For more than a half century, customers visited Walter Hamm's business for the haircuts. They also visited for the conversation, the atmosphere and sometimes, the Tootsie Roll Pops.
Hamm's Barbershop served as a hub for the community and a tribute to the Hill District, where it was located for nearly 55 years. Mr. Hamm, an entrepreneur with a "customer first" attitude, died unexpectedly at age 78 on Wednesday.
Born in Pittsburgh on Oct. 25, 1932, Mr. Hamm attended Westinghouse High School in Homewood. He enlisted in the Army after graduation, serving in the Korean War.
After returning to Pittsburgh, he attended the Pittsburgh Barbering School, gaining his first job as a barber in the Hill District in 1956. He opened Hamm's Barbershop two years later on Wylie Avenue and later moved it to its current location on Centre Avenue.
"I believe Mr. Hamm always wanted to be in control of his own destiny," said Bernard Taylor, a friend of Mr. Hamm's family for more than 30 years. "He was an all-around entrepreneur."
Mr. Taylor described Hamm's Barbershop as a "hub of the Hill District" with a family atmosphere, where people gathered to talk about politics, sports and entertainment.
When a child would come into the shop for a haircut, Mr. Hamm always gave him or her a Tootsie Roll Pop or a Charms Blow Pop, Mr. Taylor said.
"It was a comfortable, fun place to be," he said.
Mr. Hamm, who worked at the barbershop until the day he died, was committed to the Hill District because his livelihood came from its community, said his wife, Janice Hamm.
"He wanted to preserve the legacy of the Hill District," Mrs. Hamm said. "Everything he owned and loved was in the Hill District."
Mr. Hamm sometimes joked that the Hill District even gave him his wife of nearly 50 years, she said.
When a girlfriend of Mrs. Hamm's introduced the two at Mr. Hamm's barbershop on Wylie Avenue, he asked Mrs. Hamm, "Can you speak?" The next day, she approached him to prove she could talk, and "it kept going," she said.
"He was a committed family man, from the old school," she said. "He believed in family, and he believed in the community."
Aside from the community spirit he cultivated at his barbershop, Mr. Hamm frequently provided help to community organizations and schools, Mr. Taylor said. When Mr. Taylor worked as a school principal, Mr. Hamm provided all of the turkeys used for the school-wide Thanksgiving feast, Mr. Taylor said.
"He did everything he could to help people," Mrs. Hamm said. "He never felt the Hill should go down."
Mr. Hamm is also survived by his daughters, Tracy Hamm and Shawn Hamm, of the East End, and LaSchell Hamm Wilson, of Laurel, Md., and two grandchildren. A visitation is scheduled today from 4 to 9 p.m. at Ebenezer Baptist Church, 2001 Wylie Ave. , where a funeral will be held Tuesday at 11 a.m.
Katie Park: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1964.