What’s the Oldest Business in Charlottesville?

Today I got my hair cut at Staples’, picked up some carpentry supplies at Martin, and had lunch at Riverside, and that set me to wondering about which local business is the oldest.

Martin Hardware seemed like a good place to start. They were founded in 1893. But Timberlake’s, as their sign informs all who pass by, was established in 1890. Keller & George promotes their 1875 founding in radio ads. My insurance agent, Hanckel-Citizens, was founded a few years earlier, in 1872. After half an hour of thinking about this and googling around, I can’t come up with any older local business that’s still running, without interruption, and hasn’t been bought up by a larger business.

Now, of course, my curiosity is piqued, and I have to imagine that I’m overlooking something. Do you know of a business that’s older than Hanckel-Citizens?

35 thoughts on “What’s the Oldest Business in Charlottesville?”

  1. The University of Virginia is not now nor has it ever been in Charlottesville. The Academical Village was planted more than two miles west of the town beginning in 1819 and was meant to be entire of itself. Today, all U.Va.-owned land is legally part of Albemarle County. (Contrast with Chapel Hill, N.C., a town that grew up around a university planted in the middle of nowhere, i.e. a true college town.)

    As for local businesses older than Hanckel-Citizens: I believe that Timberlake’s Drug Store’s roots extend to the 1820’s. Owners changed over time — often via family connections — but I think they were passing along a continuing business.

    Similarly, I think that The Daily Progress can be considered a continuation of The Charlottesville Chronicle, which was established in 1864.

    And,of course, today’s train service descends directly from the Virginia Central Railroad that began stopping at the depot midway between Charlottesville and U.Va. in 1850.

    Then there’re those enterprises you may or may not consider “businesses.” For instance, I’m sure that forbears of George Coles and Frances Coles Sebring, t/a Coles and Sebring, have been representing clients at the Albemarle County Courthouse ever since Charlottesville became county seat in 1762.

  2. You may need to change your site’s name Waldo, as cvillenews.com can’t [apparently] be representative of the legal particularities of our area.

  3. Antoinette, as Christian alludes to, I use “Charlottesville” to refer to the region, since it’s more than a bit awkward to have to write “Charlottesville and the surrounding area,” or “Charlottesville and Albemarle” every time I want to relate that concept. :) Keller and George, for instance, is in Albemarle County, not Charlottesville.

    The Daily Progress isn’t a business, but really an entity. It was long ago bought by larger businesses—Worrell Enterprises, and now Media General. Ditto for “train service”—that’s a concept, but not a business, and now is simply Amtrak. That’s not to say that such things aren’t interesting! But the specific thing that I’m wondering about is the oldest “local business that’s still running, without interruption, and hasn’t been bought up by a larger business.” There’s some business in Charlottesville (or Albemarle!) that can claim that crown, and I’m trying to figure out who it is.]

    BTW, I didn’t know about UNC Chapel Hill. UVA was seen as being in the middle of nowhere when it was established, having been constructed quite a distance from Court Square, but “the middle of nowhere” is clearly a relative concept. :)

  4. If you mean local, just say local.

    Otherwise, U.Va. was not seen as being in the middle of nowhere. It was seen as being near but separate from Charlottesville. That’s what its founders intended. And that’s how it functioned until into the 20th century. (Among other distinctions, U.Va. had its own U.S. Post Office and Federally appointed Postmaster.)

    The physically sprawling U.Va. of today, the one that’s so influential in so many aspects of local life, is the creature of post-World War II policies, not of its own history.

    Otherwise: A newspaper isn’t a business? As someone who’s worked for newspapers for more than 40 years, I strongly disagree. As I used to tell my U.Va. writing students: Newspapers (and magazines, too) aren’t big blank bulletin boards waiting for you to post your message to the world. They’re businesses that, to remain viable, must successfully sell their readers to their advertisers using all those words and pictures as bait. Papers aren’t failing or downsizing today as journalistic entities, they’re failing or downsizing as businesses.

  5. Keller & George was sold to another jewelry firm some years after they moved from downtown. There is no mention of this on the web site of K&G or Schwarzschild Jewelers of Richmond, who bought them. Both go to some lengths to appear on and off the web as locally-owned. Their web pages reflect the joint ownership in design, however. They are twins.

    Then there was a bankruptcy filing and sale, moving K&G yet another dimension away from local ownership.

    Keller & George is actually an arm of Schiffman’s Jewelers of Richmond, which also operates Shreve & Co. Jewelers in San Francisco, and Sylvan’s Jewelers in Columbia, S.C.

    They in turn were owned by a holding company, Tyringham Holdings, that filed for Chapter 11. The current owner seems to be a consortium involving Schiffman’s. Here’s the only story I can find. In my reading experience, this is news to Charlottesville despite being several years old.

    Jewelers take over Shreve, Crump & Low, Schwarzschild in $12 million deal

    By Beth Braverman
    Published on AllBusiness.com

    Richmond, Va.—A group of investors and jewelers was granted approval to buy two of the nation’s oldest jewelry retail operations, Shreve, Crump & Low in Boston and Schwarzschild Jewelers in Richmond, Va., after the holding company that owned them, Tyringham Holdings, filed for Chapter 11.

    A consortium consisting of retail jewelers David & Co. of Chestnut Hill, Mass., and Schiffman’s of Greensboro, N.C.; investors Tiger Capital Group of Boston and SB Capital Group of Great Neck, N.Y.; and The Gordon Co., a liquidator in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., stepped up as buyers after the Sept. 6 bankruptcy filing.

    The deal, reportedly for $12 million, was approved by U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Douglas O. Tice Jr. in Richmond, Va., on Oct. 3. The joint-venture group beat out three other bidders.

    In the bankruptcy filing, Tyringham Holdings blamed the downturn of the business on expenses associated with Shreve’s new downtown Boston store, which underwent $7 million in renovations before it opened, and a drop in business after the company shifted away from its traditional merchandise. By the end of 2005, Shreve and sister jeweler Schwarzschild saw sales drop 26 percent, to $31 million from $42 million in 2000, according to The Boston Globe. But now, the new owners hope to turn things around.

    “They’re both very important jewelry stores,” Phil Holden, president of The Gordon Co., says of Shreve, Crump & Low, which has been in Boston since 1796, and Schwarzschild Jewelers, in Richmond since 1897. “I hate to see stores with that reputation and history in the community not go forward.”

    Under the agreement, the investment groups will control Shreve, Crump & Low and Schwarzschild Jewelers until early 2007, while The Gordon Co. handles their multi-million dollar liquidation. The investors will then turn over full ownership of Shreve, Crump & Low to David & Co. and full ownership of Schwarzschild to Schiffman’s.

    David & Co. owner David Walker says he considered purchasing Shreve, Crump & Low in 1992, before Tyringham bought it.

    “We bought the company with the intent to restore it and run it with the sense of history,” Walker says. “It’s exciting to own a company that has gone through many changes over the years. It is an exciting time for me and for the Shreve, Crump & Low brand.”

    Walker says he will concentrate on bringing high-quality merchandise and service back to the store.

    The owners of Schiffman’s similarly hope to capitalize on Schwarzschild Jewelers’ strong regional reputation.

    “We don’t except to make any huge, sweeping changes,” said Lane Schiffman, vice president of Schiffman’s Jewelers, which also operates Shreve & Co. Jewelers in San Francisco, Keller & George in Charlottesville, Va., and Sylvan’s Jewelers in Columbia, S.C. “The culture at Schwarzschild really mirrors our own.”

    All three Schwarzschild stores in Virginia, and the Shreve, Crump & Low store in Chestnut Hill, Mass., will remain open. The fate of the Shreve, Crump & Low store in downtown Boston remained uncertain at press time, due to ongoing landlord negotiations.

    Both David & Co. and Schiffman’s will offer jobs to current employees.

    “I am buying a management team that I couldn’t put together,” Walker says. “Many of them have been [with Shreve, Crump & Low] for 30 or 40 years. I plan on keeping everyone who is there now. Those are dedicated employees who have been there through the hard times and bankruptcy.”

    Jewelry industry analyst Ken Gassman says the robust Shreve, Crump & Low, and Schwarzchild’s strong brand recognition in their respective regions could make it easier for their new owners to turn the companies around since the public still holds them in high esteem, and are largely unaware of the business’ financial problems.

    For a truly local jewelry store that never changed hands, my grandfather founded one in 1896 in eastern New York State that’s in the 3rd generation of family ownership. Same downtown location. When everyone else (for example Keller & George) fled to shopping centers, he stayed put on Main St. a block from the railway station. Keeping up the family tradition of successful backwardness, they have no web site.

  6. P.S. The most recent location of Keller & George is, in fact, in the City of Charlottesville, not in Albemarle County.

    But unless I’m mistaken, which I could be, K&G long since ceased to be owned by a Keller or a George or a Balthis (who preceded George in the partnership). So if change of ownership disqualifies The Daily Progress from definition as a continuing local business despite its continuous publication, then change of ownership would disqualify K&G.

    And re the DP’s changes: T. Eugene Worrell bought his first newspaper in Bristol because he didn’t like something it said about him. He then expanded on that base by buying other papers including the DP, moving here, and from his HQ here being so successfully businesslike about his holdings that his papers almost ceased to be journalistic entities.

    Media General, meanwhile, was created by deeply rooted Virginian Stewart Bryan whose Richmond and Fluvanna County-dwelling grandfather had acquired The Richmond Times in 1887. (The Times was later merged with The Richmond Dispatch, for which my great grandfather was longtime Charlottesville-Albemarle correspondent beginning in the 1870’s.) MG was the product of surplus profits Bryan acquired while The Richmond Times-Dispatch, which maintained a Charlotteville-Albemarle bureau for many years, and the co-owned Richmond News Leader, for which I was Charlottesville-Albemarle correspondent for a few years, boomed in the 1980s. With MG, Bryan sought to secure both current efficiencies and future profits via both horizontal consolidation (by buying other mostly-Virginia newspapers and making of their reporters a news service that provided content for all MG papers including the DP) and vertical consolidation (by buying paper manufacturers, etc.)

    All of which is to say that both “local” and “running without interruption” can be debated to death. But that outcome is hardly congenial to an informed conversation on a matter of history (if that’s the goal).

  7. Rhodes, stop being a pedant. When the local guy on the local blog talks about Cville everyone knows what he means.

    And should you ever wish to visit the Rotunda, its address is….

    1717 University Avenue Charlottesville, VA 22904.

  8. As to the age of The Daily Progress, I was on the staff that put together the 75th anniversary issue in September, 1967. It was not Charlottesville’s first newspaper, not the second, not the third. No one knows.

    Maybe someone with a journalism class can assign the history of Charlottesville newspapers as a research project. Then next year do the history of Albemarle newspapers.

    The Prog was owned by the same family from 1892 until the Worrell Group took over on January 1, 1971. Media General, the third and probably final owner, bought it in 1995.

  9. Keller & George was sold to another jewelry firm some years after they moved from downtown. There is no mention of this on the web site of K&G or Schwarzschild Jewelers of Richmond, who bought them. Both go to some lengths to appear on and off the web as locally-owned. Their web pages reflect the joint ownership in design, however. They are twins.

    How about that! Keller and George, and Schwarzschild, side by side, are the same thing. The domain name registration for kellerandgeorge.com indicates that the domain belongs to Schiffmans, Inc., of Greensboro, NC, whose website is a triplet of the aforementioned twins. So Keller and George apparently isn’t even a Virginia company anymore! In what I assume is a mistake, the privacy policy and return policy on Keller & George’s website makes no mention of Keller & George, and only mentions Schiffmans (“[i]f for any reason you are not satisfied with your purchase, you may return it within 30 days to any Schiffmans Jewelers…”). Looks like you’re spot-on with the timing of the sale, too: Schiffmans’ website says they bought Keller and George in 1994, which—as I recall—is exactly when they moved from downtown.

    Next you’ll be telling me that Riverside is owned by KFC. ;)

  10. An interesting paper chase is to learn who actually owns the car dealerships in town. For years what we assumed were local Chevy and Ford dealers were really branches of huge NOVA dealerships having un-Virginia names to hide, like Rosenthal.

    In that case they named it after the sales manager promoted to run the branch, Jim Price, gentile. Eventually he bought the dealership.

    Haven’t looked in many years. Jewish names aren’t the death knell of yesteryear.

  11. I hate to disagree with Antoinette (she lives around the corner from me and is a great advocate for our neighborhood). Most of Grounds is not within the city limits of Cville. However due to annexation, many parts of the University are in Cville. These ares include Madison Hall and Mad Bowl, the entire hospital complex south of JPA, everything around the intersection of University and Ivy (except the tennis courts) including the site of the new pocket park, Alumni Hall (and adjacent buildings), the JAG school, University Gardens, Parking & Transportation, the Michie Buidlings, Carruthers Hall, the most northern few buildings of Copeley Hill and the Park @ North Grounds among other slivers here and there.

    I am a GIS specialist at UVa and would be happy to make a map showing exactly where the boundary lines are. Open Street Maps (http://www.openstreetmap.org/) has a good approximation in their data.

  12. Most of Grounds is not within the city limits of Cville. However due to annexation, many parts of the University are in Cville.

    This is an important distinction that needs to be made more often. Thank you, Chris.

  13. I can remember ordering the same meal and finding out it cost differently depending on which cafeteria I used at UVA Hospital. The old hospital cafeteria (in the Barringer/Davis Wing) was in the county and, at that time, had no meal tax. The cafeteria in the new hospital was in the city and had a city meal tax. Crazy, huh?

  14. In reference to the Keller & George information published by Hofe, Waldo is correct. Keller & George was purchased by the Schiffman family in 1994. It is a family-owned and managed company, and the family is hands on, the management at the store and the employees are from the Charlottesville area. Keller & George was not involved in the Tyringham Holding Liquidation, as it was never part of Tyringham Holdings.

    Keller & George is run as a separate entity and is not considered “twins” with Schwarzschild Jewelers in Richmond.

    However, even though it is owned by a family that resides in NC, the fact remains that it was founded in 1875 (actually 1873) when Main Street was a dirt road,and has continually operated remaining true to its founding purpose.

    So, HOfe how is this important to the discussion of Charlottesville’s oldest businesses? And how many communities can boast of a continually running jewelry store dating from 1875?

  15. Oldest business in town?

    One night I dined in a Viennese restaurant that had been under the same family ownership for 250 years. Wegenstein Zum Weissen Schwan. Two nights later I ate at the actual “old” restaurant in that city, 500 years under same family ownership. Zur Linde.

    That was in 1962, so add another half-century to that.

    When Keller & George left downtown Charlottesville for a suburban setting, nothing may have changed in the history book but there was a change in community, in the way we feel about the store. And a change in shopping patterns.

    The Young Men’s Shop also found that when they deserted downtown, as did Charlottesville Lumber and Charlottesville Hardware. YMS came back downtown eventually. Charlottesville Lumber became a different store altogether, Better Living. Charlottesville Hardware vaporized.

    Selling Keller & George to a buyer from out of state didn’t amount to much, so far as this customer was concerned, because it wasn’t the Keller & George I relied on for so long. That was already gone.

    Does it matter that news of K&G’s sale was downplayed, that the store has been posing as stand-alone, locally owned? In addition to a faint whiff of mendacity, that leads to two questions:

    1. Aren’t we used to chain ownership by now?
    2. Aren’t we all aware of economy of scale? The greater the buying power, the wider the choice and lower the price?

  16. Hoffee

    Didn’t know that Vienna, Austria was relocated to Charlottesville.

    Of course you’ll find centuries old family businesses in Europe. I should have clarified my last remark to limit it to businesses in Virginia – or the USA.

  17. Susan, if you are being paid to perform public relations for Keller & George or its related/parent corporations (Schiffman’s, etc.), I hope you’ll call that up here. (I notice that you’re a fan of them on Facebook, and that you work as a PR consultant—unless it’s just somebody who shares your name, in which case I apologize.) I think it’s best when people call up when they’re being paid to hold a particular opinion. I sure try to do that.

  18. Waldo, you are quite diligent. Yes. I am a PR consultant, and work for the owners of Keller & George and Schwarzschild Jewelers.You are right, I should have stated that I work for the companies involved from the start. And for that I apologize.

    But that’s not what prompted me to add to the conversation. I am actually interested in why Hofee chose to bring up the Tyringham Holding bankruptcy in a discussion about Charlottesville businesses when it doesn’t pertain to the discussion. And to be up front, I also do work for the company that ran the Tyringham Bankruptcy Sale and worked on that project. So I’m very familiar with the story.

    I saw the discussion, read it and commented because it seemed from Hofee’s remark that he/she might have an agenda of his/her own.Or maybe a bone to pick.

    I honestly don’t think anyone has tried to hide the connection to the Schiffman family and their company, they’ve owne K&G for almost 20 years. The Charlottesville store is the only Keller & George store that exists.

    And for the record, I am not being paid to participate in this discussion.

  19. It’s kind of funny to have Susan imputing to Hofee an “agenda” or “bone to pick” for mentioning the bankruptcy. By “funny,” perhaps I mean “ironic.”

    FWIW, it seems to me that Hofee brought up the bankruptcy in a very logical and non-bone-picky way: as part of a tour through the history of K&G’s transformation from a truly locally-owned store into something else.

  20. Yes it was a logical explanation of the bankruptcy sale of the assets of the holding company that once owned Schwarzschild Jewelers (Richmond) and Shreve, Crump & Low (Boston).

  21. Right–logical. Which is why I’m wondering why you suspected “hidden agenda” and “bone to pick” and thus went after Hofe’s post so directly?

  22. Logical if you are talking about Schwarzschild Jewelers. But not actually pertinent when talking about Keller & George. Unless the whole explanation was to make the point that the family that’s owned and operated Keller & George for almost 20 years purchased Schwarzschild Jewelers from that sale. By the way, that news was published in the Richmond Times Dispatch and Charlottesville Daily Progress at the time.

    There’s no consortium involved in running the company today. Rather there was a consortium put together by the company that conducted the sale, of their firm with two retailers – one willing to purchase Schwarzschild and one willing to purchase Shreve Crump and Low and revive the brands.

    A question. Would you rather have had them change the name and lose it forever? Or continue to keep the legacy of an old Charlottesville company name going?

  23. Susan, here was Waldo’s lead-in to this thread:

    “After half an hour of thinking about this and googling around, I can’t come up with any older local business that’s still running, without interruption, and hasn’t been bought up by a larger business.”

    For an outsider to the whole K&G saga (which you are not, so perhaps you don’t see this so clearly), it DOES seem relevant & logical in a “hey, that’s interesting” kind of way, to mention the bankruptcy part of the entire K&G history in response to a thread devoted to talking about long-lived Cville businesses. I mean, I found it to be non-jarring and perfectly logical when I read Hofe’s post. It wasn’t until you sailed in with your defensive-sounding response to Hofe (“So, HOfe how is this important to the discussion of Charlottesville’s oldest businesses?”) that I perked up and began to wonder what was going on. You have drawn far more attention to the bankruptcy aspect of the history than Hofe did.

    Moreover, the fact that it turns out you do PR for K&G and did not divulge that fact until called on adds a negative cast to the whole discussion. Now, in my head, K&G is associated with “aggressively defensive moves on local chat board by bungling PR consultant who fails to divulge connection to K&G and then gets busted by Waldo.” That’s my image now of K&G. No big deal, of course, since I don’t have big bucks to drop on a diamond anyway. But still, PR…it seems like it’s supposed to work the other way, no?

    Finally, re: your question:

    “A question. Would you rather have had them change the name and lose it forever? Or continue to keep the legacy of an old Charlottesville company name going?”

    You set up a false dichotomy — there are more than those two options. K&G could have kept the name and thus the legacy of a…of a name, but could ALSO do more to describe the more recent history of the company. I checked the website, and under “Our History,” the history stops at about 1893, when Keller and George were still in charge. That certainly leaves the impression that once K and G took over, nothing much else significant happened. Which is certainly not true, especially to anyone interested in “shopping locally.”

  24. Quiz time! A paid PR consultant posting on a forum about the business that employs her, and not divulging her association with said company is called what now in urban/popular language?

  25. “And for the record, I am not being paid to participate in this discussion.”

    The oldest business in Charlottesville?

    Prostitution, obviously.

  26. Isn’t that a “shill”?
    Let me ask me kids… okay, they say “shill” also, but maybe “i-stooge”?
    “Gaslighting” would involve incorrect information, wouldn’t it?

  27. Yeah, gaslighting is when you try to make someone think (s)he’s losing his mind — not applicable here, but one of my favorite terms (from a good movie). Astro-turfing is close, though, isn’t it? That’s when a group emerges that purports to be a grassroots uprising of concerned citizens opposed to X but turns out to be an arm of the corporate entity that opposes X. That seems similar in spirit to the act of going on to a blog or social media site to talk about Product X or Company X as if one were simply a disinterested fellow citizen rather than someone with a vested interest.

  28. It’s the [sad] way of the world today. Maybe it was always like that. I don’t know. The Truth is a just a ‘perspective’ and even ‘scientists’ are full of angles. But what I do know is this: the spirit of community and the quest for the well-being of the many is on its death-bed. The few pockets of resistance to the corporate machine are going the way of the Dodo bird. I can only hope I am wrong.

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