Situated along Butler Street in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mello & Sons marks owner Neal Mello’s third retail store. The shop stocks vintage Levi’s jeans, Schott jackets, Pittsburgh sports apparel, Snoopy T-shirts, coveralls complete with paint stains and subtle tears, Chuck Taylors, and, it seems, everything in-between. Mello has an eye for the good stuff: 501s and 505s both deadstock and distressed, French work jackets, classic collegiate sweatshirt and other coveted clothing. Plus, if the shop’s open, he’s there spinning vinyl, striking a match to light some incense, and sorting through new (though technically old) inventory — even if one of his sons greets you first. The store’s a true family affair. Hence the name.
Mello and his wife, Cyd, with two boys in tow, moved to Pittsburgh in 2016, a few months after closing their collaborative Brooklyn clothier, Grand St. Bakery, which they named after the business that inhabited the space before them. Go to New York now and you’ll still see the sign, centered between a Papa John’s and a liquor store simply called Liquor Store.
Some of what made Grand St. Bakery so special has been carried over to Mello & Sons. Namely, the staff (Mello, his wife and sons and a few part-timers), but also the butcher block checkout counter and a neon “M” that hangs in the window. Beyond that, everything’s new — well, at least to this space. There’s 100-year-old hardwood flooring installed by The Moose Woodshop; tin ceilings tacked up by local artist Printsburgh (aka Clinton Van Gemert); signs done by local designer Daniel Gurwin; interior elements plucked from Cyd’s cross-town interiors shop, Weisshouse, and big wardrobes bought at Construction Junction, a local, circular non-profit dedicated to salvage and surplus materials.
"There was this guy that had a workshop down behind Arsenal," a landmark in Pittsburgh's Lawrenceville neighborhood, Mello explains. "The guy says, ‘You know, I have 16 pallets of this wood to deal with. I’ve been trying to sell it for a year. No one’s bought it.’ I'm like, 'Well, what do you want for it?' He's says, 'Well, I do need some denim.' And I’m in my head like, 'Oh my god. Let's do this.' We traded denim for this,” Mello says, gesturing to his shop's 100-year-old, paint-splattered pine floors.
Outside, two nameplates catch the attention of passersby. Of course, there’s Mello & Sons’ custom lettering done by friend of the shop, Roy Miranda, but also remnants of a prior business: Krasny’s Bakery, a spot best known for “Mountaintops,” aka cupcakes covered top to bottom in icing. It’s fitting that the Mellos find themselves in an old bakery once more — with, of course, the signage still intact. This time, in another city, closer to family, with kids attending school down the block and a recently renovated home in the next neighborhood over.
Mello’s third business is firmly rooted yet still growing. It turned five this September, but it feels far older. Maybe it’s the clothes — or the carefully cultivated vibe inside. Maybe it’s Mello, an eclectic soul and a kind spirit, who’s equally as comfortable answering technical questions about the clothes he sells as he is rattling off intimate stories about being a dad to two boys.
“If I’m not open," he says turning the keys to the shop's front door on the day I visited, "that’s why I have my number on the window. Call me. I live five minutes away. I'll be there, whether it's me or my two kids or my wife or all of us."
Mello & Sons
4405 Butler St, Pittsburgh, PA 15201