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More than a cut and a shave

DULUTH, Minn. -- Don't go to BAM Style if you want to be coddled. The three Russian brothers who own the Duluth hair salon -- Boris, Arsen and Mikhail Nektalov -- will tell you if the hairstyle you want isn't the hairstyle they think will make yo...

DULUTH, Minn. -- Don't go to BAM Style if you want to be coddled.

The three Russian brothers who own the Duluth hair salon -- Boris, Arsen and Mikhail Nektalov -- will tell you if the hairstyle you want isn't the hairstyle they think will make you look good.

"Most appreciate the honesty," Boris said. Some do get offended, though, and threaten to take their business elsewhere, he said. "I tell them to go to someone else and come back, and I'll fix it."

Hair is the family trade -- both sides are in the business, said Boris, the oldest of the brothers. He joined his kin at the age of 13, learning to cut and style hair from his father's barber friends in Samarkand, Uzbekistan. Arsen and Mikhail followed at ages 16 and 18, respectively.

The bravado the brothers' display is warranted, said Patra Sevastiades. She frequents the salon, where haircuts start at $14, with her three children.

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Her late husband, Father Philemon Sevastiades, used to go to BAM regularly to get his beard trimmed and have deep theological discussions with the proprietors. Since the Twelve Holy Apostles pastor's death in 2004, Boris has "taken a paternal interest" in making her children look good for Philemon's sake, Sevastiades said.

"He talks straight to me," she said. "He doesn't want anyone going out looking ugly. He can be brutally honest, but in such a pleasant way that you say, 'Oh. OK.'?"

One former BAM stylist said the Nektalovs' insistence on perfection from their stylists can be unnerving. After graduating from cosmetology school, Samantha Spoden worked at BAM for about nine months in 2005, first as a receptionist and later as a stylist. Boris followed some of her clients out the door and re-cut their hair himself.

While the brothers are good stylists and taught her a lot of skills, Spoden said, the salon's boisterous atmosphere can be off-putting to some clients.

A multicultural and multigenerational mix of customers streamed in and out of the stylists' chairs on a recent rainy afternoon. Boris, sporting a white suit jacket and a silver dollar-sized Star of David around his neck, exchanged friendly ribbings with the soon-to-be-shorn.

The brothers are the only three guys who can keep up in a give-and-take with him, said Chuck Horton, while Boris carefully manicured the boxing gym owner's facial hair with a razor. Horton said he and all of his boxers go to the salon for a haircut and/or a shave before their matches for good luck.

The practice also has been good for his business, he said. He turned all his boxers on to BAM and, in turn, the salon promotes their fights by selling tickets.

"It's about business leaders helping each other," Horton said.

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City Council President Roger Reinert has been a BAM regular since its opening -- following Boris and Arsen from the Mount Royal Great Clips. He stops by to chat even when he doesn't need a trim.

Reinert dressed as Anderson Cooper for Halloween this year because of his resemblance to the CNN anchor, and wanted a haircut to match his doppelganger's. Boris agreed to do it on the condition that the no-fuss politician actually spend time styling his hair until the cut grew out.

The brothers have purchased another property in Duluth Heights that they hope to open next summer. They plan to add more salon services such as manicures and pedicures, and have a bridal room where the soon-to-be-wed and their attendants can come to primp on their big day.

Their brash style has helped to hook customers, Boris said.

"Once you go BAM, you never go back."

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