For Eric Franey, the thought of seeing his father’s barber shop leave the family was something he couldn’t fathom living with.
When that scenario became a possibility several months ago, Franey knew it was time to move back home and continue his family’s legacy at Norm and Mark’s in Mitchell. After welcoming his first customer on opening day earlier this month, Franey became the third-generation owner of the local barber shop that his grandfather started 70 years ago.
“I knew I would have regretted not doing this, and it would be very tough to live with,” Franey said. “I’m still soaking it all in. Everyday I show up and turn the lights on, I smile from ear to ear knowing that I'm keeping the business in the family.”
Seeing his son move back to keep the barber shop running under the family name has filled Franey's father, Mark Franey, with pride. Since the late Norm Franey started the business in 1950, Mark Franey said it’s been a rare barber shop for the Mitchell community. He describes it as a sacred safe haven for guys of all ages to get their haircut and be able to share some personal life stories that will never leave the barber shop.
Although the 68-year-old Mark Franey is not retiring, he was looking to scale back his hours. That’s what led him to consider selling the business, that is until his son came back to take it over in the fall.
“It means the world to me to see him come back home and keep this going. I always admired my dad’s work, and I am proud my son admired my work,” Mark Franey said. “We have always lived by, ‘What is said in the barber shop, stays in the barber shop.' That right there is rare these days.”
While Norm and Mark’s has welcomed all genders, Mark Franey said his father built the business as one of the few barber shops that specializes in cutting guys' hair at a very “affordable price.” He’s followed in his father’s footsteps ever since. From the local welder to South Dakota Congressman Dusty Johnson, Norm and Mark’s has been a staple barber shop for a wide variety of community members.
“Welders, janitors, mayors, City Council members, congressmen, you name it, we have been the barber shop for every type of person in the area,” Mark Franey said.
From an early age, Eric Franey developed a passion for the barbershop lifestyle, just as his father did. Throughout his childhood, it’s where he spent most of his time with his late grandfather, Norm Franey, before he died.
Watching the two balance the art of cutting hair, while talking with customers in the barber chair was a skill Eric Franey said he always wanted to learn. While mastering the art of cutting hair has always been Franey’s main focus as a barber over the past two decades, he said learning how to connect with customers in a way that makes them feel comfortable enough to open up about anything in their life is equally important.
“The art of cutting hair is one thing, but knowing how to connect with everyone who takes a seat in that chair is a skill that you can’t learn overnight,” Eric Franey said. “Whether you are a Republican or a Democrat, we welcome everyone and talk about pretty much everything.”
Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson is one of the many loyal Norm and Mark’s customers who was relieved when he learned Franey was keeping the business running. After all, Everson has been getting his hair cut by Mark Franey for over 20 years.
“It’s great to see the business keep going, and I like the new downtown location,” Everson said. “We always have a lot of great discussions.”
Prior to making the move back home to Mitchell, Franey and his wife, Tara Franey, were residing in Sioux Falls. Although Tara Franey left a good nursing job to come back home with her husband, she said keeping the deep family history at Norm and Mark’s alive meant more to her.
“I have been with him since he was 17, and it is what he has wanted to do for nearly 30 years,” Tara Franey said. “I know how much this business means to him and the family, and I am just so proud of him for doing this.”
New location, new beginnings
For the past several decades, Norm and Mark’s was located inside the former Palace Mall. While the Franey family made many fond memories there over the years, Eric Franey wanted to move the business in the heart of downtown Mitchell, which is where it all started 70 years ago.
With the new 407 N. Main St. location, Eric Franey said the barber shop is now less than a block away from the Fourth Avenue and Main Street location that became the first Norm and Mark’s barber shop in 1950.
“I really wanted a downtown location because it’s where it all began,” Eric Franey said. “I am very fortunate to have found the building, and Boyd Reimnitz has been nothing but great to work with in turning the building into the barber shop.”
While Mitchell’s Main Street has seen plenty of changes in the past decade, with buildings being knocked down and storefronts sitting empty, Eric Franey is optimistic for the future of downtown.
With the city of Mitchell’s recent work to improve Main Street buildings, while seeking redevelopment opportunities in areas that have been an eyesore in recent years, Eric Franey said he is coming in at the right time, as downtown is gradually making a comeback.
“With Amazon and all of the online shopping that has hurt downtowns in communities all over the nation, I am seeing a lot more people want their Main Streets back. So I think that is helping more people understand the huge importance of shopping local and supporting downtown,” Eric Franey said. “What I love about the barber shop is no matter what type of changes happen in the world, people will always need a good haircut. And getting some cheap therapy from a barber in the process is timeless.”
With three kids of his own, Eric Franey said one of his son’s is interested in becoming a barber and taking over Norm and Mark’s down the road, which would put the business on track to celebrate the century mark.
“I would love nothing more than to pass the barber shop on to one of my kids and keep the business alive to see 100 years,” Eric Franey said.