Two-hour trip just for a haircut?
First Posted: 1/20/2015
When Zel Vici opened his barber shop in 1935, Don Roenigk was still 48 years away from being born.
Roenigk, a 31-year-old graduate student at Penn State University in State College, traveled two hours to Nanticoke Friday to get a haircut from Vici, the 100-year-old iconic barber who decided not to retire at the end of 2014.
Roenigk read about Vici in a Pittsburgh newspaper and decided he wanted to get a haircut from someone who has been plying his trade so long.
Roenigk is from Sarver in Butler County and he is studying for his MBA at Penn State. Roenigk is engaged and getting married in June. He said he just might return to Vici’s shop for his pre-wedding haircut.
And Roenigk, like any good student, did his homework on Nanticoke. After his visit with Vici, Roenigk was heading to Sanitary Bakery, Tarnowski’s Kielbasa Store and Stookey’s BBQ — all legendary businesses in the Nanticoke area — where he purchased pastries, kielbasa and lunch.
“I really like the family-owned businesses,” Roenigk said. “I appreciate the quality and the craftsmanship.”
Vici’s shop was busy Friday morning. Three customers plus Roenigk were there waiting for their turn in the chair. Roenigk seized the opportunity to learn more about Vici and Nanticoke.
Bernie Cywinski, 87, of Sheatown, has been getting his hair cut by Vici since 1945 — the year he got out of the military and returned to Nanticoke.
“This guy just does a great job,” Cywinski said. “If you come here, your coming to the best.”
Cywinski remembers when Nanticoke had 30-plus barber shops. Now there are just three.
“I’m glad Zel didn’t retire,” he said. “I don’t know where I’d find another barber as good as Zel.”
Roenigk was busy asking questions and learning more and more about Nanticoke, its legendary businesses and its people. He said whenever he travels, he likes to discover the hidden treasures in small towns and get a feel for each community.
“I’m sure there’s only one Stookey’s,” he said. “And I know there’s only one Zel.”
Roenigk, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, said he will be moving to South Carolina after his June 20 wedding to work for Amazon.
“Hey Zel, will you still be working in June?” Roenigk asked.
Vici assured him his intention is to still be open for business.
“Good,” Roenigk said. “I think I’ll be back for a haircut before the wedding.”
Vici qualified his assurance by stating “if my heath is still good,” but he smiled and said he would be happy to cut Roenigk’s hair for his big day.
Dave Klaips of Kingston graciously gave Roenigk his place in line and the Penn State student got in the chair. He and Vici discussed how to cut his hair.
“I think I’ll leave about a quarter of an inch on the sides and three-quarters of an inch on the top,” Vici offered.
Roenigk agreed and when the clipping was done, Vici turned Roenigk around to see his new look in the mirror.
“Good job, Zel,” he said. “I like it. I like it a lot.”
Another satisfied customer.
“Zel has a tremendous work ethic,” Klaips said as his turn came. “And he does it right here in front of us and he has been doing it for 80 years.”
Roenigk asked to get a picture with Vici before he left. Vici was asked what he thought of Roenigk driving in from State College to have him cut his hair.
“Oh, it’s a great feeling to have someone do that,” Vici said. “Now, who’s next?”