• 39°

Local shop nominated for big honor

The front window has two red, white and blue barber pole decals on either side of the blue and white arched letters that read “The Chop Shop.” Its hours are listed in white lettering directly below, a blue and red “open” sign hangs in the window and there’s another barber pole decal on the window of the red door.

But the front door is where the Chop Shop leaves the stereotypical barbershop image.

Inside there are tables made of tires, hair dryers that look like helmets, each hairdresser’s station is a toolbox, bumpers hang from the ceiling and the floor is painted like a street.

“We wanted something different,” said LaTroy Brinkley, who began working at the Chop Shop when Rarsan Barnes opened it three years ago. “At most hair salons, you go in and see pretty cabinets and floors. We wanted our customers to have a place to come, hang out and feel like family.”

Now, the salon has a total of nine hair dressers, including Will Townes, Antonio Smith, Darren Allen, Antonio Barnes, David Outlaw, Nicole Porter, Ricardo Barnes and Schiquita Fault.

The customers who they hoped would feel like family have thanked them by nominating the shop as Best Beauty Salon for Steve Harvey’s eighth annual Hoodie Awards, for which it is currently the top of the final four nominees.

“'[LaTroy] is a great hair dresser,” said Patricia Johnson, a client of Brinkley’s who nominated the shop for the award. “He’s just a great hair dresser. Everything he does is great.”

While Brinkley’s hair styling talent is one matter — one of his designs will be on page 68 in the Aug. 2010 edition of hairstyle magazine “Black Hair” — it’s his relationship with his customers that made him standout.

“If you have an appointment and you’re late, he takes you,” Johnson added. “He loves his clients. He loves his clients. He treats you like you’re home.”

The Hoodie Awards are designed to honor local businesses, religious and community leaders, churches and high schools for their contributions and excellence in communities throughout the country.

It might be difficult for some to imagine how a unisex hair salon gone street-smart can affect a community.

“But you feel at home there,” Johnson said. “You can relax. Others are so crowded, and if you take off your shoes or start dancing to the music on the radio, they think you’re strange. Here, you can do that. You can feel like family. When you walk through that door for the first time, [LaTroy] welcomes you with open arms.”

Brinkley knows his customers’ likes, dislikes and activities the minute they sit down in his chair, so he knows what kind of hairstyle would suit them and their lifestyles.

But the longer they sit there, the more he knows about them.

“I want to try to have a positive influence,” Brinkley said. “We have a lot of young guys that come in here we want to set an example for. ‘Pull your pants up. Be respectful of your elders. Get your hair cut.’ That’s the kind of example we set.”

But his influence goes beyond discouraging baggy pants and backtalk.

Already holding two degrees, he is working on his third — in family counseling — because of all the problems he hears and advice he dishes out.

“Two years ago, a lady came in for the first time, and I didn’t have any appointment available,” Brinkley said. “I told her if she stayed, I’d squeeze her in. I did her hair and began talking to her. I found out later she came to get her hair done and was going to go home and take her life. Today, she’s one of my top clients.”

Other topics of conversation at the Chop Shop range from the oil spill to the Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan to dreams and aspirations.

Whatever it is, though, it isn’t gossip.

“We don’t do that here,” Brinkley said. “There’s no need for it, and I want everyone who comes in here to feel like they’re family.”

Having pursued a career he began in the dormitory as a way to make extra cash during college, Brinkley said he knows he is where he’s supposed to be.

“It’s wonderful,” Brinkley said. “And being nominated for the award lets me know that God has put me here for a purpose. It affirms my work and life.”

The Hoodie Awards air on Aug. 28. For more information, visit www.steveharvey.com/hoodieawards.