The Oldest Businesses in Richmond

Use filtering tools to segment businesses by industry or era. To be included, businesses must have started in Richmond at least 40 years ago and retain the same core business function.


Introduction

In 1784 George Washington went before the Virginia Assembly to argue in favor of an ambitious project: a canal to connect the James River and Kanawha River in southwest Virginia. If successful, the completed canal would link Virginia industry to the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, providing access to the limitless resources of the American West.

The laborious work, complicated by floods and technical challenges, plodded on for more than half a century, into the 1850s. By then, rail lines were being laid on canal towpaths first carved for oxen and men---the economic viability of canals had vanished in the white plume of a steam locomotive.

A century later, construction workers layered interstate highways over still-active rail lines; within decades, drivers' horizons were perforated by passenger jets slicing in and out of billowy clouds.

Progress never comes without casualties. Essential businesses become obsolete, demand disappears, and companies relocate, sell out, or fall victim to mismanagement.

This narrative of progress---and its casualties---is well understood but still foreign to Richmond's oldest businesses. These companies have upended existing business models to align with new technology, endured local, national, and international economic crises, and retained a commitment to the Richmond community that surpasses odds and expectations.

Some have been around long enough to watch the transition from water to rail to road and sky. Others have pushed forward those very changes.

1840-99

The oldest business in Richmond is Sands Anderson, which began its legal practice as the sibling partnership of Sands & Sands in 1842.

For many Richmonders, Billups Funeral Home, which opened in 1850, typically tops the list. (The Richmond Daily Dispatch was also founded in 1850 but did not become the Richmond Times-Dispatch until merging with the Richmond Daily Times in 1903.) Billups is one of five funeral homes that opened in Richmond in the nineteenth century and remains open today.

There are ample reasons---and hackneyed jokes---that suggest why funeral homes are an enduring presence in Richmond and many other cities. Death, one of life's two inevitabilities, generates a consistent demand that does not face the same peaks and valleys of other consumer purchases.

But funeral homes frequently are family businesses, too, providing a continuum of ownership and responsibility. They manage emotionally delicate moments in human life, and the trust they build translates forward to future generations.

Jewelers are often a family enterprise as well, explaining their early and lasting presence in Richmond industry. Cowardin's Jewelers was the first, opening in 1865, the final year of the Civil War, and was followed by Bachrach's Jewelers in 1887.

An enduring trait of Richmond's oldest businesses is the close connection between a brand and the surname of its founder. Each of the 15 oldest businesses in Richmond is named for its founder. The Jefferson Hotel, established in 1895 by Lewis Ginter, was the first to survive after breaking this trend. Ginter relied on the venerated name of one of Virginia's most famous sons to do so.

1900-49

The list of consumer products and services broadened in the early twentieth century, a reflection of the growing complexity and size of the American economy.

In Richmond, the list of businesses that emerged during this period ranges from the industrial exploits of Strickland Machine Co. (founded in 1900, now Strickland Foundry & Machine Co.) to the veterinary practice of Farmers Veterinary Hospital (1929) to Whitten Brothers (1920), purveyor of that revolutionary invention of the early twentieth century, the personal automobile.

The diversity of Richmond businesses continued as the twentieth century progressed, with new companies sprouting even during the Great Depression: Capitol Awning (1930), Strange's Florist (1935), and Hertless Brothers Roofing (1935), for example. While innumerable businesses failed in the 1930s, those that opened amid dire economic circumstances undoubtedly carried lessons in efficiency and frugality into subsequent decades---a boon for longevity.

1950-76

The post-war years were a time of tremendous population and economic expansion throughout the United States, and Richmond was no exception. The population of the city grew by more than 19% between 1940 and 1950 and by 13.5% between 1960 and 1970.

Simple life in a Southern city was now more complex, and businesses formed to meet new demands of modern suburban life. The Fin & Feather Pet Center, Inc. opened in 1959, James River Air started serving Richmond in 1967, and Richmond Olympiad Gymnastics opened its doors to the next generation of Olympic champions in 1970.

They are three of 20 businesses that opened their doors in the years after World War II and stayed open for more than 40 years since.

Sustaining a business---beyond the managerial, technical, and financial hurdles---requires relationship building that inspires generational loyalty. It demands a level of consumer trust that weakens the allure of big-box invaders and communicates the value of personal, local human relationships, whether the decision is how to remember a lost loved one, which car to drive off the lot, or where to get advice on the best food for your new best friend.

Achieving that lofty goal surely parallels the sentiment pilots must feel as they fly miles above the canals: transcendence.

The List of the Oldest Businesses in Richmond

FoundedBusiness NameIndustry
1842Sands Anderson PCLegal
1850Billups Funeral HomeFuneral Homes
1850Richmond Times-Dispatch (formerly Richmond Daily Dispatch)Media
1863Davenport & Co.Finance
1865Cowardin's JewelersJeweler
1866Pohlig PackagingManufacturing
1870Morrissett Funeral and Cremation ServiceFuneral Homes
1874Joseph W. Bliley Co.Funeral Homes
1884Siewers LumberManufacturing
1886C.P. DeanSporting Goods
1886Richmond Times-Dispatch (formerly Richmond Daily Times)Media
1887Bachrach's JewelersJeweler
1887Charles A. Rose Co.Real Estate
1887C. F. Sauer CompanyManufacturing
1890Spotts & Carneal Inc. (formerly J.D. Carneal & Sons)Real Estate
1891National Marking Products, Inc.Printing
1892Nelsen Funeral HomeFuneral Homes
1892Ruffin & Payne (formerly Fourqurean and Ruffin)Manufacturing
1894Pollard & Bagby Inc.Real Estate
1895The Jefferson HotelHotel
1897Noland & Baskervill, now BaskervillArchitecture
1897Bennett Funeral HomesFuneral Homes
1897McGuireWoods LLP (formerly McGuire & Bryan)Legal
1897Schwarzschild JewelersJeweler
1900Waller & Company JewelersJeweler
1900Strickland Foundry & Machine Co. (formerly Strickland Machine Co.)Industrial
1901Hunton & WilliamsLegal
1905Woody Funeral HomeFuneral Homes
1908Davis Brothers Construction Company, Inc.Construction
1909Williams MullenLegal
1910Old Dominion Brush CompanyManufacturing
1910William R. Hill and CompanyManufacturing
1910Scotts Funeral HomeFuneral Homes
1910Agee's Bicycles (formerly West End Bike Shop)Sporting Goods
1912O.K. FoundryManufacturing
1914M. R. Ellis & Sons, Inc.Plumber
1915Taylor & Parrish ConstructionConstruction
1915VAMAC, Inc.Distributor
1916Richmond Ford LincolnAutomotive
1918Universal CorporationAgriculture
1920Whitten BrothersAutomotive
1921Maxine's CaféRestaurant
1921Massey Builder's SupplyRetail
1922Conquest GraphicsPrinting
1923Southern States Cooperative (formerly Virginia Seed Service)Agriculture
1923Luck Stone QuarriesIndustrial
1923Figg & Sons Insurance AgencyInsurance
1923Hello Inc.Communications
1924Volvo of RichmondAutomotive
1924Benj. Franklin Printing CompanyPrinting
1924Sally Bell's KitchenRestaurant
1925Financial Services of VirginiaFinance
1926Christian and Barton LLPLegal
1926William Byrd Hotel Barber ShopBarber
1929Farmers Veterinary HospitalVeterinary
1930Capitol AwningConstruction
1933Chiles Funeral HomeFuneral Homes
1935Strange's FloristFloral
1935Hertless Brothers RoofingConstruction
1935Helen's Restaurant (formerly Helen's Inn)Restaurant
1936H. J. Holtz & SonPainter
1936Empire Granite CorporationConstruction
1939Caravati's Inc.Construction
1940Smith Iron & Metal Co Inc.Industrial
1942Hull Street OutletRetail
1943Brooks Gray Sign CompanyManufacturing
1944Mitchell Wiggins & CoFinancial
1946The Dairy Bar RestaurantRestaurant
1946Halls Tire & Auto ServiceAutomotive
1948Sterling ManagementConstruction
1949Standard FurnitureFurniture
1952Westhampton Pastry ShopBakery
1953Morris Tile DistributorsConstruction
1953Timmons GroupsEngineering
1953Saxon ShoesRetail
1954E. A. Holsten, Inc.Distributor
1955Austin Brockenbrough & AssociatesEngineering
1956WhitlockTechnology
1958Adams Barber ShopBarber
1959Fin & Feather Pet Center, Inc.Pet Store
1960Mercedes-Benz of RichmondAutomotive
1960Massad Hotel (operated by JMJ Corporation)Hotel
1961Adolf JewelersJeweler
1963Pearson Auto GroupAutomotive
1963S. B. Cox, Inc.Construction
1964Allied Animal HospitalVeterinary
1965The Martin Agency (formerly Martin & Woltz)Advertising
1965Carreras JewelersJeweler
1965Glavé & Holmes ArchitectureArchitecture
1965Custom Woodwork, Inc.Manufacturing
1966Light & RaphaelFinancial
1966O'Toole's RestaurantRestaurant
1966Tour Plan International, LTDTravel
1966Slurry Pavers, Inc.Construction
1967James River AirHVAC
1968Andrew W. Wood P.C.Legal
1968The Dog & Cat ShoppePet Store
1968Burford AdvertisingAdvertising
1969E. T. Moore Manufacturing, Inc.Manufacturing
1970Richmond Olympiad GymnasticsAthletics
1970HandCraft Dry CleanersDry Cleaning
1970Disco SportsSporting Goods
1970Worth Higgins & AssociatesPrinting
1971Mapcom SystemsSoftware
1971Air Conditioning Equipment Sales (ACES), IncHVAC
1973Sam Miller'sRestaurant
1973ThompsonMcMullan, P.C.Legal
1974Cross Creek Nursery & Garden CenterNursery
1975KBS, Inc.Construction
1976Richmond Security (formerly Richmond Lock and Safe)Security
1976Guirkin Plumbing, Heating, and Air ConditioningPlumber
1976Bremo PharmacyPharmacy
1976Hudson Industries, Inc.Manufacturing
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