Franklin’s takes little off the top, leaves Wichita customers with much more

Franklin's Barber & Beauty Salon: A place for community

Owner Troy Franklin talks about the barber shop he opened in 1995, which has been a Wichita staple ever since (Bryan Horwath/The Wichita Eagle).
Up Next
Owner Troy Franklin talks about the barber shop he opened in 1995, which has been a Wichita staple ever since (Bryan Horwath/The Wichita Eagle).

A message board inside Franklin’s Barber & Beauty Salon advertises adult haircuts for $15 and beard trims for $6.

What the sign doesn’t say: counseling, parenting tips and friendships that flourish here – all free.

In late 1995, Troy Franklin opened the shop along Douglas, across from East High School, where he was a member of the class of 1982.

Three years later, Franklin, 51, moved the business to 140 N. Hillside, where it has been a community staple ever since. The shop is part neighborhood sounding board, part man cave, part youth mentoring center, part life help desk – and always entertaining.

On a recent Saturday – one of the busier days for the shop – an older man sits down for a cut. The conversation between the man and his barber hops from the recent death of rock star Prince to social media.

The shop, which is separate from the beauty salon, employs close to a dozen barbers and, on this day, nearly all of them are working. Franklin, who also works for the Wichita Fire Department, knows most people who come through the door.

Customers of various ethnic and cultural backgrounds come to the shop. For the local black community, however, the barber shop has long been more than a place to get a trim.

Owner Troy Franklin talks about the barber shop he opened in 1995, which has been a Wichita staple ever since (Bryan Horwath/The Wichita Eagle).

One regular customer, West High School boys basketball coach Michael Lewis, said places like Franklin’s serve as community catalysts.

A place like this is our country club.

Michael Lewis, regular Franklin’s customer

“Let’s be real: As black men, we don’t have a country club to go to,” Lewis said. “A place like this is our country club. We’ll talk politics, sports, community news and, yes, women.

“Franklin’s is a clean barber shop – there are no cuss words here. It’s a family place, a good place for young people to come and get some mentoring. I tell my players to come here, because it’s a positive environment.”

Haircuts, mentoring

Franklin spends more time talking about the environment he has fostered and the people who come in than he does about hairstyles or the shop’s bottom line.

As his 9-year-old son gets a haircut, Kirk Edwards of Wichita asks Franklin whether the movie “Barbershop: The Next Cut” is appropriate for his son to see. Franklin said he didn’t think anything in the PG-13 film would be any worse than what Edwards’ son has already seen or heard.

“We try to be mentors, father figures and gentlemen to help encourage the youth,” Franklin said. “We get a lot of single mothers who bring their sons in.

“I’ve raised three kids and I’ve been married for almost 30 years, so maybe I can offer some insight.”

It’s not unusual for Franklin to give his card to a mother who might have a child with a behavioral problem at school. Franklin said mentoring means taking an interest in a young person’s life beyond the 15 minutes they might sit in his chair.

“I’ll go to basketball games when I can,” Franklin said. “If you show a young person that you care, they’ll listen to what you have to say.

“With the lack of fathers in the home now, it can be good for young men to come to a place like this.”

Not missing a beat, Franklin shifts into mentor mode when a high school boy known around the shop as “Nephew” walks in. The teenager, sporting a trendy hairstyle that Franklin refers to as the “let it go,” needs a trim, but Franklin is first interested in things like school and the boy’s part-time job.

How many hours per week you working, Nephew? Where you sitting at? What’s your GPA?

Troy Franklin, owner of Franklin’s Barber & Beauty Salon

“How many hours per week you working, Nephew? Where you sitting at? What’s your GPA?”

When the boy reveals his grade point average recently dropped slightly, Franklin pauses.

“Hey, watch those hours at work if you have to,” he said. “You’re never below a 3.5. It’s all about balance in life.”

With the tough love out of the way, Nephew talks about the money he’s saving (“That’s not all that much, you need to be thinking about a nice little nest egg,” Franklin says) to possibly buy a car (“Talk to me when you’re ready, I know a guy”) and the fact that he allows girls at his school to run their fingers through his hair (“They better not be”).

A place like this is our country club.

Michael Lewis, regular Franklin’s customer

Recently, a boy in the shop wouldn’t listen to his grandmother when she asked him to turn down a smartphone video. Franklin said he took the young man, who is a distant relative, in the back of the shop for a scolding.

That’s not how you act at Franklin’s.

“The next time he came in, he was saying, ‘I love you, Mr. Troy,’ ” Franklin said. “Today, parents want to be friends with their kids, but that’s different than being a parent.”

Aging barbers

Statewide, there are more than 600 barber shops, according to the Kansas Board of Barbering. Wichita alone is home to 126 businesses that employ at least one barber.

Still, Larry Montgomery, the board’s administrator, said 27 counties in Kansas are without a single shop. The challenge, Montgomery said, is to make sure enough people are entering the profession.

Dozens of barbers are now in their 70s and 80s and will soon retire for good or die. Board inspector Jeri Bryant said there’s a reason many of the state’s nearly 1,700 barbers are either in their 70s or older or are young people relatively new to the trade.

“Years ago, barbering was a popular thing,” Bryant said. “That’s why we have so many older barbers.

“In the 1970s, though, people were wearing their hair long and there was less of a need for barbers. There’s a divide from that time when not as many people were trained as barbers.”

126 businesses in Wichita employ barbers

To be licensed, Bryant said, a barber needs to know more than just how to use scissors and clippers. They must be familiar, for instance, with various disorders of the scalp and the many muscles of the face.

In Wichita, those interested in the profession can get trained at Old Town Barber College – where Franklin went, though it had a different name then – and 360 Barber College. A third program, at the Paul Mitchell school in Wichita, is expected to open later this year.

KU and ‘WU’ people

Some of the more lively conversations at Franklin’s revolve around sports.

In fact, one of the latest in a long line of Kansas Jayhawk greats and a likely future NBA player, Wichita native Perry Ellis, has been getting his hair cut by Franklin since he was 5.

Where Ellis will land to start his professional career is sure to be a hot topic of conversation at Franklin’s.

“Perry is a great kid,” Franklin said. “He’s exactly the same as he’s always been. He hasn’t changed.

“He won’t say much if he doesn’t know you, but he’ll talk your ear off if he does.”

Wichitan Brett Bell, another regular, said he enjoys the sports banter.

“The best is when they talk about KU and Wichita State,” Bell said.

Bell has three adopted African-American sons, Arieous, 6, Noah, 5, and Aayden, 4. One at a time, the boys each got into Franklin’s chair Saturday morning to update their identical haircuts.

“I had no clue how to cut the boys’ hair,” Bell said. “Somebody referred me to Troy, and I’ve been coming here every couple of weeks ever since.

“This is a great place. Troy doesn’t put up with any nonsense.”

Gino Pipkins, who has cut hair at Franklin’s for 20 years, likes to say he’s the only true Kansas Jayhawks fan at the shop.

Pipkins’ allegiance to KU is well-known around the shop. Wichita State backers are known as “WU” people to Pipkins, who went around the room Saturday morning to reveal the favorite teams of all the barbers.

He stops on Jon Williams, a New England Patriots fan.

“Jonnie, were you even born when the Patriots won their first Super Bowl?”

When he’s not cutting hair, Pipkins helps run the Wichita Trojans, a nonprofit youth football organization, which features players from kindergarten up to eighth grade.

As they have for years, the pair – known as “G” and “Frank” to each other – will banter about any number of subjects. While many barbers have come through Franklin’s, Pipkins has been with his friend since the shop’s first day of business at Douglas and Grove.

Pipkins got a laugh from the room when he explained to the younger barbers what a “molly wopping” is.

“It’s a serious whooping,” Pipkins said, to the amusement of his audience.

Another regular and friend of the shop is Dwayne Littleton, who works at Ascension Healthcare’s Behavioral Health Center in Wichita.

“I’ve known Troy since the beginning,” Littleton said as he waited for his turn in the chair. “He’s been a good steward to the community. The barber shop is one place we can go to always find comfort.”

Yes, for the customers of Franklin’s – and many other shops like it across the country – $15 gets you a lot more than a cut.

“Barbers like Troy are life coaches, too,” Littleton said. “To be honest with you, I’m not sure what life would be like without a place like this.”

Franklin’s Barber & Beauty Salon

Address: 140 N. Hillside

Phone: 316-612-1199

Established: October 1995

Facebook: Search “Franklin’s Barber & Beauty Salon”

By the numbers

620 barber shop in Kansas

126 businesses in Wichita employ barbers

1,700 barbers in Kansas

Source: Kansas Board of Barbering