Loyal and loving it: Old school Bonita barbershop caters to no-nonsense customers, veterans in its third decade

Gripping his walker, 89-year-old Robert Grugan slowly strolls into Mel’s Barber Shop. Owner Maria Strawder guides him to the barber’s chair and gently removes his glasses.

Before she starts cutting Grugan’s hair, he slips out his hearing aid.

And when she’s done, he pops it back in.

When asked why he’s kept coming to this same Bonita Springs barbershop for more than 20 years, his answer is simple: “Maria keeps me coming back.”

“She’s so good with people that come in,” he continues. “She’s sort of part of us.”

Becoming conscious of his gushing compliments, he jokes, “She has to pay me extra for this.”

Mel’s Barber Shop, a second generation family owned business founded by Strawder’s father, Mel Sinnamon, has been a pillar of the Springs Plaza for more than three decades years.

“I’m probably one of the busiest shops as far as barbershops go in the area because I’ve been in the same location for 30-plus years,” said Strawder, who started working here in 1985.

She took over the business after her father retired in 1987. And bought it from her mother 12 years ago.

The old-fashioned decor is another thing that hasn’t changed much since Sinnamon, now deceased, bought the barbershop, located at the corner of U.S. 41 and Bonita Beach Road, in 1979. Strawder says her customers prefer the quaint barbershop with a checkered floor, waterfront marina mural and game fish mounted on the wall to the upscale salons with expensive prices.

“The guys like the nostalgia because the barbershop is becoming a thing of the past,” Strawder says.

Some of the game fish were originally mounted on the wall about 30 years ago by one Mel’s barbers, who was an avid fisherman.

“Bonita was just a little fishing village once upon a time,” Strawder said. “So the fish kind of stay with the shop.”

Unlike many salons, the barbers at Mel’s use clippers to cut men’s, women’s and children’s hair.

“These guys like to get in and out, and they don’t want to spend all afternoon (getting their haircut),” she says.

Men’s eyebrow, nose and ear hair trimmings are complimentary with a haircut.

“They say, ‘Oh, my wife’s going to love you because you got my nose hairs,’” Strawder says of her male clients.

A basic men’s haircut costs $12, but for military veterans on Veterans Day, they’re free.

This will be the fifth year that Mel’s Barber Shop will offer free haircuts to veterans on Veterans Day.

“These guys have served our country, and they deserve everything,” said Strawder, whose father and husband are both U.S. military veterans. “They don’t get enough back for what they’ve done for us.”

The barbershop, which has four other employees with family members or loved ones that have served in the military, offers coffee, cookies and donuts to the Veterans Day customers.

“It’s a great pleasure for us to see a 90-year-old guy fumbling for his I.D. cards or his dog tags (while) bragging about his service, which is what we get,” said Steve Strawder, Maria’s husband and a retired colonel from the Indiana National Guard. “It’s a great reward for us.”

Last year, roughly 75 veterans cashed in on a free haircut, and Strawder expects a larger turnout this year.

“They are so thankful,” Strawder said. “I can’t begin to tell you what it’s done for our business.”

Now Strawder has customers coming in from Naples, Fort Myers and Cape Coral because they are so thankful for the free haircuts on Veterans Day.

“I just thought it was terrific,” said William Freetage, a Vietnam veteran and a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars who has been getting haircuts at Mel’s for six years. “They have a great response, and a lot of veterans come on that day. It’s well appreciated.”

Strawder attributes the success of her barbershop to her friendly staff, great location, consistent professional quality service, cheap prices, conveniently fast service and the reputation her business has built since it was established 30 years ago.

“No appointment is necessary,” Strawder said “They know they can get in, get their haircut and get about their day.”

The Mel’s Barber Shop clientele has increased a hundredfold since Maria started working there about 24 years ago.

“I have grown with Bonita Springs,” Strawder said. “I do more (haircuts) every year. More people move in the area, and more people find me.”

When asked what they like most about the barbershop, many of the customers said it’s the friendly staff that keeps them coming back.

“It’s handy, and the girls are nice,” said Pete Mason, a client who’s been coming to the barbershop for about a year. “They do a good job, and it’s easy to get in and out.”

Mason also said he appreciates the cheap prices and the old-fashioned decor of the shop.

“I just don’t need to be paying for all the bells and whistles,” Mason said. “I just want a haircut.”

Sarah Donovan is a freelancer writer. She can be reached by e-mail at sdonovan2@gmail.com.

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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