Three multigenerational family businesses are operating side-by-side on County Road 50 in Lakeville, offering a sense of continuity that is rare in business today.
At Lakeville Dental, the dental charts go back to 1975 and patients remember visiting the Harrisons as long as they’ve had teeth.
Next door, at White Funeral Homes, funerals have been a family affair since 1895, with four siblings and their father on staff to ensure every client gets a personal meeting with one of them.
At McDonald Eye Care Associates, two optometrist daughters will soon be working alongside their dad and mom, helping kids choose their first pair of glasses or deal with sore eyes.
The three businesses, which sit in a row on County Road 50 in Lakeville, are all multigenerational, family-owned businesses. At each, more than one child has gone off to college and returned to the area to do exactly what they saw their parents do growing up. In an age when suburban strip malls are often full of chain businesses that come and go, these three neighbors stand out as an enclave that seems more like something from Main Street circa 1950.
For the three White sons — Jim Jr., Mike and John — watching their dad, Jim Sr., help people was enough to make them all decide, by the age of 17, to study mortuary science and become funeral directors, said Jim White Jr.
Their sister, Meg White Heintze, joined them in planning funerals three years ago.
The business, which includes five locations in the south metro, is now a fourth-generation funeral home.
“We were raised like my kids are raised,” around a funeral home, he said. “We lived in a funeral home in Farmington. We were that entrenched and involved in the business.”
“I never encouraged it, either,” said Jim White Sr. “They just watched to see what I did.”
Lakeville Dental is owned by Dr. Jennifer Harrison, who returned to Lakeville and bought the family business three years ago.
She works alongside her dentist dad, Dr. John Harrison, and her mom, Rose Harrison, a receptionist who helps run the office. Another daughter, Molly Isham, is the head office manager.
“It’s always been our family business,” said Isham. “I can’t tell you how many conversations around the dinner table growing up were about teeth.”
Jennifer “knew for sure” she’d come back to Lakeville once she went away to dental school.
“I love Lakeville and I love the ability to work with my dad and learn from him,” she said. “It was always the plan” to eventually come back to her dad’s practice, which has been at its current location for 25 years.
Dr. Tony McDonald has been practicing optometry in Lakeville since 1983, with his wife, Patti, serving as office administrator.
Their older daughter, Dr. Molly McDonald, has wanted to be an eye doctor since first grade. She’s been practicing for about a year alongside her dad, and her younger sister, Meg, just started optometry school and will likely join them in 2017.
While Molly’s passion for optometry and desire to return to Lakeville were “always in my mind-set,” the family was surprised when Meg, too, showed an interest.
“I called my dad and said, ‘Oh my gosh, Meg just started asking me questions about optometry school!’” Molly said.
The fact that two of their three children — their son, Matt, lives in Minneapolis — have returned or are planning to return to Lakeville doesn’t surprise the McDonalds, Tony McDonald said.
“We’ve seen many generations of people leave for college, leave for jobs … and come back because it’s a good place to live,” he said.
Jennifer Harrison, who is married with a 2-year-old, said she came back for many reasons. Lakeville is the perfect size, with a “quaint downtown and amazing schools,” she said. Plus, it’s a growing community, so it’s a good place to be a dentist.
She anticipates expanding her business in the future, she said, possibly adding on to accommodate growth.
Meg White Heintze, who lived in Chicago for years and has five children, said it’s convenient to have the family living nearby, though they are spread out across Farmington, Prior Lake and Eagan.
“It’s nice to be together, because we all have children who are friends, too,” she said.
‘Working toward the same goal’
For any family business, the lines between home and work can be blurred. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, said Molly Isham.
“I almost think it’s easier to work as a family,” Isham said. She and her sister “can get pedicures together and talk about the office Christmas party.”
Rose Harrison said she’s often asked by friends how she can work with her husband all day, but there are days she barely sees him.
In terms of working together, “We’re lucky that we’ve never had any issues,” she said. “Everybody’s sort of working toward the same goal.”
For the Whites, “the dynamics can be challenging” at times, said Jim White Jr. But even if they bicker, they’re still able to sit down and have a beer together, he said.
For the McDonalds, a clear division of labor makes things easier, given that the business now has 30 employees. Patti manages the office and also makes time to do community outreach, while Tony manages the professional side of things.
“I always say, ‘One plus one equals three,’” said Tony McDonald. “It works out pretty good.”