By Debbie Adams
Hairstylist Pam Mitchell has retired after nearly 40 years of business in Vinton. If she hasn’t done your hair herself, most likely she trained or mentored those who have.
Mitchell started doing hair for free in her basement for family and friends when she was just 15 years old. She married at 17 and raised two sons, Scott and Troy, which didn’t give her the time or opportunity to become a licensed hairdresser until she was 32 years old.
Encouraged by her customers who recognized her talent, she attended the American Beauty School in Roanoke and completed her license (2,000 hours of training) in just 13 months.
Living in the Lindenwood area of Roanoke County at the time, Mitchell planned to open a salon in her home once she was licensed, but the laws changed about that time, making it illegal to run a hair salon from a residence.
Mitchell pivoted to another plan and opened her Best Little Hair House in Vinton in 1984 on Hardy Road next to what was then the Lancermart. She convinced owner Henry Brabham to enclose the space which was used for storage, and which was just the right size for a small salon. She agreed to a five-year contract but ended up staying there for nine years with the goal of eventually building her own salon.
She had built up such a clientele in her home over the years that business was booming from the start. She was backed financially by her brother-in-law, Pete Goria, in the new venture.
About the time Mitchell opened her first salon, a Dolly Parton movie with a similar, but naughtier, name was popular at the box office. She switched it up to Best Little Hair House, thinking the “name would get you in the door and the service would get you back.”
In 1993, backed again by Goria, Mitchell built the second Best Little Hair House and Tanning Shed from the ground up, just up the street at 1390 Hardy Road. Hers was the first tanning salon in Vinton, which she later turned into a spa.
The new salon was built in the style of a house—Mitchell says because she wanted to project a homey, inviting atmosphere where customers would feel relaxed, welcome, and surrounded by friends.
In 2006, Mitchell became the first woman in Virginia to obtain a liquor license for a day spa so “customers could unwind. A customer might spend half a day at a spa and with the ABC license could be served not just lunch, but some wine or beer to go with it.”
She says it took about nine months to obtain the license through a very complicated process, but she has never been one to let anything stop her.
Mitchell proved to be not only talented when it came to hair, but extremely astute in business and marketing as well. She credits her brother-in-law with making the salons possible through his financial backing, and her sister, Carolyn Goria, with teaching her everything she knows about business and marketing.
But through the years, her biggest draw has been her personality. She is friendly and doesn’t appear to have ever met a stranger; she is fun; she is feisty; she is unfiltered much of the time; and she is family focused. The atmosphere, according to those who have known her since her basement salon days, is one of friendship and family.
When the first Best Little Hair House opened, there were five employees, including Mitchell. By the time she sold the business in 2008, she was up to 17 employees. In 2019, Mitchell sold the building itself, which now houses an insurance company.
When she sold her business, she didn’t retire. She began working for Angie Burton at Salon 121 on Jefferson Street in Vinton in 2013. Burton had worked for her at the Best Little Hair House until she went out on her own.
“She was my boss, and then I was her boss,” said Burton, who moved her business to the beautiful Vinyard home on Niagara Road in 2014. Mitchell moved with her.
As for why she is finally retiring now, Mitchell says it’s because of the toll doing hair takes on a stylist’s body over time; standing 10 or 11 hours a day is hard on feet, legs, shoulders, and arms. She has had surgery on both shoulders and says her body is “saying slow down.”
Mitchell and her husband Joe, who retired about two years ago, don’t have big plans for retirement other than relaxing. They have five grandchildren with a great-grandchild on the way, after 35 years of marriage this month.
Friends, family, and customers celebrated her retirement at Salon 121 on July 29, her last day of work.
Colleagues say that half of the hairstylists in Vinton have worked for Mitchell at one time or another. Several opened their own salons due to her influence or were mentored by her: Angie Burton with Salon 121, Melissa Peregoy with Splittin’ Hairs Salon, Carmen Morris with Carmen & Co. Hair Studio, Reba Spradlin with Reba’s Hair and Nails, Dana Newell with Hair Thairapy Salon, and others.
Mitchell says she was glad when each one was able to strike out on their own and open their own business. She showed the ropes to those who showed promise through the years, even creating a booklet of rules, guidelines, and suggestions. She leased space to hairstylists at Best Little Hair House so each one learned to run their own small business there, and then transferred those skills to running their own larger businesses when they were ready.
Cindy Ring, who has been best friends with Mitchell since childhood, said Mitchell has been there through every crisis in her life and through all the good times as well. “She’s been like a sister to me,” Ring said.
Mitchell was Ring’s hairdresser when they were teenagers and the subject of some experiments. She said that on one occasion Mitchell was waxing her eyebrows, got the wax too hot, and removed some skin in the process. Another time, she ended up with “Lucille Ball orange hair” in a hair coloring session gone wrong.
Ring says while Mitchell has always been a lot of fun, she is also the one you can depend on in hard times.
“When you come in the door [at the salon], your mood changes when you see Pam,” Ring said. “Even if she feels bad, she doesn’t complain; she listens to everyone else’s problems. She always has time for others. She is the type of person who never says ‘no.’ She has been a great supporter of the community as well.”
Betty Durham Cash has also been friends with Mitchell since middle school. They have worked together on and off throughout the years. She remembers when Mitchell opened the first Hair House, “a tiny, little place but she made it so successful. She has a great work ethic. Pam is a people person and customer oriented. She makes all her customers feel special, like they are the only customer she has, and treats them like her best friend. She bends over backwards for special requests. Customers keep coming back and refer others. She genuinely cares about people. She refuses to fail, and always did.”
Angie Burton spent much of July 29 tearful over Mitchell’s retirement. She worked at the Best Little Hair House for 13 years before going out on her own. “She’s been like a Mama to me,” Burton said. “Pam taught me a lot, just watching her. She took me under her wing and showed me how to run a business. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself—’you’re a leader,’ she told me. She is the most caring, loving person I know. Pam will always have my heart.”