Popular Sewickley barber ready to hang up his razor

| Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Ross Kistler pulls a tuft of gray hair through a comb and swipes a razor across its teeth.

He and Chester “Chay” Mesko, who is sitting in one of two barber chairs in the tiny Broad Street business, are talking about the Asiana Flight 214 plane crash in San Francisco. Their voices are slightly muffled by the buzz of the razor.

“This is my buddy here,” Mesko gestures to Kistler. “I used to work at the hospital. Been coming here for years.”

Mesko, of Ambridge, said he still stops in frequently for a trim while his wife goes to the library. On this visit, he learned that after 19 years, Kistler, who turns 75 in October, will retire soon.

In no time, Kistler is setting down his hair-cutting tools and dusting off stray hairs from the back of Mesko's neck. He holds a mirror up behind him so he can see the back of his head.

“I'm handsome again!,” Mesko says with a laugh.

Today, Kistler's Barber Shop is steady with customers, mostly older gentleman who, like Mesko, have been coming in for years. He has relied upon word-of-mouth as his primary means of advertising. Since he never took appointments, he knows most of his customers only by face.

They talk about wars, politics and current events amongst walls and shelves filled with Florida Gators memorabilia, photos of military planes and mementos from Kistler's time at Eastern Air Lines, along with hair products and books to occupy children.

“I had no plans to retire, but I set a date,” he said. He settled on Aug. 31, though maybe sooner.

“If you're going to retire and you don't set a target date, you're not going to retire. You'll probably die alongside what you're doing,” he said, laughing.

Kistler's plans to retire seemed to have come up as quickly as his decision to purchase the business.

It was 1993, when former owner, the late Leo Scalercio Sr. told him he was going to retire after more than 35 years.

At that time, Kistler had been “trying different things” after being laid off from his position as city ticket office manager at the former Greater Pittsburgh International Airport in 1986.

“It was a transition period in my life,” he said.

He enrolled at the former Pittsburgh Beauty Academy in November 1993 and completed training in May 1994. He opened the shop about a month later.

Kistler figured cutting hair would come naturally. He already was skilled with his hands — first dabbling in luggage repair while working for Eastern Air Lines in Louisville, but taking it more seriously when his job brought him to Pittsburgh in 1972. There, he was approached after two pieces of American Tourister luggage fell off a cart and were run over.

“They had tire marks on them, if you can believe it,” he said.

After that, “the whole airport was asking” about luggage repairs he said.

He incorporated luggage repairs into his business, working out of the shop where spools of thread and spare luggage parts mingle with scissors and other barber tools.

More than a dozen pieces of luggage waiting to be picked up by their owners, mostly carry-ons, sit stacked in a corner and on a chair shrouded in a navy and orange letterman sweater that he earned for swimming at South Bend Central High School. One of the pieces, he said, is “a lost cause.”

Of all of his customers, Kistler said it's those who call upon him for luggage repairs who are the most upset since it's such a niche business.

“The people who need the luggage repair are crying the loudest,” he said.

He hopes someone would like to take over when he's gone.

“It's not something someone can get wealthy on,” but it's good for a few extra bucks a month, he shrugged.

After his Emsworth home sells, Kistler plans to move back to South Bend, Ind. where he was born and raised. He purchased a house in his hometown in May that he's been renovating during the short trips he makes every two weeks, also bringing a carload of items with him.

He hopes retirement will allow him more time to visit his children, Ross and Neal, and three grandchildren.

Plus, he still has travel benefits through the airlines, he said.

Over the years, Kistler said his business has seen some ups and downs.

“I lost some customers, but it's been fairly steady over the years. Just comfortable enough,” he said.

Being at the same location in the Village has provided a perfect place for him to watch businesses come and go. He talks about a new photography studio's impressive space a few doors down and is shocked when he notices an insurance agency across he street had moved out.

“It's been interesting to watch and this location is great for watching,” he said.

Though Kistler will be retiring, the barbershop will remain.

New owner Jenine Persuit said she plans to keep prices the same, but will remodel the shop and add a few additional services.

“A barbershop is something you need to keep here,” Kistler said.

“In 19 years, I've seen kids grow up and go to college. I've got a lot of wonderful customers. I'm going to miss them, but I've reached a point where I'm really looking forward to retirement.”

Kristina Serafini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-324-1405 or kserafini@tribweb.com.

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