ladder as a painter woke me up to my future. I didn’t want to be a painter, hanging on ladders, when I was in my 60s,” he said.
Eventually, Patrick will take over from his parents to keep the barbershop in the family’s hands, but Tom and Trish stressed they have no plans to retire at this time.
“I love this business. What else would I do?” Tom said.
The barbershop has been at its current location at 1315 West Ave. for 14 years. Previously, it was on Eighth Street.
In its early years, the barbershop mainly catered to men. But that changed when Trish got her cosmetology license, allowing the shop to begin offering perms, styling and coloring services to women.
“We do a lot of husbands and wives now. They come in the shop together. It’s nice,” Trish said.
Over the last 35 years, the Olivers have seen plenty of hair styles come and go. Ideal’s customers now prefer a neater, shorter look as opposed to the shaggy, long hair popularized decades ago by the Beatles, Tom Oliver said.
“I was ready to quit when the Beatles came to town,” he said. “A lot of days, we just sat there in the shop and did nothing because people wanted to keep their hair long.”
Nowadays, though, there is a steady flow of customers, particularly during Ocean City’s bustling summer tourism season. At times, Oliver said, he is so busy, “you’re lucky if you can catch a break.” Open year-round, Ideal handles a lot of tourists and vacation-home owners, as well as its local customers.
“You get to know the policemen, you get to know the lawyers, you get to know everyone who has one job or another,” Tom Oliver said. “You get to know everyone like family. You hear good stories, you hear sad stories. Sometimes, you have customers who pass away and you will send their families a sympathy card.”
When it comes down to it, barbering is about taking care of people, Oliver noted. Barbers and stylists, after all, are the people who make the rest of us look good.
“You make them feel comfortable. You talk to them so they are relaxed. Everything comes natural,” Oliver said of his relationship with his customers.
“It’s nice to hear them say, ‘This looks good,’’’ he continued. “It’s nice to hear them say, ‘Can I have your card?’ I thank them for coming in, and tell them I look forward to them coming back.”
Under Oliver’s ownership, customers have been coming back to Ideal Hairstyling & Barbershop for 37 years.