Gilliam continues father’s legacy
By Dorothy Inman-Johnson
Special to the Outlook
Ervin Omega Gilliam Jr. is owner, proprietor, and barber at the Gilliam Barbershop at 317 North Macomb Street in Frenchtown. It is a welcoming, warm place for customers, friends, and even the homeless to come in from the cold. Ervin, known best by his middle name, Omega, always keeps food and clothing in the shop to help frequent homeless visitors who stop by for a helping hand. He sometimes allows them to earn money for urgent needs by sweeping the shop. He keeps frozen treats in the fridge to help the homeless who drop by to cool off from the heat and humidity during Tallahassee’s summers. And you can always get the news of the day in the lively discussions of everything from religion, politics, movies, sports, travel, or family updates. Everyone who comes in is like an old friend. In addition to everything else, he has been the Pastor of Salem AME Church in Greensboro, Florida since 2010. He was the pastor of Mt. Olive in Live Oak, New Bethel AME in White Springs, and New St. John in Gadsden County between 2000 and 2010. So, in addition to ministering to his church congregation, he maintains an open door policy for all in need at the Gilliam Barbershop_ whether it is a need for a laugh, good conversation, or a helping hand.
His family instilled in him these good character traits that make him and his barbershop such a wonderful fixture in Frenchtown. Omega is the middle child of three children born to Ervin O. Gilliam Sr. and Adell Gilliam. His dad opened the Gilliam Barbershop in Frenchtown on Macomb Street in 1965 when there were only two other Black businesses_ Artistic Barbershop and Economy Drugs. Those three are the longest serving businesses at the same location in Frenchtown. It was not Omega’s plan to follow in his dad’s footsteps and become a barber. He graduated from Florida A & M University in 1990 with a B.S. degree in Fine Arts, but soon was convinced the family business was not such a bad idea. The Gilliam Barbershop allowed his father independence as a private business owner, and the income to take good care of his family.
So, in 1990, Omega began training with his father in the shop where his younger brother, Melvin, had already joined the family business. He enrolled in Barber School at Lively Vocational Technical School in 1991.
When his father retired 7 years later, Omega took over management of the barbershop and has, with the help of his brother, continued the legacy his father left to them. With the constant support of his wife, Wanda, they have weathered the good and bad times as Frenchtown went from a booming business district and thriving, vibrant neighborhood to a community struggling to maintain its identity; and now today striving to regain that old vitality. Throughout it all, Omega has made the Gilliam Barbershop an ongoing symbol of Frenchtown’s past prosperity as it has maintained its place as a thriving business in this historic African-American community since 1965.