NILES — The Men’s Union Barbershop on Robbins Avenue is a well-known city institution — particularly for its longtime owner Mike Melillo, who cut hair for nearly 40 years.
Melillo died in November at 64 at the Cleveland Clinic. His family closed the business late last summer when he went into the hospital.
The shop opened last week with a new barber, Josh Rosenberger, a longtime friend of the Melillo children. The family is excited to see their father’s business in use by a familiar face.
Rosenberger had the honors Feb. 12 of cutting the hair of Melillo’s grandson, Michael, 1, son of Vincent Melillo — who has known Rosenberger since school days.
Vince, a Niles native living in Dublin, Ohio, said his father was well-known not only as a barber, but through his work with Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish.
“My dad was the third-generation Melillo barber to operate the building — the first being his Italian immigrant grandfather,” he said.
A CLASSIC SHOP
Phillip Melillo, who was Mike’s grandfather, started the barbershop in the 1930s. He was followed by Frank Melillo, Pat Cera and then Mike Melillo, who ran the shop as well as the adjoining beauty shop, Hair Design by Michael.
“He mostly cut men’s hair, but there were boys who came here as well. He was ingrained in the community and known by people,” Vince said.
Vince said their father was “an absolute fixture and beloved figure in the city of Niles, and his passing has been tough on the whole community. His classic barbershop was felt by many to be the heart of the city. It is situated right on Robbins Avenue with a larger barber’s window facing out to the street.”
Rosenberger said: “It is such an honor to be here. Mike was so well known in Niles and was friends with my dad.”
In the window of the shop is a large photo of Mike Melillo to preserve his memory.
Rosenberger is leasing the shop for the business, which he is taking over.
“We grew up together and went to Mount Carmel together, played high school football together. It is great to know he is taking over the business,” Vince said.
Rosenberger said he has memories of coming to the shop with their father, Rusty, and Mike Melillo cutting his and his brothers’ hair.
“I had such great memories coming here. Mike inspired me into this career path,” he said.
“I remember him and his brothers all coming here to get their hair cut. They told me they would go home and pretend to play barber,” Vince said.
He said it has been hard for himself, his mother, Gerri, and sisters, Michelle Spano and Allison Johnson since their father became ill and later died.
“We talked about the shop and what to do. It was at my dad’s calling hours that Josh and I talked about the barbershop and he indicated to me how much of an honor it would be to him to follow in my dad’s footsteps here,” Vince said.
Rosenberger met with the family over the Christmas holiday.
“If it wasn’t for Josh being interested, we might not have had the heart to even lease or rent the shop out. We had talked to different people until we learned that Josh was interested,” Vince said.
Gerri said she and her children are very happy to know Rosenberger will be at the shop because the two families have known each other for years.
“We are absolutely glad Josh will be here,” she said.
A BRIGHT SPOT
Rosenberger said he does not want to change anything, wanting to keep it like Mike Melillo had it over the years.
Vince said his son getting his first haircut brought smiles to the family, which wanted Mike to be the first to cut the boy’s hair.
”We were awaiting his release from the hospital, but that unfortunately wasn’t to be. As a gracious sign of respect, the new barber has offered to make my son, Michael Melillo, his very first customer,” Vince said.
Vince said his father meant everything to him and his sisters, mom and other family members.
“Josh being here at the shop is bringing a bright spot to a dark time,” he said.
Today’s breaking news and more in your inbox