Teddy Paynter

WILLIAMSON, W.Va. — Barbershop owner Jim Lambert has been a fixture at his location in downtown Williamson for the past 25 years.


He started out working in Columbus, Ohio after graduating from barber school 49 years ago. After spending four years there he decided to come home to southern West Virginia.


“I was getting three dollars a head in Columbus and I took a pay cut to come back to Chattaroy,” he said. “I was making one dollar. That wasn’t too smart.”


Barbershops have been a socializing stop for men since the early 1900s. It was a weekly habit for men, who wanted a haircut, shave or just gossip, to drop in.


“When I first came back I had a good clientele,” he said. “Back then you had to cut a head of hair and a buzz cut was something you expected most guys to want.”


Lambert says clients and times have changed.


“The biggest thing today is kids don’t care how you cut it,” he said. “You look on television and many of those they look up to have some crazy styles.”


Williamson was once the “Heart of the Billion Dollar Coalfield.” Many of those jobs have been lost, but Lambert says the talk around his shop has shifted from politics to the economy.


“Right now the big topic is the economy,” he said. “Jobs have been tough to come by in our area but some of our miners are going back to work and that’s good for our town and region.”


His shop is filled with memorabilia. There are articles featuring the old Chattaroy School, as well as coaches and other historic news articles.


He completes each haircut with the use of his straight-edge blade, something you don’t see nowadays in a number of shops. He reaches for a bottle of tonic that makes you smell like you just stepped out of a 1920’s shop.


“Hair tonic differs from other hair-styling products you’ll find in a beauty salon or some shops,” he said. “Nowadays you have to also have styling gel, mousse and a variety of other products.”


Lambert’s business was put on the shelf in 2004 when he had open-heart surgery. Nearly 13 years later he looks back on the road to recovery as a challenge.


“You know they tell you it will take about six months to get back to operating on a normal level but it’s a tough thing to overcome,” he said.


Lambert noted that the advancement of medicine has come a long way.


“You look at how many great doctors we have right here in our back yard and the work they do at Pikeville Medical Center when it comes to heart procedures. It’s amazing.”


Lambert knows the old-time barbers and shops are fading away.


“As a child you always look forward to coming to a barbershop with your dad and getting a haircut,” he said. “A number still do. But the guys like me who started during a special time in our country are few now.”


For the many customers who still visit Jim’s Friendly Barber Shop it remains a cool place to hang out.


“I’m thankful that I’m still able to get up each day and come to work,” he said. “Every day is another day I can spend in this small town with great friends and the place I call home.”