Thinking small

Small businesses make up 99 percent of all businesses nationwide—a percentage that carries over to our local economy. A study completed by the Virginia Employment Commission in the third quarter of 2016 revealed 2,477 Charlottesville businesses had 499 employees or fewer—the standard definition of a small business is one with 500 or fewer employees. In fact, in Char-lottesville most businesses are micro businesses—one to four employees—with 1,355 total.

Betty Hoge, director of the Central Virginia Small Business Development Center in Charlottesville, says she would like people to know that small businesses contribute not just to the local economy but to our everyday quality of life. Community leaders are often the ones helming these businesses, and they are the same people who give back to nonprofits and support local arts organizations.

“Many more of those dollars stay in the community and get circulated multiple times so that the economic impact is huge,” she says. “I want people to really understand and appreciate the value of small businesses to our economy and the quality of life that we live.”

And Hoge isn’t the only one advocating for small businesses. In December, the city of Charlottesville renewed its technology tax credit, which allows qualified technology businesses to receive a 50 percent reduction on their annual business tax for up to seven years. A biotech company with 30 employees might save $3,000 to $4,000, according to Mayor Mike Signer, who said the extension was crucial for businesses because they see more benefit in savings as their revenues increase.

See all three C-VILLE covers this week

  • George Swingler, Rose Hill Market. Photo by Jackson Smith

  • Laura Conklin, IronWolf Training. Photo by Jackson Smith

  • Jeff Anderson, Fitzgerald's Tires. Photo by Jackson Smith

Another measure the city is considering to aid small businesses revolves around the Virginia Business/Professional/Occupational License tax. Jurisdictions can decide at what revenue threshold to charge an annual fee ($35 to $50) or require businesses to pay a tax rate based on revenue. In Charlottesville, businesses with annual revenues of $0 to $50,000 pay a flat fee, while in Albemarle County the tax rate doesn’t apply until a business makes $100,000 or more. Currently, 450 businesses fall in that $50,000 to $100,000 range.

The move to raise the revenue threshold is part of current city budget talks, and Signer says the idea has unanimous council support, despite the fact that the tax relief will cost the city $90,000.

“Those are the people who are so amazing in the neighborhoods and who are helpful to all the other nonprofits, so great with government, so great to talk to and why we have such a friendly, interesting city,” Signer says. “You want all that stuff happening, but you want to make their lives a little easier. That’s the nature of the economy.”

Deborah Bell Burks’ great-grandfather, John Ferris Bell, founded J. F. Bell Funeral Home in 1917. Burks, along with her husband, Martin, manages the business, which is the longest continuously black-owned business in Charlottesville. Photo by Eze Amos

African-American business owners say creating strong local ties is key

Since opening Mel’s Café in Midtown 30 years ago, owner and operator Mel Walker has watched the district change. “In the beginning, it wasn’t an area college students and well-to-do people were advised to visit,” he says. “Back then I mostly served folks from the neighborhood, but over the years we built up a reputation and we get people from all over the place coming in here.”

The draw is Mel’s famous soul food. Serving fried chicken, mac ’n’ cheese, cabbage, stuffing, greens, mashed potatoes, red beans and rice and more, the eatery couples down-home cooking with a locally famous family ambience. “My wife and I run the place and are here pretty much all the time,” says Walker. “We get to know people real well and think of our customers like our family.”

Having worked in restaurants since he was 11 years old, the 62-year-old knows the restaurant business inside and out, and says the industry isn’t one for the meek. “You gotta be dedicated and willing to work long hard hours,” Walker says. “It takes time and sacrifice. Sometimes I work 14, 18 hours a day—and I’ve been doing that since I started.”

Hard work aside, Walker says the true secret of his success has been: “Treating people good. Real good.”

Mel’s Café

719 W. Main St.

971-8819

facebook.com/MelsSoulFoodCafe


RoseHillMarket_AmyJackson
George Swingler looks at owning Rose Hill Market like a beloved hobby—his favorite part is meeting “good people,” he says. Photo by Amy Jackson

Swingler says that Rose Hill is about the size of your average small market and sells the typical convenience store staples—bread, milk and so on—and is known for offering slab bacon, which they slice in-house, as well as Kite’s hams.

Swingler has run the store since taking over in 1989. “It was something new, but I had a couple of ladies working for me that had been in the store before and they helped me learn the ropes,” he said.

Over the course of the ensuing 28 years, while running a profitable business, Swingler came to look at the venture more like a beloved hobby than a capitalistic enterprise.

“It’s a good neighborhood and I get to meet a lot of good people,” he says. “I’m here mostly by myself and I do it mainly for fun. …I just enjoy getting to talk to people and having something to do.”

Rose Hill Market

633 Rose Hill Dr.

296-7053


Founded by John Ferris Bell in 1917, J.F. Bell Funeral Home is the longest continuously black-owned business in Charlottesville and the oldest family-run funeral home in central Virginia. How did it happen? After graduating from Hampton Institute, Bell taught tailoring for four years in Missouri before moving to Chicago and training to be a mortician. In a conversation with his cousin, whose dental practice was located in Charlottesville, he discovered the city’s need for a black mortician and decided to relocate. 

Bell opened the business in a two-story brick building in Vinegar Hill, and after marrying in 1925, he built a new building in what is now the Starr Hill neighborhood, which is where the business is located today. Since then, the nearly century-old business has been helmed by three generations of Bells, and is currently under the management of J.F.’s great-granddaughter Deborah Bell Burks and her husband, Martin.

Viewing their business as a pillar of the community, the family has used its prominence and longevity to support local community causes, including playing an active role in the civil rights movement and supporting community efforts and other local black businesses. Among many accolades, the Burkses played a major role in the renovation of the Jefferson School African American Heritage Center—both sat on the organization’s board and Martin was its president—and the couple’s efforts among the minority business community earned them a Pioneer Award for outstanding contribution from the Central Virginia Minority Business Association in September 2003. Additionally, in 2011, Martin won Charlottesville’s Paul Goodloe McIntire award for outstanding citizenship.

“It’s a great responsibility to make sure we can continue to service the community and help people in their point of need,” says Deborah. “If there is a church or a civic organization that has a program that they need help with, we try to be there to support it. …And we’re very happy to be able to do that.”—Eric Wallace

J.F. Bell Funeral Home

108 Sixth St. NW

295-9169

jfbellfuneralhome.com

Sara Yenke, Kate deNeveu and PK Ross meet regularly to swap stories about endearing or funny customers, as well as lament undermining behavior dealt to them as women business owners. Staff photo

Women revel in help from their friends

When PK Ross began working at Splendora’s on the Downtown Mall in 2005, she didn’t have much interest in making gelato. Instead, she was saving money to go to pastry school. Over time, though, she fell into the business side of things and in 2010 she took out a loan and bought the place. While being a business owner can be rewarding, it’s not without its challenges, and at the young age of 26, Ross was navigating all the nuances of running a small business in a popular location by herself. At the time, she turned to Splendora’s previous owners, Fax and Andrea Ayres, whenever she had questions. But lately, she’s found a resource in her circle of friends. Whenever their schedules allow, Ross grabs drinks with Kate deNeveu and Sara Yenke. Yenke is the co-owner of Revolutionary Soup on the Corner and operations manager of the downtown location, and deNeveu is the co-owner of Telegraph Art & Comics on the mall.

“I think there was one random night when we realized we all owned/ran businesses so I called it ‘Business Bitches Drinks.’ There is a power in knowing the nonsense that happens to me sometimes isn’t specific to my shop,” Ross says. “The paradigm shift of ‘this shitty thing happened to me’ toward ‘this shitty thing happens’ is a small comfort when running a business becomes a pile of shitty things. Commiserating has its benefits, I suppose is the point, particularly when Business Bitches Drinks turns into constructive feedback on improving my business.”

The victories and woes of running a small business run the gamut, and so do their conversations.

“I would say what PK and Kate and I talk most about is probably the same as most other business owners: We curse our HVAC systems (or pray for them), we marvel at the disheartening sway the weather has over our businesses (for which Rev Soup is the inverse of just about everywhere else),” Yenke says. “Occasionally we compare the third-party loyalty programs who have approached us in a given month.”

Mostly, they swap stories about endearing or funny customers—both Splendora’s and Telegraph see a lot of families. But, as business owners who are also women, their shared experiences aren’t always pleasant.

“When I had the fan motor in my walk-in freezer replaced, I bought an extra one since the guy had trouble figuring out the underlying problem. When I told him there was another fan motor he said, ‘Good girl,’” Ross says. “Or the time I specifically told a plumber that a sink leak was from a cracked spindle in the faucet—I had taken apart the handle and saw where the spindle was cracked but didn’t know where to get a new one—and instead he replaced a gasket, which did not stop the leak. …Which he tried to re-fix by tightening the handle, which broke and he had to replace the entire faucet, which he charged me for.”

Yenke has also dealt with repairmen dismissing her knowledge of her equipment.

“I would like to emphasize I currently have both an HVAC repairman and a plumber who have always treated me with complete respect,” Yenke says, “but if you call in someone new, even if you are the human being who placed the service call, nine times out of 10 they show up and look for the tallest guy in the kitchen to speak to first.”

At times, the same doubtful or undermining behavior can also come from customers. Ross recently had a patron try to explain to her how the pistachio gelato that she made got its coloring. DeNeveu, who co-owns Telegraph with her husband, runs into these situations as a woman in a traditionally non-female field.

“Occasionally men will want to quiz me, make me prove my knowledge or put me through my paces. ‘Have you read everything in the store?’ ‘Did you really read comics as a kid?’ ‘What’s the best Batman comic of all time?’ Three men have asked me that in the last week,” deNeveu says. “It’s insane. You wouldn’t walk into a grocery store and ask, ‘Have you eaten everything in here? What’s the best fruit? Nope, you’re wrong. It’s banana.’ I’ve never had a woman ask me those kinds of questions—usually they ask for recommendations or are looking for something specific. The ‘prove you’re really a fan’ questions used to really bother me when we first opened. Now I try to take it as an opportunity to engage in an actual conversation about the books.”

That’s where having an outlet like Business Bitches Drinks comes in handy—to process shared experiences.

“On the one hand, I find it almost absurd that it should be noteworthy that women who own businesses confide in each other (because, after all, we don’t remark that men who own businesses tend to hang out), but on the other hand, I appreciate having a place to bring up both the little frustrations and the big offenses, without worrying that the person you’re venting to is going to mistake the aim of your frustration,” says Yenke. “It really can be death by a thousand paper cuts some weeks and having friends that know the cut of that paper particularly well can be all the comfort in the world.”

DeNeveu would like to see Business Bitches expand into a casual society or guild for women business owners and managers on the Downtown Mall. Ross agrees: It’s been such a sustainable network for their group that expanding seems like the natural next step.

“One of the things I wish I had better words for is that so much of what it means to be female is a negation of agency. …Getting the chance to connect with other women business owners allows for a kind of accumulation within extant power structures,” Ross says. “It’s not enough for a woman to achieve the highest ranks within a patriarchy. Patriarchal mindsets will still exist and that woman ends up being a novelty. But in fostering a community of small victories—owning businesses, in this example—maybe the discussion can change from ‘why women’ to ‘why not all women?.’”

Splendora’s Gelato Cafe

317 E. Main St.

splendoras.com

Telegraph Art & Comics

211 W. Main St.

telegraphgallery.com

Revolutionary Soup

108 Second St. SW, Downtown Mall

104 14th St. NW, The Corner

revolutionarysoup.com

Beck Cohen owner Matt Wilkinson says cheaper real estate prices on the outskirts of town could lure industrial businesses away from Belmont. Photo by Eze Amos

Belmont: at the intersection of old and new

Fitzgerald’s Tires has operated on a wedge of land in Belmont for more than 40 years, and the view from owner Jeff Anderson’s front door has seen constant change. He notes the spots across the street where the used furniture store and the beauty shop used to sit, remembers The Local when it was an ice cream parlor and a motorcycle repair shop, and recalls how the Tavola space once displayed walk-in coolers. Now his tire shop overlooks a busy and fast-growing restaurant and retail scene.

“I see lots of new faces, younger residents,” says Anderson. “Change for the better, for sure, but sometimes I kind of feel out of place now.”

Though Belmont comprises less than a square mile of southeast Charlottesville bounded by the CSX railroad tracks, Sixth Street and Moores Creek, the neighborhood boasts more than two dozen restaurants interspersed with a serious contingent of auto body shops and building service contractors. Industrial, commercial and residential tracts have always sat shoulder-to-shoulder along the streets of north Belmont. After a downturn in the ’80s and ’90s, which brought rising crime and deteriorating land values, the neighborhood is now resurgent as young families buy and renovate older homes and new businesses arrive.

The legacy business owners who persevered through good times and bad are pleased to be part of the current upswing. “Nowadays I’m glad to have so many different places to eat lunch,” says Gayle Bragg of Bragg’s Body Shop, which has served customers from its spot on Bainbridge Street since 1964. The stability of the neighbors is also a plus. “When I tell people we’re located between Beer Run and Mas, everyone knows what I mean.”

“Local businesses thrive in Belmont because the customer base is far wider than just the nearby residents,” says Erin Hannegan, a member of the Belmont-Carlton Neighborhood Association board. “It’s a place that people enjoy, much like a mini version of the Downtown Mall.”  The association plans to publish a Belmont business directory for residents, and helps promote the businesses as well. “The board supports a concept that piggybacks on the buy/shop local effort, which is to ‘buy/shop micro-local’—in other words, to support the enterprises within our neighborhood when possible.”

The businesses themselves set the tone. Auto body and tire shops direct customers to each other, and restaurant owners are the first to welcome new eateries. “When I opened, everyone walked over, introduced themselves, tried some tacos,” says Barbie Brannock of Barbie’s Burrito Barn on Avon Street, which opened in August. Caroline Minsky recently opened a second The Artful Lodger on Monticello Road, and says it’s the space she’s always dreamed of.

“Mixed residential and commercial zoning is what I came from in New Orleans,” she says. “This is really a village, and isn’t that how America used to be? All of our shopping doesn’t have to be in a place that looks like Disney.”

While the auto repair and HVAC businesses have quietly served the area for decades nestled among blocks of family homes, the influx of restaurants in the last 10 years has wrought tension between residents and owners. Some residents who back up to Downtown Belmont complain of late-night noise and the dearth of available on-street parking near their homes. A recent protracted debate over rezoning a residential house for use as a restaurant highlighted concerns over “commercial creep” that will persist as the area grows in popularity.

Photo gallery: Belmont businesses

  • Barbie's Burrito Barn. Photo by Amy Jackson

  • Beck Cohen. Photo by Eze Amos

  • Bragg's Body Shop. Photo by Eze Amos

  • Keevil and Keevil Kitchen & Grocery. Photo by Amy Jackson

  • Fitzgerald's Tires. Photo by Amy Jackson

Harrison Keevil, whose family lives in Belmont and who recently opened the gourmet grocery Keevil & Keevil in the old Gibson’s Grocery space, acknowledges the need for balance. “There are more families moving in, lots of kids popping up and more traffic will affect them.  If you are respectful to the neighborhood, the residents will be respectful and welcoming to you.”

Increased congestion may become a challenge for certain businesses as well. Beck Cohen, with its iconic tower signage and salmon-colored repair vans, has operated in Belmont since 1955. Owner Matt Wilkinson says the draw of more and cheaper space on the outskirts of town may lure industrial businesses away in a cascade. “For us, it’s great to be centrally located and our suppliers are close by. But some places have 18-wheelers delivering parts every day, and it’s tough to maneuver in here. With property values rising, it may ultimately come down to a real estate issue.”

The looming Belmont Bridge reconstruction project this summer is an uncertain complication that could throttle access to the area, but business owners don’t seem worried.

“The beauty of Belmont is that people will probably just stay in the neighborhood a little more,” says Keevil with a knowing smile.

In characteristic Southern (and Belmonter) style, Minsky sees the potential for some fun.  “When the bridge closes, we’re gonna have ourselves a big old street party.” Now that’s thinking micro-local.


The Artful Lodger

407 Monticello Rd.

lodgerva.com

Barbie’s Burrito Barn

201 Avon St.

barbiesburritobarn.com

Beck Cohen

201 Avon St.

beckcohen.com

Bragg’s Body Shop

507 Bainbridge St.

braggsbodyshop.com

Fitzgerald’s Tires

408 Monticello Rd.

fitzgeraldstires.com

Keevil & Keevil Grocery and Kitchen

703 Hinton Ave.

facebook.com/KandKGroceryandKitchen/

Laura Conklin, owner of IronWolf Training. Photo by Amy Jackson

Two company owners who go it alone say passion is what drives them to succeed

After working as a high school physical education teacher for nine years and then a U.S. Army Reserves police officer for six, Laura Conklin decided to pursue her dream of becoming a certified personal trainer, which she achieved in 2000. Working first in three larger Charlottesville-area gyms—including ACAC—the 46-year-old made the leap in July 2014 and went into business for herself, opening IronWolf Training off Harris Street.

“I noticed that, each time I moved to a new gym, my clients came with me,” says Conklin. “Unlike a lot of people opening a business for the first time, I was lucky enough to know I had 40 loyal clients who liked what I did and that gave me confidence.”

Furthermore, much of what was offered at the bigger gyms didn’t suit her customers. “I thought about it like going from aiming at this big one-size-fits-all target to hitting the bull’s-eye,” she says. “I wanted to cut out the noise and cater specifically to my clients’ needs.”   

Still, despite the ready-made list of customers and a proven product, the move was a tough one to make. “The most intimidating part was finding a space that felt good, dealing with the banks and trying to pare down the list of materials I would want to use in workouts,” she said. “At the other places, I was just a personal trainer. Here, I had to handle it all. It took learning to think in a brand-new way.”

Looking ahead to IronWolf’s third anniversary, Conklin says founding the business was a little scary but it was one of the best decisions she ever made. When asked to offer advice to other would-be business owners, she says: “Make sure that it’s your passion—you need to know you’re really good at it and can deliver what you want before you dive in headfirst and blow it.”   

Laura Conklin, IronWolf Training

700 Harris St.

ironwolftraining.com

Aaron Watson, who has photographed more than 300 weddings, discovered needs that weren’t being filled by other companies and expanded his photography services accordingly. Courtesy subject
Aaron Watson, who has photographed more than 300 weddings, discovered needs that weren’t being filled by other companies and expanded his photography services accordingly. Courtesy subject

In just over 13 years as a photographer, Aaron Watson has made quite a name for himself. A decade into running his own business, he’s photographed more than 300 weddings, has been honored by the Wedding Photojournalist Association as one of the nation’s top-50 wedding photographers and has been featured in numerous regional wedding publications.

The secret to his success? Passion. “I’d worked for other photography companies for three years and after a year of college realized I wanted to go into business for myself,” he says. “I wasn’t afraid to go out on my own so much as incredibly determined. I recognized that I was passionate about photography and that it was what I wanted to do with my life—I wasn’t going to let myself fail; I was devoted to making it on my own.”

While Watson began with a single product—wedding photography—he has since expanded into promotional work, and he prints and frames his photos as well. “I took what wedding clients loved about my work and began discovering additional needs that weren’t being filled by other companies and branched out to fill those niches,” he says. “I now offer the same high-end services to businesses and companies as well.”

His advice for first-time entrepreneurs?

“You really have to be willing to take a risk,” says Watson. “You can’t be half in and half out. You could have a great idea, but if you’re not totally invested, it’s not going to work. You have to be 100 percent committed.”—Eric Wallace

Aaron Watson, Aaron Watson Photography

aaronwatsonphoto.com

Henry Weinschenk and George Mackaronis meet once a week to discuss issues and questions Mackaronis has as he launches his new business, Greenstone Adventures. Staff photo

A budding business owner gets advice from a seasoned entrepreneur

George Mackaronis pulls out a stack of brochures from his bag and spreads them on the table. Henry Weinschenk leans forward and leafs through one. “The latest design looks good,” Weinschenk says. He laughs: “Graphically it’s more advanced than my original design—by far.”

Weinschenk helped Mackaronis create the first draft of his brochure, then Mackaronis did what any smart business owner would do—he hired a professional.

The two are part of the Community Investment Collaborative’s entrepreneurship program that Weinschenk likens to a “micro MBA”; it gives people who want to launch a small business advice on everything from writing a business plan to securing a loan.

“There were tons of things I had no idea about,” Mackaronis, 28, says. “It’s very much a step-by-step crash course on how to launch a business covering every aspect. They have a pretty incredible curriculum. I honestly didn’t really know what I was getting into.”

Mackaronis, a physical education and environmental education teacher at Free Union Country School, moved to Charlottesville four years ago to take an assistant teaching position at the school. In his second year, the school administration allowed him to develop an environmental education course that Mackaronis says was inspired by the school’s beautiful wooded campus and underutilized garden. His weekends are often filled with backpacking and climbing trips, and, combined with his love of teaching children, his business idea was born: Greenstone Adventures. Mackaronis graduated from CIC’s 17-week entrepreneurship program in spring 2016, and this summer is the official launch of the backpacking adventure business for rising seventh- through 12th-graders that he co-owns with another guide, Andrew Eaton. They will offer nine three-day, two-night backpacking trips and three five-day, four-night trips from mid-June to the end of August in nearby national parks.

“I hope that a kid leaves our trips and just has a great time, a really memorable time, and leaves with a sense of empowerment and independence and confidence,” Mackaronis says, “as well as a renewed appreciation for nature or a new love of backpacking. I think those are by-products of the kid having a really good time.”

After Mackaronis graduated from the CIC program, he jumped at the chance to be paired with Weinschenk, a volunteer mentor who has been involved in the business community for decades.

“One of the most obvious [ways Henry has helped] is with the kind of laundry list of things that need to get done in the launching process and where we are right now, picking out and giving advice on what the most important aspects are, what I really need to focus my energy on,” Mackaronis says. “And also seeing all sides of any one thing. In particular a theme has been: Try and look at things from the customer’s perspective. It’s different because, for me, if I think about backpacking on a personal level, it looks very different than it does for our customers. So that devil’s advocate role has been really useful and I think helpful for figuring out how to frame these products in the most appealing way and just get prepared for these trips.”

Weinschenk, who owned Express Car Wash on U.S. 29 for 31 years before selling it two yeas ago, sees the mentors as having three roles: as a consultant, coach and mentor. In their initial meetings, Weinschenk acted as a consultant and studied similar businesses to determine what they offer at what price point, how are they similar/different and how they get their product out.

“That’s a great example of something I tried to do but couldn’t do it the same way Henry could do,” Mackaronis says about the market research.

Weinschenk got his start in business as an engineer, and then worked as a corporate executive for UPS at its headquarters in Greenwich, Connecticut. He eventually moved to Germany, where he opened a UPS base with a small team of six people—within two years they had 2,000 employees at 49 different locations in West Germany.

Working out of UPS headquarters gave him a top-down view of how a well-managed company was run, Weinschenk says. There were no assigned parking spaces and he remembers coming in at 10am after an off-site meeting and parking way in the back, only to have the CEO pull up next to him in his Cadillac.

While in Germany, Weinschenk thought he could do the opposite, and help a European company open a U.S. location. He was matched via an HR consultant with someone who had car wash businesses in Germany and wanted to open one in Charlottesville. After building car washes for the company for a few years, Weinschenk knew the idea of a large car wash designed for a metropolitan area wasn’t going to work as well here, and he designed a much smaller car wash. After the owner rejected the design, Weinschenk quit to start his own business.

“A few years in the car wash business designing and building for other people I could see the deficiencies in other people’s businesses,” he says. Weinschenk opened his car wash near fast-food restaurants—he says that visibility was the best form of advertising. “Recession or no recession we were always in the black—I’m pretty proud of that.”

Mackaronis and Weinschenk, 77, meet once a week for an hour at Java Java on the Downtown Mall. They discuss specific questions or problems Mackaronis has—such as the design of the company’s brochure—and have lately been focused on how to advertise the business on a small budget. Most of Mackaronis’ initial funds (from his savings and friends and family) have gone toward the purchase of an SUV and now toward marketing. 

The next step for Mackaronis is getting the word out about the immersion wilderness trips—he’s starting by tapping into the network of parents and people he knows through his school, as well as using targeted Facebook ads to reach both parents and children.

“I think one of the biggest things from the small entrepreneur’s perspective is to stay humble throughout the process and be open to as many people and as many types of advice, anything that could come your way you should view as potentially beneficial,” Mackaronis says. “I’ve never started a small business, I have no background in business, and it would be pretty ignorant to dismiss people based on how my ego analyzed their advice.”

Greenstone Adventures
greenstone adventures.com

Longtime businesses’ secrets to success

 

Gary Siron, general manager of Grand Home Furnishings
Gary Siron

Grand Home Furnishings
Gary Siron, general manager
In business for 102 years
Location: 1801 Seminole Trl.

Gary Siron has been working for Grand Home Furnishings for 18 years and has been in the furniture business since 1983. He believes what sets Grand apart is its customer service—as soon as a customer walks through the door, for instance, she’s offered a cold bottle of Coca-Cola. “What we are most proud of is how we take care of our clients,” Siron says, adding that the best advice he can give someone starting a small business is doing one thing well. “If you’re going to open up your own furniture business you want to be a niche player—either have very expensive or very cheap furniture if you’re going to try and compete.”

Jim Carpenter, owner of Gitchell's Studio
Jim Carpenter

Gitchell’s Studio
Jim Carpenter, owner
In business for 110 years
Location: 618 Forest St., Suite A, until April

Jim Carpenter has been a professional photographer for 49 years. Carpenter and his wife have operated and owned Gitchell’s Studio for the past 29 years. After five decades in the business, Carpenter plans to semi-retire in April and will close his location on Forest Street. “I don’t want to give up my talent,” he says. “The best part of my job is I get to get up out of my bed every morning with enthusiasm for what am I going to see today. Who am I going to meet? What can I record? How can I make somebody else’s day better today? [I’m] helping them by just giving a friendly smile.”

Lane Schiffman
Lane Schiffman

Keller & George
Lane Schiffman, co-owner
In business for 142 years
Location: 1149 Millmont St.

Lane Schiffman believes embracing change as trends come and go is essential to owning his business. “Having information now literally in the palm of your hand creates both opportunity and challenges,” he says. “We still feel that jewelry is something you want to touch, feel and see with your own eyes rather than on a screen.” Schiffman doesn’t see himself working in any other industry and believes having a passion and a willingness to work hard is what makes his business fulfilling. “This is what we are good at and learned from our forefathers. We now have the sixth generation coming into the business and we can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Founder Albert Staples, right, with his son Kenneth
Founder Albert Staples, right, with his son Kenneth

Staples Barber Shop
Chris Bryant, barber
In business for 94 years
Location: Barracks Road Shopping Center

Staples’ was originally located on Second Street, but moved in 1959 after Barracks Road Shopping Center developers approached Albert Staples (above right, with his son Kenneth) about opening a shop there. Chris Bryant believes that the barbershop industry changed drastically in the 1970s with the advent of unisex styling and longer hairstyles for men. “What’s really nice about this shop is that it’s a good, basic, standard barber shop without all the bells and whistles that you would find at a salon or a unisex shop,” he says.

Tom Shaw
Tom Shaw

Charlottesville Piano Company
Tom Shaw, owner
In business for 110 years
Location: 634 Rio Rd. W.

Charlottesville Piano Company is the only piano store in Charlottesville. Tom Shaw is a third-generation owner of the business—his grandfather founded the store in 1907.  Charlottesville Piano Company restores vintage Steinway & Sons and other pianos. Shaw says his favorite thing about owning a small business is setting his own business goals. “The idea that one can set their own goals and make life balance as prosperous as possible, with no one else impeding your progress, is the best part,” he says. Shaw loves that even on bad days he gets to sit down and enjoy the piano. “I love pianos and the people who play them,” he says. “Some people have stressful jobs like doctors and nurses and first responders, or deadline-stress jobs like publishers or contractors. For me, if we have a washout of a day due to inclement weather, what’s the worst that can happen? I get to play a beautiful Steinway at the store. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

Jon Copper
Jon Copper

Hanckel-Citizens
Jon Copper, agent
In business for 145 years
Location: 218 Third St. NE

Jon Copper believes that what makes their insurance business unique is Hanckel-Citizens’ dedication to integrity and trust. “We are one of the oldest continuously running businesses in Charlottesville,” he says. “Our business has operated for over a century with a belief that relationships, integrity and trust are the pillars for long-term success. Those aren’t just things we have on some document in the office, it has been what we have hung our hat on and the reputation we have earned for seven generations.” Copper says being a younger person working for a company with a long history is eye-opening. “Being a part of a business that has lasted for nearly 150 years, and keeping it on course to last another 150, puts a lot of things in perspective,” he says. “Every customer, every transaction—it’s something that is much bigger than me or the folks here in the office.” 

Corbin Snow
Corbin Snow

Snow’s Garden Center
Corbin Snow, president/owner
In business for 105 years
Location: 1875 Avon St.

Corbin Snow believes that accountability is what helps him move forward as well as be a successful leader. “I’m accountable for the success and failures of the business,” he says. “I’ve learned a lot since I took over the family business back in 2003. I love seeing my team of employees work together to problem-solve and find solutions to everyday challenges.”

Snow loves being party of the community—he says the business gives back to nonprofits and schools—and he even hosts a weekly radio call-in show at 9am Saturdays on WCHV called “Snow Knows Garden Show.” “It’s been so much fun carrying on the company that my great-grandfather started back in 1912,” Snow says. “I have days where I can feel the love and support they offer me even though they are not here. People ask me all the time if I think the business will continue to my children for a fifth generation. I guess time will tell.”

Martin Hardware
Martin Hardware

Martin Hardware
Dina Gerald, office/general manager
In business for 124 years
Location: 941 Preston Ave.

Since it was founded, Martin’s has been the local place for hardware supplies—whether it be painting essentials, plumbing supplies or grills. Dina Gerald says she is dedicated to giving the customer the best possible service.

“What makes our business unique is the personalized service,” she says. “We have a lot of knowledgeable staff. [If] you come in with an electrical, plumbing or air conditioning issue, there’s going to be someone here who really knows their stuff and can give you answers for it.” Gerald believes that one of the biggest struggles of being a small business is the misconception that corporate stores are always cheaper. “People have this mindset that the big box stores are cheaper and that you can get a better value at the big box stores, which is not necessarily true,” she says. “We have better price points on a lot of things here.”