Kingsbridge resident Gary Chimelis fell in love with cutting hair as a kid and dreamed of launching a mobile barbershop. With idle time on his hands during the pandemic, he turned his dream into a reality.
In August 2021, he started Bronx Loyal Mobile Barber, where he cuts hair out of a van he renovated. He works Tuesday through Saturday and clients can visit him or he will travel to them for a small fee.
Chimelis told the Bronx Times that it not only serves as a business, but also as a safe space for clients that just need to vent or share meaningful conversations during these tough times.
“If people can make homes out of their vehicles, I knew some way I could make a barbershop out of it (the van),” he said.
Chimelis, 34, was born in Kingsbridge Heights, but spent his younger years in the Castle Hill section of the Bronx. At the age of 15 he began going to a barbershop across the street that his neighbor owned. He became enamored with not only what the barbers did, but the atmosphere, the relationships formed between the clients and barbers, the conversations and how patrons felt when they left.
From that point on, Chimelis knew he wanted to be a barber.
“After a while of observing, I figured I could do this,” Chimelis said.
So, that summer, instead of hanging out with friends, Chimelis approached the owner and asked if he could teach him a few things. Much to his surprise, when he got the shop for that first day, the owner pointed to a chair and said go cut hair.
Chimelis could not believe what he just heard. At the same time, it was a dream come true. He cut hair there for a year and then moved on to a shop at Fordham Road and Decatur Avenue.
“I started to fall in love with the other things,” he said. “The conversations they would have with the clients and the way (people) would feel afterwards. You can see the confidence on the person’s face after the haircut compared to when they entered.”
It was at that shop on Fordham and Decatur where he grew as a barber, but the owner, Sonny, also taught him how to run the business, budget, save and manage. The two grew close and Sonny told him he was looking to sell the place and wanted to know if he was interested. Chimelis was a bit shocked, but eventually seized the opportunity and at just 18, he took over.
After a few years of running the operation, however, things got a too burdensome and he decided to sell the business.
According to Chimelis, at that time in his life he needed something more stable with benefits. So, he entered the hospitality industry around age 20. He started as a waiter and worked his way up to the director of food and beverage, which he did until May 2021. Chimelis liked the steady paycheck, but didn’t love the job.
He always had visions of getting back into cutting hair and even had the idea of one day creating a mobile barber shop. Shuttered home during the pandemic, Chimelis realized he now had the time to fulfill his dream.
“I didn’t want to work in a shop or anything like that because of the rent,” he said. “I just wanted to cut the middle man out.”
In June 2021, he purchased an electrician van, gutted it, renovated it, installed an air conditioning and heating unit, a table for his supplies, a chair and more.
While he watched YouTube for guidance, the entire process was trial by error.
“Since I did the work myself, there’s more of a sense of accomplishment,” Chimelis said.
Being able to be his own boss and offer a unique approach to getting a haircut has garnered him a good reputation, he said.
In addition, to clients getting haircuts, he also does free haircuts at the Kingsbridge Community Center and at a men’s shelter, and hosts back to school free haircuts for youth in the area.
“Talking with them (clients) and cutting hair it’s very therapeutic,” Chimelis said.
Now that he has the mobile barbershop it’s like a second chapter of his life has begun. He not only goes to work every day happy and loves his job, but leaves his clients feeling good as well.
He told the Bronx Times that if COVID-19 did not happen Bronx Loyal Mobile Barber probably wouldn’t have ever launched. Chimelis has a vison to create a few more mobile barbershops and have a brick-and-mortar store where he would train barbers.
“This is the starting point for me,” he said. “I’m glad everything happened the way it did.”
Reach Jason Cohen at email@example.com or (718) 260-4598. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes