It was a rainy saturday in late February when I met with Darren at his shop, Dick’s Service Station. When I showed up, each station was occupied by a client with several more waiting to be seen. Dick’s is a barber shop / salon in downtown Oakland Park which specializes in mens’ haircuts and is quite popular among those in the gay community, although they work with a diverse clientele. I quickly learned this is not Darren’s first year as South Florida Gay News Barber of the Year – it is his fourth year in a row.
This marks the fourth year in business for the shop. The owners, Christian Santiago and Eric McKnight, opened Dick’s Service station back in March of 2016. The barber shop shares a superlative status alongside Darren as Dick’s is also Best Barbershop of SFGN for four years in a row. When the shop opened, Darren said there were not many businesses in the area. He mentioned Funky Buddha was just about the only other business nearby. Since that time, the downtown Oakland Park area has been fortunate enough to see additional businesses establish. Across Dixie Highway there are several new residential developments which were not here prior to the opening of Dick’s.
Darren is heavily involved in local charity and so is the shop. One day a week, on Mondays, Darren volunteers his time to offer free haircuts. Inside the Live Well Center in Wilton Manors, the shop offers free haircuts to Ryan White Program recipients through a branch of the shop they like to call “Little Dick’s”. It was not clear to me if the pun was intentional, however I could not help but laugh when Darren told me about it. The Ryan White Program offers assistance in the form of medical and dental care to people with HIV/AIDS who could not otherwise afford to seek medical or dental care on their own.
Sadly, Darren lost his brother David just before the business opened in 2016 to cancer. Darren memorializes his brother by collecting money from customers which go to benefit the community. The shop likes to alternate between raising money for cancer charity organizations, pet charities, and other miscellaneous community organizations. Darren calls this program the “Heaven Cent Program”.
Haircuts may cost, for example, $14.99. He asks the clients if they wish to round up the bill the next dollar and to donate the penny to the program. If clients wish to donate more than just the penny, the shop will match those amounts as well. At the end of the day, Dick’s Service Station will match the donations dollar-for-dollar and present the chosen charity with the proceeds. Some of the charities which have benefited from Darren’s philanthropic nature include The Pet Project, SunServe, Smart Ride, and Broward House. Not only does Dick’s Service Station run the “Heaven Cent Program”, as Darren calls it, they are involved in other fundraisers as well. Darren mentioned they also do car washes from time to time to raise money for charity.
After learning the good nature of Darren and the shop owners, we switched the conversation back to business. When I asked Darren about his specialty haircut, he said he likes to be versatile and prides himself in being able to do any men’s haircut. The shop also offers manicures, but they call those “handjobs”. I left the shop with the solid impression that visiting Dick’s Service Station and having Darren cut my hair would not only improve my style, but would also allow me to support those who truly give back to the community.
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