CELEBRATING THE THIRD PLACE: Tracy’s Place was our Great Good Place

By Betsy Barnett

2021-08-04 18:20:17

It was known as Tracy’s Place.  That little yellow building located just west of Eads on the highway where a hidden, and sometimes tricky, left turn would lead hundreds of people-- through the years--- to a great good place, our own Third Place.

Roy Oldenburg, Ph.D. was a professor of sociology in the early 1990s when he wrote a couple of landmark studies identifying the importance of the Third Place in all communities.  Oldenburg describes the “First Place” in the community as our homes.  The place where we privately unwind, relax and isolate ourselves from the outside world.  The “Second Place” then, is our places of work.  Where we spend upwards of a third of our week doing high stress, high performance, high expectation work.  Not a place, necessarily, to relax.  Both places are vital in keeping our communities strong, but it is the Third Place that may actually be the most important for not only our own well-being, but also for the mental health and happiness of the community.

Third places can be churches, coffee shops, gyms, hair salons, post offices, bars, bookstores, parks, community centers, and gift shops—inexpensive places where people come together, and where life happens. In other words, they're a community's living room.

A third place is especially important because the modern American home has effectively become a place of social isolation, particularly outside of major cities. American homes are set up to be a place of total retreat from the world, where you can escape into an often addictive world of social media and where you can zone out and exist in a bubble you construct for yourself. 

That bubble was never more evident than in early April of 2020 when two earth-shattering events occurred almost simultaneously changing the lives of the people of Eads and surrounding communities forever.  Each was interconnected because of what it did to us, each was devastating in its own right, and each will have a long-lasting effect for years to come.

In April 2020 when the pandemic hit our country we were told to hide away in our homes and to allow two weeks to flatten the curve.  As we hid away, Tracy Smith, who was the owner and operator of the hair salon known as Tracy’s Place in Eads, and her family received the worst possible news.  She had a brain tumor, and it was very serious.  Obviously, her condition called for immediate action. 

For 16 months Tracy battled the insidious effects of cancer.  And for 16 months the rest of us battled the affects and mandates of the pandemic and we missed our special Third Place ---- we missed Tracy’s Place.  Tragically, none of us, including Tracy, had the opportunity to go back to that homey little shop where Diet Pepsi shared room on the counter with mint patties, hair products, combs, clips and a well-used appointment book, when Tracy’s Place was the great good place in our lives.

Not all businesses where people gather are technically Third Places.  In order to be a Third Place to a community the place has to be welcoming to all, willing to provide service to their utmost ability and have a unique personality that can make people feel like they belong there. The atmosphere encourages discourse and camaraderie between people from all walks of life.  Tracy’s Place, from the very start, met those specifications.

Photo Credit: Rachel Bletzacker

Tracy’s Place evolved as a Third Place because she had the unique ability to talk a hundred miles per hour and, at the same time, balance the professionally done perms and haircuts and color treatments quickly and as efficiently as a juggler keeping four to five balls in the air.  She could have one customer in the chair getting her chattering attention, while another was being blow-dried under the one dryer available in the little shop, while a third would be happily waiting on her comfy couch or chair for their turn in the rotation and joining in the conversation.  And this happened nearly all day --- most days.  And Tracy loved it.  And we loved it.

Tracy’s Place evolved as time marched on and one could mark time at Tracy’s Place by what was going on in the shop.  The early years had two busy little boys, Garrett and Logan, running around and soon getting ready for school.  Then Tracy finally got her little girl and precious little Mariah entered our Third Place.  Mariah hung out all day long with Tracy in the shop while the boys attended school.  She had her own crib and toys in the room off the main salon.  Many of her toys through the years would find their way out onto the main floor of the shop.  First by Mariah playing with dolls and trucks alike and particularly with a Barbie Styling Head where the little girl would try to fashion out the same hairstyles as her mama had created.  After Mariah got too old, dozens of children would bring out those same toys and take their place on the floor as their mamas and grandmas or daddies or grandpas got their hair done. 

When Mariah got a little older the patrons showed complete interest in her myriad of cats and dogs and bucket calves and half a dozen other critters that came in and out of Tracy’s Place.  Some of those precious pets lasted longer than others, but when some of them died the patrons mourned along with Tracy and Mariah. 

Tracy loved to make every one of her customers look and feel the best they could be.  She looked forward to prom season and would plan for weeks to be ready to do the many prom hairdos on that special day each April.  She did wedding hair.  She did her elderly customer’s weekly hairdo maintenance, and she even wanted to do the hair of many of her beloved customers as they slowly passed from this earth along with the years.

What made Tracy’s Place that great good place, that iconic Third Place, in the community was Tracy and her enormous heart.  She loved people.  She cared for her friend Marj to the very end, she welcomed generations of families into her chair, she cared for the precious children that would become sick in the community, she’d cuss the refs from the game the night before as she was the biggest fan of every kid she knew, she would bring sad and lonely children with her to church so they had a place to belong, she teased the scared and pain-ridden elderly until they smiled, she zoomed through life with a vivaciousness that was breathtaking.

Tracy lived life with her big heart.  A customer wrote today, “The love and support we received from you and ‘Uncle Smiff’ during our son’s hospitalizations truly meant the world to us.”

She gave hundreds of people their first haircuts as a baby and their last haircut as she helped the mortician lay them to rest.  She could hold a conversation about anything in the world.  And she was funny!  But she was also an amazing professional.  As her customers grew, from their first haircut to their first prom hair, Tracy established their look and they kept coming back despite the changes time demanded in their lives.

Another customer wrote today, “I loved talking about life and changes and growing and her seeing me through every stage of my life from a little girl to a married woman.  She colored my hair and made it perfect for all my most important life events in sports, graduations, my engagement and wedding.  I came home from college just to get my hair done because no one else in Kansas, New Jersey or Colorado could do it right.  And every time I came back, Tracy’s Place was where I laughed, and felt beautiful and felt her love envelope me.”

A visit to Tracy’s Place was by far more than a simple errand to get your hair cut --- it was visiting a friend, it was fun, it was exhilarating, it was relaxing, it was necessary for so many of us.

Photo Credit: Cory Crow

Since April 2020 the community’s biggest loss was when they couldn’t visit Tracy’s Place anymore.  It was worse, by far, than going through the pandemic because we knew we would eventually be able to come to a new normal --- but we will never be able to go back to that Third Place that kept us together as a community. 

That was Tracy’s Place ---- the great good place.

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