Two Boardman barbershops operated by distant cousins can trace their barbering heritage back about 150 years.
By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
BOARDMAN -- The Collas seem to be called by barbers past.
Each generation, family members at two Boardman shops feel a tug inside that tells them to take their places in a line of barbers that goes back at least to the mid-1800s in Italy.
Nick Colla calls it "hearing the voices."
His 22-year-old nephew, Randy, is the latest to hear the call. He was studying criminal justice at Youngstown State University, wondering about his future, when he thought that joining his uncle's business might be the answer.
"As soon as I picked up the scissors and the clippers, I was eager to learn," said Randy Colla, who completed barber school and began cutting hair four weeks ago at N.E. Colla & amp; Sons Barber Shop on Southern Boulevard.
Just a short distance away on Market Street, another group of Collas have felt the same tradition tugging at them.
Lisa Colla, 21, a distant cousin of Randy's, took her place in a long line of Colla barbers by becoming a barber at her father's place, Dennis Colla's Barber Shop.
Call of the clippers: Although she started cutting hair two years ago, she heard her call when she was 12.
"It wasn't a big decision. I've always wanted to do this," she said.
Both Colla shops trace their barbering heritage back to Italy, but the path for both goes through the same shop in downtown Youngstown. Both Lisa's and Randy's great-grandfathers, who were cousins, were among four partners who opened the shop 89 years ago. A photo of the four barbers hangs in Nick Colla's shop.
The four later split up, with the Colla cousins opening their own shops.
Randy's uncle, Nick Colla, had been thinking in recent years that his part of the family tradition was about to end. His children didn't take up the trade, and at 59, he knew he wouldn't be working forever.
His nephew's decision changed everything.
"I feel like my mission has been accomplished," he said.
His grandfather, Nicholas E., came to this country from Italy as a child and learned the trade from his father, who had been a barber in Italy. After the partners in the downtown Youngstown shop split up, Nicholas E. started his own shop, which he handed down to his son, Nicholas Jr.
Keeping tradition: Nick Colla, who is Nicholas III, didn't hesitate to join the business when he was 18. He cut hair with his grandfather for four years.
"It was a tradition for Collas to be barbers. We used to shine shoes and sweep floors when we were 7 years old. We grew up in the barbershop," he said.
On the wall above the mirror in his shop are some tools from long ago, including his grandfather's hand clippers and a level his father used for flattop cuts.
Despite his love of the trade, Nick Colla later left the business in 1972.
"I wanted to see what a two-week vacation was," he said.
While his brother, Terry, operated the shop, he sold insurance for a while and then started a successful career as a driver for Pepsi-Cola. Everything changed when his brother died of a heart attack in 1997.
"I felt it was my job to keep it going," he said.
He took a partial retirement from Pepsi and returned to the shop after being away for 25 years. Some of his brother's customers wondered who the new barber was. "I told them, 'I was my brother's barber, and he was the best barber in the world,'" he said.
Just a short distance away, the other Colla barbershop also proudly displays some old family photographs.
Preserved on film: Lisa Colla likes it when her customers ask about the photos, which are highlighted by one of her great-great-great-grandfather cutting the hair of a man in Italy in the mid-1800s.
"It's amazing," she said. "I love talking about the history."
So does her father. Dennis Colla has a mint-condition business card from his grandfather, Nicholas P. Colla, from the early 1900s. The telephone number has just five digits.
Nicholas P. Colla came to this country from Italy as a child and learned the trade from his father, who had learned it from his father in Italy.
Although proud of his shop's heritage, Dennis Colla is equally proud of the shop's future -- his daughter and a son, Pete, are barbers there.
"For some customers, my children are the fourth generation of Collas who have cut their hair," he said.