Six decades in business, beautician 'never got it out of my system'

Lois Szymanski
Contact ReporterCarroll County Times
Pat Lawyer realized her dream when she opened Pat's Beauty Nook in March of 1957.

For nearly 60 years, Taneytown resident Pat Lawyer has followed her heart, right to the beauty shop.

Lawyer opened Pat's Beauty Nook in March of 1957, nearly 60 years ago. It was something she had dreamed of since her high school days.

"I graduated in 1954 from Taneytown High School — which is no longer in existence. Then I went to beauty school in Baltimore. I opened my shop in downtown Taneytown, on the corner of East Baltimore Street and Middle, in my parent's home.

Back then, Lawyer said, Taneytown was a bustling place where nearly everyone knew each other. It was a family town, and her parents, Carole and Mable Wantz, wanted to help her out in any way they could.

"I had dealers from Baltimore come up and I bought my furniture from them. I financed and paid off all my equipment, making payments every week," she said. "I started with a savings account and never borrowed money, not from my mom and dad or the bank."

Lawyer remembered writing in her high school yearbook that she was off to become a beautician. Her aunt had been a hairdresser, too. This was something she always wanted to do.

"I guess I never got it out of my system," she said.

Lawyer married her high school sweetheart, Donald Lawyer the following year and they moved into an apartment over the shop. She said he worked at the bank next door, so in the morning they would go down the steps and she would slip into her shop and he would walk next door to work.

Lawyer laughs when she says that the original vanity and desk from her first shop are still in place today. She's replaced hair driers and re-upholstered chairs over the years, but the original furniture moved with her when she moved the shop — around 1969 — to a home her parents built on Roberts Mill Road. They had added an addition off the garage just for her beauty shop.

The setup was a convenient one, even more so when their daughter was born.

"I had my mother and father right next door, so they babysat my daughter, Gail," Lawyer said. "She'd some over and check on me when she was little, to see that I was still working. Then she'd go into the house with my parents and a little bit later she'd be back again, to make sure I was still working."

Lawyer's daughter, Gail Norris said it was all she ever knew.

"I spent a lot of time with my family," Norris said. "I'd spend time with my grandparents while my mom was working, and she'd be right there if I needed anything. The shop also gave her the flexibility to work while I was at school, and to be at my sports or dance activities in the evenings. However, we didn't always agree on hairstyles."

Norris' life was filled with the scent of permanent wave lotion and hairspray and the sight of shampoo stations with mirrors, porcelain sinks and swivel chairs. Seeing pink plastic rollers and dryer hoods and watching her mom perfect finger waves was a way of life. It was how she was raised.

"I grew up in the beauty shop and got to know the ladies who came in each week to get their hair done," Norris said, noting that most were ladies. "It was definitely a social hub for much of my life."

Lawyer said her daughter calls the beauty shop her "Steel Magnolia's Beauty Shop" because the women who gathered there to have their hair done were all friends, just like the six women who shared their love, lives and losses in the Louisiana beauty shop featured in the popular movie.

Longtime customer Helen Gorman, of Taneytown, sees the connection.

"I was her first customer and I still go to her," Gorman said, noting that she's Lawyer oldest customer, having had her hair done by Lawyer for nearly 60 years.

"She is very friendly and always concerned about all her customers. There's always been a lot of friendly chatting in her shop over the years. She's a good person who has kept up with the hairstyles. She knows her customers and her profession," Gorman said.

Lawyer didn't realize the example she was setting for her own daughter.

"I never knew any different," Norris said. "I always had a working mom. I think that influenced me as I started on my career path. I never doubted that women could own their own business and be successful — whether it was success in happiness with their chosen profession, in being able to be there for your family and [to] have a career, or finding a lucrative career path."

These days, folks visiting Pat's Beauty Nook are likely to hear about Lawyer's grandchildren. Her only daughter, Gail had twins — a boy and a girl — 11 years ago.

"At the beauty shop all the women will ask how they are," Lawyer said of the twins. "My daughter makes a calendar for me every year with their pictures on it, so the ladies see their photos and what they are doing each month when I flip the calendar to a new picture."

Lawyer said she has no desire to quit working, even though she will be 81 this year.

"You hear about people who retire and then go out and get a part-time job. Why would I do that when I still enjoy what I do?" she said.

Lawyer said when she first opened her shop, she sat waiting for customers to come. But patience paid off, and come they did. For many years her repeat customers had her working Tuesday through Saturday. She even hired a part-time employee, Romaine Koontz, who shampooed hair and did odd jobs in the shop for nearly 19 years.

These days, Lawyer is back to working alone, but only on Thursdays and Fridays.

"I have met very good people and made very good friends over the years," Lawyer said of her business. "They have been like a family to me. I know their children and grandchildren and some even have great-grandchildren. There are two ladies who come all the way to Taneytown from Bel Air, Maryland, every six weeks to have their hair set. One has never had anyone else do her hair but me. She grew up in Taneytown and I've done hair for three generations of her family."

And her daughter said she has learned a lot by being a part of it all.

"Both my mom and dad's strong work ethic have contributed to mine today," Norris said. "I've seen them work hard at their careers, hers in cosmetology and his in banking, and in their volunteer work, most prominently with the Lions Club which they've been associated for 50-plus years."

Lawyer said if she could go back she would not do anything different.

"The friendships I have made over the years have been wonderful," she said. "I think it really is like 'Steel Magnolias.' My customers tell me their troubles and they tell me their joys. They show me how their grandchildren have grown with pictures on their cell phones. They tell me all their stories. It has been good."

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