BY JEFF FALK
LEBANON – Is Himmy’s the premiere barbershop in Lebanon because of its unique, stylish hair cuts that threaten the boundary between grooming and art? Or is Himmy’s the premiere barbershop in Lebanon because it is the best place locally to discuss and debate sports?
It’s the old ‘which-came-first-the-chicken-or-the-egg?’ argument. And you can bet if the clientele and the barbers could somehow relate it to sports, they’d debate that as well.
Sports being bantered about at barbershops is certainly nothing new, and what goes on at Himmy’s isn’t necessarily unique. It just seems that invariably when men get together with other men invariably the topic of conversation turns to sports.
Located at the corner of Sixth and Walnut Streets in the city, the multi-cultural Himmy’s is a hub of activity, people seemingly coming and going all the time. It’s atmosphere is a unique mixture of the old and the new, city and the suburbs, all garnished with sports.
“People want to talk about sports and life,” said B.J. Read, 36, one of Himmy’s barbers. “That’s the truth. Usually life, but mostly sports.
“I think some people just want to pass the time,” continued Read. “Some people don’t want to go home. A lot of people love the barbershop atmosphere. You come in here for a smile and a haircut.”
“The majority of my customers like to talk about sports,” said Larry Burton, whose been at barber at Himmy’s for six years. “I think sports is a safe subject. Politics and religion, those are no-nos in a barber shop.”
“We talk about family,” said Raymond McClure, one of Burton’s ‘regulars’. “Both of us have raised a family. And we talk about sports all the time. We’re both originally from Philly, and we’re both Philadelphia sports fans.”
Himmy’s clientele is an eclectic group, everyone from adolescents to teenagers to adults. Some have played sports. And others still do.
“I get a lot of kid athletes. This guy likes to make fun of my teams,” said Read of the nine-year-old Jordan Kreitz of Cornwall sitting in his chair. “He likes to tell me how bad my teams are and how good his teams are. But I’m proud of him. He’s a good ball player (quarterback). He’s a good kid.
“I cut a lot of the high school athletes’ hair,” added Read. “Whatever sports they’re involved in, I’ll talk to them about their sports first, and then talk about national sports.”
“Basically I know the sports my regulars like,” said Burton. “And do you know what else I found? I found if someone feels like talking, just let them talk.”
“We talk about a little bit of everything,” said McClure of Burton. “Do you see that picture of Muhammad Ali? We go back to when he was Cassius Clay. We followed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar when he was Lew Alcindor. That’s how far we go back. But I like to talk about sports every chance I get.”
No sport is out of bounds at Himmy’s Barbershop.
While the topics of discussion range from local sports to national sports, the talk usually falls in line with the current sports season of the year. Customers like to discuss the more popular pursuits like football, baseball and basketball, but the barbers are well versed in all sports.
“People like to talk about both, both local and national sports,” said Burton. “You get some die-hards, anyone from soccer to golf. I can go with anyone, especially Steelers’ fans.
“Oh yeah, people are on top of things,” Burton added. “In another week people are going to be into basketball.”
“It definitely changes with the season,” said Read, who is still an active rec athlete. “We even have our own fantasy football league. And our (haircut) designs go seasonal.
“Once you cut their hair one time, you know them,” added Read. “I’m not a therapist, but I know some things. I know everyone’s sports teams, because I give it to them when they come in.”
For the most part, the local residents who frequent Himmy’s are knowledgeable sports fans.
“They’re very knowledgeable,” said Burton. “And the ones who are not get educated real fast. Sometimes it’s like, ‘What are you talking about?'”
“Some are more knowledgeable than others,” said Read, talking over ESPN’s SportsCenter on a television in the background. “A lot of my customers are sports nuts. A lot of my guys I grew up playing sports with. I want to be humble, but sports are my whole life.”
Sometimes the sports exchanges can become heated and passionate. But cooler heads always prevail, and everyone pretty much agrees to disagree.
“It’s awesome,” said Read, “because sometimes it gets loud in here. But it never gets to the point where anyone disrespects anyone. I like hearing different opinions. That’s one of the things I love about my job.
“Honestly, I know a lot about sports,” continued Read. “I’m a certified sports talker. I do all the fantasy stuff. It’s good to come in here and have a good debate with someone. It’s fun. I like to challenge my brain.”
“Who me?,” said Burton when asked if he ever disagrees with his customers. “The customer is always right. No. Never!”
“Yeah, I’d say athletes are better today,” said McClure. “When you look at basketball in particular, you’ve got to look at the skill sets. Some of those guys changed the game. It became a game of air, not of position.”
And the great sports debate rages on.