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Baldwin barber Dominick Natale retires after 53 years

Newsday spent the day with barber Dominick Natale, 86, of Baldwin, as he cut his customers' hair one last time before retirement. His last day on the job was Dec. 23, 2017. (Credit: Marisol Diaz)

“Thanks for the memories” was a sentiment shared by the proprietor and his customers at the now-shuttered Dominick’s Barber Shop in Baldwin. After 53 years as a barber, Dominick Natale has hung up the shears at his shop on Grand Avenue. The goodbyes were frequent and bittersweet on Dec. 23, 2017.

Natale: “Thanks, Kenny, for letting me practice on your hair.”

Kenny Grant: Silence. He couldn’t muster a response.

Instead, he climbed out of the barber’s chair, walked with Natale to the old-fashioned cash register, paid for the haircut and asked Natale for his home phone number. Natale obliged, and Grant did likewise.

They looked each other in the eye and shared a warm hug. Then tears fell from Grant’s eyes. The thought of his last cut from the man who had been his barber for 40 years elicited decades of memories.

“Not only does he give good razor cuts — the best haircuts I’ve ever had — but he’s given me life lessons,” said Grant, a former Baldwin resident who moved out east, but traveled back for years from Sayville to sit in Natale’s chair

Sharp scissors and wit

Barber Dominick Natale, 86, of Bellmore at Dominick's
Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz

Barber Dominick Natale, 86, of Bellmore sits at Dominick's Barber Shop in Baldwin. A barber for 53 years, Natale retired on Dec. 23, 2017.

Let's start at the beginning

Dominick Natale, 86, cuts his customers hair at
Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz

Natale, 86, speaks Italian, Spanish and English. He was born in Brooklyn’s Canarsie neighborhood but grew up in Calabria in southern Italy, where his father had family. The plan was for the Natales to spend a little time in Italy and come back to the States, but the patriarch died of pneumonia during their first year abroad and the family stayed.
Natale’s mother encouraged him to learn a trade, and he chose barbering. His love affair with hair began in Italy when he was 14, but Natale went on to cut hair in Argentina, where for a time he also worked as a machinist. In the early 1960s, Natale returned to New York, where his brother lived, and began working as a barber in Seaford and later Merrick.

Bargain cuts for customers, AKA friends

Rich Norris of Wheatley Heights gets a hair
Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz

Natale used to share his shop with another barber. But since the man’s death a decade ago, Natale has been a one-man operation. For the past 16 years, he has charged just $9 for a haircut.
“Many of my customers are retired; I feel sorry for them,” Natale said.

Time on his hands

Barber Dominick Natale of Bellmore has his meal
Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz

"It’s not so easy to retire, especially in winter, when we spend so much time inside,” Natale said.
He is spry and spirited, but wonders how he will fill his days, which included a set schedule of haircuts — Tuesday to Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. — and a mandatory lunch break — noon-1:30 p.m., no customers allowed.
“How much can I talk to my wife?” jokes Natale of his spouse of more than 50 years, Isabella. “I’m going to make her crazy. How much TV can I watch, how much can I read? All of my life I’ve been on my feet working. If I sit too long, it will kill my leg muscles.”

Before I go

Barber Dominick Natale, left, with his long time
Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz

Natale is quick to point out that he’s going to miss his friends, aka customers, many of whom have come to his shop for decades, and the generations of families he has served. Pictured is Natale with longtime customer and friend Dominick Amendola. 
"Dominick says you have to have a few laughs, otherwise, it’s boring,” said Amendola, of Baldwin, a customer since 1974. “But it could be quiet, you’d come in and he would be doing Italian crossword puzzles. I enjoyed the times when it might just be me and him in the shop. We could talk in depth. Over the years, we got close.”

Barber Dominick Natale of Bellmore and his best
Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz

Allen Zuckerman, nicknamed Felix, right, is a dear friend of Natale’s who spends countless hours at the shop keeping Natale company and serving as unofficial ambassador of the shop. “Felix’s office is here,” jokes Natale.

They go waaaayy back

Kenny Grant visits 86-year Dominick Natale who has
Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz

Kenny Grant visits 86-year Dominick Natale who has been a barber in Baldwin for decades there, on his last day before closing the shop for good, Dec. 23, 2017.

Last day

LAST DAY 12-23: Dominick Natale, 86, owner of
Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz

Dominick Natale hangs up his hair-cutting jacket for the final time. 

He says atale said his wife is responsible for his longevity and energy.
“My wife gives me good vitamins,” he said. “I don’t know what she gives me. She says open your mouth, I open my mouth.”
    Natale, who also has skills as a plumber, carpenter, electrician and machinist, vows to begin clearing some of the “junk” out of the basement of the family’s Bellmore home and get around to fixing this and that.
    “There’s some home improvement to be done,” he said.

Time to call it a day

Hair cutting clippers at Dominick's Barber Shop in
Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz

Natale said it’s time to put away his razor and scissors.
“My mind is OK; my body says enough.”
And he said business has not been the same since Baldwin officials in the unincorporated hamlet eliminated parking spaces in front of his shop about a year ago.
“I lost more than half of my business. People don’t want to walk,” he said.

Barber Dominick Natale of Bellmore cleans his store
Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz

Dominick Natale cleans his store at the end of the day at his shop in Baldwin.

The final word

LAST DAY 12-23: Dominick Natale, 86, owner of
Photo Credit: Marisol Diaz

Natale, who cuts his own hair, said he still loves barbering after all these years.
“People said to me, ‘Don’t retire until I die, because I don’t want another barber,’ ” he said with a big smile. “I will miss my friends, but I have to walk into a new life. Last night when I was sleeping, I was dreaming that I was in here cutting hair.”

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