It's said that all the gossip in Pikesville passes through the doors to Mr. Fritz Hair Stylist, a shop in the 900 block of Reisterstown Road.
Mr. Fritz' bulging appointment book keeps two receptionists, nine manicurists and 25 operators busy. By 7:30 a.m., the first of his devoted customers have arrived.
"It's so busy it looks like a fish market on Fridays and Saturdays," said Mr. Fritz, a 66-year-old man who few know by his full name, William Fritz. Customers call him "Fritz" or "Mister Fritz."
His large shop -- formerly a Read's drugstore -- is decorated in back-and-white floor tiles. Mirrors with baroque-style lavender frames sit between the dryers and shampoo basins. There is non-stop chatter. All the customers seem to know each other.
The ladies -- Mr. Fritz cuts a few men, too -- are there for wash-and-sets, permanents, manicures and pedicures.
Mr. Fritz' wife, Anna, is one of the most important members of the staff. She's at the front receptionist's desk.
Customers keep coming back because Mr. Fritz has always done their hair. It's a family thing. Mothers bring in their daughters. Tradition is an important part of this classic beauty parlor.
Mr. Fritz has been in the hair styling business for nearly 48 years. Along the way, he's trained a dozen beauticians who have gone off and opened their own beauty salons. It seems that everybody in the local beauty industry knows Mr. Fritz.
Mr. Fritz recalls how he got started.
"I had two uncles who were barbers," he recalled. "I had just gotten out of the service at the end of World War II. I wanted to become a barber, too, but they told me to go into hair styling. On the GI Bill, I studied at Marinello School of Beauty."
Downtown Baltimore was then dominated by two high-fashion hair-styling salons, Carl's and Andre's. Both men were Swiss and both were then on Charles Street.
"I stood outside Carl's and Andre's and watched the women come out. I decided I liked the way their hair looked better at Andre's. So I went in and got a job," Mr. Fritz said.
Andre's, near the corner of Charles and Centre streets, was a highly decorated place with Czechoslovakian chandeliers, rococo walls and a sweeping staircase. The limousines of its wealthiest patrons lined up out front.
Mr. Fritz made his mark at Andre's. Visiting celebrities sought out the bright young stylist. He worked on the tresses of actresses Tallulah Bankhead, Penny Singleton, Gail Storm, Loretta Young, Joan Blondell and Martha Raye and the pianist Hildegarde. In 1951, he won the Golden Curls Contest staged at the Hotel Belvedere.
Mr. Fritz learned Baltimore ladies' tastes in hair styles. They tend to lag about two years behind other places, he said. When he first went in the business, the pineapple bob was in style. It was followed by page boys, feather bobs, the cap shape, the Italian cut (a tousled look) and the teased bouffant, piled high. Baltimore clung to the bouffant style longer than other towns.
There is also the ticklish subject of hair color. Is it or isn't it? "The shocking, loud colors are out. Now people want softer shades -- the golden apricot, brown blush, bashful blonde and sparkling cherry," Mr. Fritz said.
It was 37 years ago that he left Andre's and opened his own shop -- at Reisterstown Road and Fords Lane -- under his own name. His current location dates from 1970. Charles Kilbe, another beauty salon owner, rents the northern part of the building and trades under the name Fantasia.
In his years as a hair stylist, Mr. Fritz has learned that celebrities dictate hair styles. "Every so often, some actress comes along and influences hair. Everybody wants to be Mary Martin in 'South Pacific' or Elizabeth Taylor as 'Cleopatra.' Today . . . they all want to be Princess Diana," he said.