Valentine's Day 2020: Couples in Business Together

Numerous Shelby County businesses are owned and operated by married couples. For this Valentine's Day, The Addison Times' Anna Tungate checked in on a few of them to learn their secrets for success. Spoiler alert: All of their Valentine's Day plans involve work.

Nick and Judy Ciarletta, Ciarletta's Hair Care
Married: 38 years
In business together: 38 years

Working together their entire marriage has been a dream come true for Judy Ciarletta. She and her husband, Nick, own a salon and live at the southeast corner of the W. McKay Road and S. State Road 9 intersection. 

"I can’t imagine not working and living together," Judy Ciarletta said. "We can bounce ideas back and forth. We’re a team."

That philosophy has been extended to their customers, as well.

"Anybody that sits in my chair is my friend," Nick Ciarletta said. "We just get to stay home all day long and we get to hang out with our friends for our occupation."

After 43 years in the business, Nick Ciarletta can recall giving first haircuts to multiple generations of customers.

"I wouldn’t want anything any different," he said. "I want to thank the community for supporting us as long as they have, as much as they have."

Mike and Lana Freeman, Freeman Family Funeral Home
 Almost 11 years
Worked together: 12 years

Although Mike and Lana Freeman share the same office, Mr. Freeman spends more time in the lower level of the business. 

"We try not to step on each others’ territories," he said.

Otherwise, they ride to work and go home together.

They were married "in between (phone) rings" inside the funeral home, they said, as the phone yesterday was literally ringing.

Valentine's Day will be standard fare, though.

"We pretty much eat out every night," Mike Freeman said, but Lana notes that one of their favorite Valentine's memories was participating in the annual White Castle dinner a few years back.

Doug and Nancy Seeman, Sanders Jewelry
Married: 38 years
In business together: 37 years

Although Nancy Seeman was a teacher and Doug was a chef, the young married couple became involved in her family's business early on.

"We keep our backs to each other, literally," Doug Seeman said, laughing. Mrs. Seeman's office is next to her husband's desk behind the counter. 

Although they eat lunch together, Nancy Seeman notes that they "can go an hour or so and not even talk" throughout the day.

Mrs. Seeman grew up in the jewelry store business. Her parents arrived in town Feb. 21, 1955 after purchasing the business from the Siglers, 65 years ago this month.

"They knew nobody in Shelbyville," Nancy Seeman said.

The business hasn't changed much throughout those years or even since Mr. Sanders died in 1997 or his wife's death in 2008. The same engraving machine is even in operation.

They quote her parents often. One of Mr. Sanders' favorite admonitions was to shop local. "He said, 'If you really can’t find what you’re looking for, then go out of town,'" Nancy Seeman recalled. "I think the younger generation is starting to come back."

What will the Seemans be doing to commemorate Valentine's Day today?

"We’ll be working, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.," Doug Seeman said with a laugh.

Val and Alicia Phares, Pudder's and St. Paul Tavern
Married: 27 years
In business together: 20 years 

With two restaurants and multiple areas of focus, the Phares' have to divide and conquer.

"She runs the front of the house; I oversee the kitchen," Val Phares said. "We compensate for each other really well. She’s a lot more organized than I am."

Alicia agreed, and added, "It's trying at times." 

They weren't able to clearly articulate how that philosophy plays out at home.

"Home?" Mr. Phares asked. "We're never home." 

After Val works Valentine's night at Pudder's and Alicia at the St. Paul Tavern, they'll likely find a few minutes to catch up.

"We’ll probably find a locally-owned place later that will serve us some greasy fried food or something," Val Phares said. "We’ll drink a beer and relax."

Gary and Joanne Bowen, Sharp Trophies By Mack
Married: 42 years
In business together: 22 years

The Bowens had been married for two decades, both in managerial careers, before they went into business together. Those first few years were spent learning how to work together. Now, they have it down to a science.

"I do production, she does customer sales," Gary Bowen said.

After decades of marriage and business, the Bowens will work today and worry about evening plans once the shop closes at 5 p.m.

"We'll do whatever she tells me we're going to do," Gary Bowen said.

To be more precise: "We always wait until the last minute (for Valentine's Day plans)," Joanne Bowen said.

They will likely end up with friends at the Knights of Columbus, they agreed.