Central Station Barbershop & Grooming, a tiny building nestled in the Grand Central District, at 2325 Central Ave., looks like any traditional barber’s.
A closer look reveals children’s books slanted on shelves, literature neatly stacked next to razors and photos of hair designs.
Central Station Barbershop owner Antonio Brown has been promoting children’s reading in his shop since 2016; in recent months, COVID-19 propelled him to revamp his Barber Shop Book Club and provide free books to children.
“A lot of boys don’t like to read; they think it’s boring,” Brown said. “If you encourage them to try, it promotes confidence and self esteem.”
On Wednesdays from 4 to 6 p.m., Brown’s shop is alive with book club kids reading aloud in his chairs; they get a complimentary haircut and bring home the reading material.
“Once they read to me, I buy them lunch, give them gift cards – the types of encouragement changes frequently,” Brown said. “It always feels great, watching these kids excel.”
In the beginning years, the book club had only a handful of participants, but word of Brown’s dedication has spread throughout the St. Petersburg area.
The Gulfport Kiwanis Club ran a book drive for the shop, collecting Black-positive books from February 6 to 19. Books flooded in with content rich in Black history and leaders, hair positivity and self-love.
“The kids love it. Self-esteem isn’t always there, so we have to promote it,” Brown said. “I’m just grateful to be giving back in a different kind of way.”
Since launching the concept, Brown has worked with nonprofits such as the Shirley Proctor Puller Foundation and inspired 10 other Pinellas County barbershops to participate in the book club.
Five hundred Florida barbers participating in the book club, each with their own literary collection.
That number might be easier to achieve with the approval of a $270,000 grant from the Florida Department of Education, which is currently in the request process.
The approval of the grant, led by Pinellas County Representative Michele Rayner, would lead to more books, staffing and an increase in affiliated barbers.