There were twice as many stylists working as on a usual Sunday and every seat was taken, with pre-teens getting their curly locks blown straight and toddlers getting their hair trimmed, too distracted to cry as they watched Elmo DVDs. The phone had been ringing nonstop, not including the half-dozen messages waiting when she arrived.
It was barely 11 a.m. yesterday, about the time Marci Messick opens her children's hair salon in Pikesville on a typical Sunday. But this was no typical Sunday. It was the last one before the Jewish Passover holiday, which begins Saturday at sundown, and every last hair in town, it seemed, needed to be cut.
"This is our busiest day of the year," Messick apologetically told a caller who was trying to be squeezed in. "We're swamped."
Those who packed Salon Kids on Reisterstown Road weren't only ones trying to get their children gussied up for the holiday - though it always helps to have bangs out of the eyes when grandma is visiting. In many Orthodox Jewish families, the period following Passover is traditionally one of mourning, one that means no weddings, no live music and no haircuts from Friday until the first week of June, before the holiday Shavuot, the day the Torah was given to the Jewish people. However, some families end the mourning period before then.
"It's our custom," explained Chani Tkatch, mother of 3-year-old Meyer and 4-year-old Avi. "Everyone gets it [cut] now. So everyone still looks cute, we get it cut as short as we can."
Passover is an eight-day Jewish festival commemorating the exodus from Egypt after generations of slavery. Preparing for it is quite an undertaking. For those celebrating at home, houses must be scrubbed top to bottom, and bread and other foodstuffs made from grain that cannot be eaten during the eight days must be removed from the house. Then begins the task of cooking special foods for the holiday. The haircuts were just another in a list of tasks to be checked off.
Before heading off to a Little League game, Ora Gichtin and her four boys - ranging in age from 5 to 11 - marched through the door around noon and were soon dispatched to chairs. Gichtin visited with each hairdresser, giving special instructions to each. This boy has a bad cowlick. This one doesn't want it too short. Then mom stood and watched as the folks with the scissors got to work.
"Little boys look very messy when they don't get their hair cut," she said. "You get it as close to Passover, because then they're not as bad."
The first Passover after Messick opened Salon Kids was two years ago. Even though she is Jewish, Messick said she was completely unaware of the tradition prohibiting haircuts after Passover and was unprepared for the onslaught of customers the Sunday before the holiday that year. She had just two stylists that day.
"All these people came," she said, and she could not handle them.
Last year was better. This year, she said, she was even more prepared. She had every employee working. She started taking appointments nine and 10 months ago. She brought in trays of sandwich fixings for her staff because there would be no time for breaks.
"We opened early," Messick said, "and we're staying late."
Sophie Salzberg knew it would be mobbed yesterday at the salon - but she had no choice. It was the only time she could fit haircuts into a packed schedule, which included a birthday party as one of the next stops. And she would not spend the next six weeks looking at ever-shaggier Eli, 7, and Benjamin, 9.
"This haircut has to last," she said. "We've got to see family. Everyone's got to look good."
Without cuts, she said, "I wouldn't be able to tolerate it - not that the boys would notice, but I would."
On the other side of the room, 15-year-old Tamar Weiss and her three sisters watched as friend Chaya Griego, 17, received the finishing touches on her long, dark tresses from stylist Lisa Bosley. The salon is usually busy, said her sister and fellow stylist Chrissy Bosley, but not usually like this.
Tamar and two sisters had their hair done Friday. Chaya and the youngest Weiss girl had their turns yesterday.
"Everyone's doing it," Chaya said.