Business

Nostalgia at the Swan Highway General Store and Barbershop

Owner Markie Parks offers traditional men’s grooming services and more at her shop near Echo Lake in Bigfork

By Maggie Dresser
Markie Parks, owner and barber at Swan Highway General Store and Barbershop in Bigfork on April 15, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

On any given day at the Swan Highway General Store and Barbershop, customers from the café next door will wander over with their pagers and get a haircut while they wait to eat, or retirees will sit down to chit chat with their neighbors at the table inside before they get their face shaved.

This small-town, friendly feel is exactly what owner Markie Parks envisioned when she set up shop last December, bringing her lifelong dreams of running her own barbershop and general store to fruition.

“It’s just fun,” Parks said. “I’m making it up as I go.”

After growing up in a farming community in California, Parks moved to East Texas where she raised rodeo bulls on her parents’ ranch where they were stock contractors for PBR bull riding. During the decade she spent running the ranch, she said she always wanted to go to barber school like her grandfather.

After her stint on the ranch, she moved to Washington where she went to school to pursue barbering and later worked as an esthetician.

“I finally pursued barbering and I knew that I wanted to open my own shop,” she said. “I didn’t want to be just a barber.”

Swan Highway General Store and Barbershop in Bigfork on April 15, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

So when her family moved to Dayton last fall, she pulled the plug, moved with them and found shop space at the intersection of Highway 83 and Echo Lake Road in Bigfork.

In the few months that the shop has been open, Parks says she’s seen a high demand for her traditional barber services like the full-face shave. Some of her customers say they hadn’t gotten a straight razor shave in 30 years until she opened.

“I’ve got guys coming back regularly for the full-face shaves,” Parks said. “The traditional barbering stuff is what appealed to me. I just think it’s fun and I think men’s grooming is making a comeback.”

Parks says the clean-cut look faded over the last few decades, but she’s starting to get younger clients in addition to her older clientele.

“It was never presented to my generation … it’s the nostalgia of it,” she said. “The feedback I get from the old guys is ‘I’m so glad you’re doing this,’ and then we get younger people who want to try, and most say they had no idea how awesome it is.”

Parks’ full-face shave entails 30 minutes of relaxation, with a reclined chair, hot lather using aromatherapy and steamed towels. She uses a single-blade disposable razor that gives a close shave following the direction of hair growth.

“It’s like a facial,” she said.

Shaving kit items on display at Swan Highway General Store and Barbershop in Bigfork on April 15, 2021. Hunter D’Antuono | Flathead Beacon

In addition to her haircutting services, Parks also added a general store to the barbershop, filling it with local artwork, men’s grooming products, Wilcoxson’s Ice Cream and old-fashioned items like Moon Pies and Whirley Pop popcorn poppers.

“It’s been a success so far,” Parks said. “I’m going to stay humble and not get too consumed. I just want to keep it simple.”

Parks has been open to requests from her customers, and after one of them asked her if she had any soda, she soon ordered a pop machine.

At the end of February, she jokingly suggested to a young customer that she could give him a mullet, to which he replied, “Oh, my girlfriend would hate that, let’s do it.”

She posted a photo of the final product to the business Facebook page and dubbed the following month “Mullet March” as a joke, and she ended up cutting eight more mullets.

“(The store) all kind of fell together rapidly,” Parks said. “I love being here at the foothills of the mountains and I feel like people in the Echo Lake and Jewel Basin community are so stoked about where they live.”

For more information, visit www.swanhighwaygeneralstore.com.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.