For Bill Sermak, owner of downtown DeWitt’s Family Barber Shop and Family Barber Shop II, cutting hair was, somewhat ironically, not the family business. There were no uncles, grandpas or fathers to pass down the family clippers; it was a curiosity he took up all his own.
That’s not to say, however, that he doesn’t have a story to tell.
Sermak distinctly remembers a guy in high school, his brother’s buddy, who would have the basketball team over at his house to cut their hair.
“And it was just like the coolest thing, I always thought,” Sermak said. “He’s fading them up, just giving them cool haircuts. They felt so awesome about themselves going into the Friday night game, showing off in front of their friends. I thought that dude had a lot of power to how they felt, just by cutting their hair. I’m like, that’s kind of a cool thing to do.”
Before getting his 2,000 hours at barber school, Sermak started cutting guys’ hair out of his house as well. Back then, if you wanted a cut from Sermak, you got either a one, two or three inch buzz. If you wanted scissors length, “you [were] not going to get it here.”
About a year after graduating from barber school and working up north in Sutton’s Bay, a spot opened up in DeWitt at Family Barber Shop when the owner, also named Bill, passed away. Sermak has been cutting hair there ever since.
“It’s trickier than it definitely looks,” he said. “I’ve gained so much over these years of learning.
“Dennel and I,” Sermak said, referring to his fellow barber Dennel Ballard, “she’s cut a lot longer than me even. And yeah, no one cutting at home can hold up to us, can they Dennel?”
Ballard cuts hair with Sermak at Family Barber Shop II across from the original location, Family Barber Shop. That shop is known for walk-ins while Family Barber Shop II is primarily an appointment-only shop. Neither place accepts credit cards.
Ballard’s daughter Makel has cut alongside Ballard and Sermak for about 10 years now, and her husband started a couple of years ago.
“Across the street,” she said, referring to Family Barber Shop. “We can’t work in the same shop.”
“Remember?” Sermak said. “It’s Family Barber Shop.”
And, for some, a “family” haircut means getting a trim on the porch at home. But that doesn’t always go so well.
Just like Sermak, it’s part of Ballard’s job to fix haircuts gone wrong.
“We fix a lot of home haircuts,” she said. “We’ve shaved a few kids.”
In particular, fidgeting kids can present a challenge for barbers. But kids are not the worst part of the job.
“It’s the most challenging by far,” Sermak said. “It’s not the worst. They’re a riot. They can be a lot of fun, especially the cute little ones that just sit there.”
Ballard said it’s the mothers you sometimes have to watch out for. If you want something more “Hollywood,” as Sermak puts it, you’re better off heading across the street to Family Barber Shop.
“Across the street, we get more Pinterest pictures,” Ballard said.
Sermak always imagined his barber shop as you see them in movies; with regulars coming in everyday to chat, but not necessarily to get a haircut.
“Sometimes people poke their heads in and say comments, being funny, and then keep going,” Ballard said. “We do a lot of directions around here.”
But it isn’t quite what Sermak expected it would be.
“People these days,” Sermak said. “They just are in and out. They want to get out fast, fast, fast, and go on with their life… I thought it was going to be kind of cool hanging around here and chatting with everybody.”
Chatting is still a big part of the job. Sermak and Ballard often times just don’t feel like talking once they get home. That’s fine, Sermak said, it works out great for his wife, who is a teacher.
But, while at the shop, both Sermak and Ballard do their best to make customers comfortable and happy while they’re getting their haircut.
“I think we win a lot of people just with our personalities,” Sermak said.
Ballard agrees: “We’re charmers.”