For 53 years, Dominick Neatale has cut the hair of generations of Baldwinites at his humble enterprise — Dominick’s Barber Shop, at 1924 Grand Ave. Now, at age 86, he is finally hanging up his scissors and razors and, to the dismay of many, closing up his shop. Neatale is finally retiring.
“I’m going to miss it, you know,” said Neatale, of Merrick. “I’ve been dealing with so many people and meeting so many people . . . but it’s time to quit.”
Neatale learned the fine art of haircutting in Italy, where he was born. He immigrated to the United States in 1960, opening his shop only four years later. Ever since, he has welcomed customers with a wide smile and his charming Italian accent. He said he loves chatting with customers.
“He’s humorous and talented,” said Chris McBride, a Baldwin resident and a customer of Neatale’s for more than 10 years. “The atmosphere is one of the ‘old-world barber.’”
To step into his shop is to take a walk back in time. The unassuming, old-time vibe is unmistakable. Photographs of Neatale’s grandchildren and postcards from customers on trips around the world adorn the walls, while vintage barbershop fixtures and a 1950s radio and cash register evoke a bygone era.
“We definitely admire him for having worked this long, but it’s something that he loves to do,” said Brianna Paoli, Neatale’s granddaughter, who has had her hair cut at the shop for as long as she can remember. “I think people just like the old-time feel of his shop. No frills, but he definitely keeps it a certain way, and I think people like it. It sort of transcends time in a way.”
Neatale knows customers by name and remembers exactly how they like their hair trimmed. He even makes house calls for local people who are housebound.
He begins his haircutting sessions by graciously asking you to have a seat and tell him your name and how you want your hair done. If he thinks a particular cut will look bad on you, he has no qualms about saying so. Otherwise, he gets right to work.
Fifteen minutes later, he dusts the hair off your shoulders, unclips the barber cape and pumps the chair’s handle to lower it to the floor. Then he has you look in the mirror and tell him what you think.
For years, he has charged $9 for a haircut. No styling fees or fancy frills here. People have been known to travel to his shop from as far away as Montauk, and even from out of the state.
“You never know who’s going to know my grandfather,” Paoli said. “He has mostly multi-generational customers that will come in as kids, and then they’ll bring their kids. I know he even has some customers that’ll move away, and they’ll come back. He has one customer who moved to Ohio, and he’ll still come out for a haircut whenever he can.”
“He’s just a very warm-hearted man. [He’s] very family-oriented, and I think that comes across in his work too,” Paoli said. “I’m going to miss it. It feels strange to not picture him going in to work every day. . . . It’s going to be an adjustment that’s going to take some getting used to at first.”
Neatale said he is ready to enjoy his retirement, and looks back on his five decades as a barber with fondness and pride. But, he said, he looks forward to the next adventure in his life, whatever it might be.