Business is blooming

Small independent retailers have enough challenges without adding “pandemic” or “civil unrest” to their list. But Lee’s Flower and Card Shop, a third-generation institution on U Street in Washington, D.C. — once known as the city’s “Black Broadway” — has stayed strong through many challenges, from a changing neighborhood to all the uncertainties of 2020.

People want to support Black businesses during this time of protest against systemic racism. And the floral industry has fared well during the pandemic, says co-owner and president Stacie Lee Banks, 57.

“People are trying to make their apartments, condominiums and homes beautiful with flowers and plants,” she says.
When protests erupted after the police killing of George Floyd, Stacie and her sister and co-owner, Kristie Lee Jones, 49, put up a sign saying, “Black Owned Business.”

“The CVS next door got looted, but we got bypassed,” says Kristie, the vice president.

In hanging the sign, the sisters were following in the footsteps of their father, Richard “Rick” Lee, 77.

“Dad told us that in the 1968 riots, he wrote ‘Soul Brother’ on the window,” says Kristie.

“The whole city was burning, there was black smoke all over, people looting stores,” Rick recalls of the riots after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. “We stayed in the store all night with a shotgun.” Luckily, the Lees’ business remained unscathed.

The Lees note that a diverse group of citizens have participated in the George Floyd protests.

“There were so many different races and nationalities marching that it made it so much more meaningful and impactful,” Stacie says.

Rooted in the community
Lee’s Flower and Card Shop was founded in 1945 by Rick’s parents, William and Winnifred Lee, who started the business with $100 and a vision to spread joy through flowers. But in 1945, white-owned banks weren’t lending to Black would-be entrepreneurs. The Lees turned to Industrial Bank, a Black-owned institution founded by the Mitchell family in 1934 and still a bedrock of finance in the Black business community.

In 1968, William and Winnifred needed more space after acquiring a neighborhood card store. Kristie believes that if they hadn’t bought their building, the business probably wouldn’t have survived. Her grandparents had barely signed the papers on the sale when the 1968 race riots broke out.

“We’ve always been part of the fabric of the community,” Rick says. “My parents were, I have been, and now Stacie and Kristie have taken it to another level.”

The two sisters bought their father out in 2012, though Rick still comes in to help and advise. Stacie and Kristie are the shop’s sole owners but are discussing expanding ownership among the family.

Rick was William and Winnifred Lee’s only child. He hadn’t planned to be a florist, but after six years in the Peace Corps, William asked him to come into the business. Rick realized that if he didn’t, there would not be a Lee’s Flower Shop in the future. Marie, his ex-wife, also once worked in the store, as did her own mother.

The store has roughly 15 employees today, including non-family. Many Lee family members pitch in part-time in addition to their regular jobs. They include Stacie and Kristie’s brother, William P. Lee II; Stacie’s husband, Jeffrey Banks; and Kristie’s husband, JaJaun Jones, who all help make deliveries during busy times.

Fourth-generation family members are William II’s daughter, LeChe’ Lee, 34, human resources consultant, who also works for the U.S. government; Stacie and Jeffrey’s daughter, Samarah Banks, 25, who works full-time at the shop as a floral designer and in sales; and Kristie’s daughter and son from her prior marriage, Joi and Chase Tyler, who work on special events. Mackenzie Pickett, a cousin, serves as marketing consultant and grant writer from her home in Ohio, where she works for GOJO Industries, makers of Purell hand sanitizer.

“It’s given that every member of our family intern at the shop,” says Stacie. They are encouraged, though not expected, to join the business.

“If you want your children to take over the business, bring them up in the business. If you’re spending a lot of time at the business, you’re not spending time at home. If you don’t include your kids, you won’t see them,” says Rick bluntly.

“Let them know there’s a place for them if they want it. At 7 or 8, they can be sweeping floors — and learning that they’re part of something bigger than themselves.” It’s also good for them to make a little money for things they want, he says.

“We all had to start at the bottom,” says Samarah.

Stacie joined the business straight after graduating from Howard University, but Kristie worked for Verizon before joining.

Meeting customer demand
Before the pandemic, Stacie regularly organized small concerts at the shop, paying local musicians to perform. Kristie, meanwhile, created “pop-up shops” for local artisans to display and sell their wares. “They get our customers as well as their customers,” she says.

Stacie and Kristie also try to accommodate charitable requests from the community.

“Even though we didn’t start the business ourselves, we just speak on what our grandparents taught us,” says Kristie. Their niece LeChe’ points out that as the neighborhood has evolved, Lee’s has catered to a host of different nationalities, tastes and traditions.

When the pandemic hit, Lee’s closed to the public and laid off staff as business slowed to a trickle of orders that Stacie and Kristie fulfilled themselves. They alternated days in the store so they were never there at the same time and using only one driver per day. Stacie served on Washington’s reopening advisory committee, and she believes the city has done a good job of balancing safety and commerce.

Lee’s has received multiple government- or city-sponsored business grants and, most recently, applied for some small government grants to help businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

By Mother’s Day Lee’s began bringing staff back, and since June business has rocketed back, Stacie says. Customers can now step just a few feet into the shop to place an order, but not browse freely.

“We’ve coined a new phrase, ‘micro-weddings.’ People are still getting married and still want flowers. Now it’s a bridal bouquet and boutonniere and maybe two centerpieces, where before we were decorating a church and doing 15-20 centerpieces,” says Stacie. Lee’s even did a wedding on Black Lives Matter Plaza.

Funeral business also picked up. People want flowers even — especially—for a Zoom funeral.

“It’s been substantial enough to keep us going,” says Stacie.

Rick reminds his daughters that prayers and faith have sustained them through the challenges of 2020. “We lean on the Lord for everything,” he says.                                

Hedda Schupak last wrote about Laird & Co. for Family Business Magazine.

Copyright 2021 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact     

Champions of the river

The Delaware River is the longest undammed river east of the Mississippi. From its headwaters in New York, it flows 419 miles into Delaware Bay, bounded by New Jersey and Delaware. About 5% of the U.S. population — 15 million people — rely on it for drinking water.

There are many stewards of the Delaware, but one of them is just as mighty as the river, spanning five generations and active in three centuries. The Lewis Fishery, a once-commercial enterprise based on the annual shad run dating back to the birth of America, is the last haul-seine fishery for this species on the nontidal Delaware River. This traditional method uses a long net with one end attached to the land and the other pulled by a small boat encircling fish to corral them toward shore.

Stephen Meserve, the fourth-generation head of the Lewis Fishery, is a computer programmer by vocation and river advocate by avocation — one of those guys you can imagine more easily in waders than a tie. “I’m Dilbert by day and this guy by night,” he quips. The Lewis family, along with friends, has worked along the same stretch of the Delaware since 1888, when Steve’s great-grandfather Bill Lewis consolidated two fisheries into one in Lambertville, N.J.

The river is one character in this family’s tale, intertwined with the health of the American shad, the largest member of the herring family. The family still fishes and lives on the Jersey side of the river, where the drop-off is more gradual than the shore on the Pennsylvania side. It is an evening fishery; shad swim throughout the day to stay near the edge of the sunlight on the water, moving closer to Jersey by dusk.

As the sun dips, the crew launches their rowboat into the current, reeling out the seine-net as one or two people row the boat across the river and back to form a giant net horseshoe. Then four or more pullers grab the ends of the seine and haul it toward shore hand-over-hand, drawing the catch toward them.

The shad “season” runs for eight to 10 weeks, usually starting the Saturday after St. Patrick’s Day. Back in the day, Lewis family members and friends worked the fishery for extra cash in the spring.

“The workers could make as much in these few weeks compared to the entire year employed in the Lambertville paper mill,” says Steve. For Fred Lewis, Steve’s grandfather and Bill Lewis’s son, the longest “day” working on the river was the 60 hours from one midnight Sunday through to noon on Wednesday.

During the 1950s, Fred saw the shad populations nosedive, due in large part to downstream pollution. The times were so bad that the Internal Revenue Service advised the Lewis family to change the tax status of their money-draining business to a hobby. “We really are a commercial fishery in method only. But because of this, Fred foresaw the need to be a voice for the fish and the river,” says Steve.

Fred passed on leadership of the Lewis Fishery to Steve, his grandson. The lineage skipped a generation because Steve’s father, Dave Meserve, died at a young age. His uncle Cliff Lewis also died young and was not involved much in the fishery.

Steve became a crew member when he was 14. His sister, Pamela Meserve Baker, also began at a young age and is still involved with the fishery. Fred taught Steve the fishing methods as well as the importance of taking care of the river.

Since the 1980s, Steve has been gathering data on the shad population for the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife (NJDFW) on the shad population. This vast and consistent record has also become a popular resource for students in a range of subjects, including environmental sciences, folklore and economics.

Fred began to pass leadership of the fishery to Steve in the late 1990s. “During that time, managing the fishery meant that Fred got to tell me what to do and I got to tell the crew what to do,” Steve says wryly about his grandfather’s mentorship. “We became very close, especially after my father died. He was the best man at my wedding.” Fred passed away in 2004 after a long battle with cancer.

Nowadays, women and men perform all the tasks in the fishery. Steve’s wife, Sue Barr Meserve, and his aunt, Sue Lewis Garzynski, both crew the boat. Many volunteers outside the family are also crew members, like folklorist Charlie Groth and her family. Groth published a book in 2019 —Another Haul: Narrative Stewardship and Cultural Sustainability at the Lewis Family Fishery — that examines how community, culture and the environment intersect through the lens of the fishery.

A few fifth-generation Lewis family members are poised to step into Steve’s wading boots one day. His niece, Sarah Baker; nephew, Andrew Baker; and cousins, John and Joe Garzynski, are active in the fishery and might be interested in carrying on the family tradition. Steve says he plans for at least the next 20 years to be on the river every night for two months each spring.

For him, the fishery is a touchstone of what is certain: “It is a way to remember it is all bigger than us, but then again, we’re all part of it. I will keep things in place until it’s ready for the next generation.”                          

Karen Kreeger last wrote about Marine Pollution Control for Family Business Magazine.

Shad fishing in the time of COVID-19
Steve Meserve’s reports to the New Jersey Division of Fish and Wildlife for the 2020 season reflect the unprecedented changes the world is going through.

His first report in late March: “No fish. With the new limitations in place for New Jersey I don’t know when the next time we can get out to fish will be.”

In early April he wrote: “There have been high waters, low waters, too cold, too hot, too much rain. But never a stay at home order by the Governor.”

As of late June, Lewis Fishery was operating past its historic end date for the shad season. “For as much fishing as we have done, it’s hard to get a real feel for how the run is this year,” Steve says.“We’ll have to wait three to five years and see how the juveniles do coming back.”

— Karen Kreeger

Copyright 2020 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact     

Porto Barrel Polka

Does the word “polka” evoke images of fast-moving people swirling in coordinated motion? If so, you have a good handle on what it’s like to work at Bouchard Cooperages and Quinta do Tedo, two family-owned businesses that combine generations-old family winemaking skills with a developing legacy of distributing the barrels in which to age the product.

Owned by the Bouchard family, headed up by Vincent and his wife, Kay, Quinta do Tedo produces fine Porto wine from their estate on the banks of the Douro River in northern Portugal. The heavy lifting part of that business takes up several months of the year and involves growing, harvesting and processing the grapes that yield one of that country’s most famous products. For the rest of the year, the Bouchard family heads off to Napa, Calif., where Vincent focuses his attention on supervising sales of highly sought-after French oak wine barrels that find their ways into vineyards around the world.

The current family saga began in the late ’80s when Vincent and Kay met each other by chance in San Francisco on the way to the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, Ore. Vincent was speaking about differences in oak species for barrel making. Kay had begun her career with Heublein Inc., a big player in the corporate wine world, in 1981, then two years later moved to Italy to work with different wineries in Veneto and Tuscany. Returning to San Francisco a few years later, she began working with Vincent in French oak barrel sales for the Italian market. They married in 1990.

Two years later the lovebirds purchased Quinta do Tedo. “We were young, feeling invincible, and Vincent had always wanted his own vineyards, as his family beckons from Bouchard Père et Fils, founded in 1731, in Beaune, Burgundy,” Kay recounts. “An ancient family rule stipulates that only one child of each family branch and generation can enter the winery, and his first available sibling, Christophe, became managing director.”

By the time the Bouchards acquired Quinta do Tedo, the barrel distribution business in Napa was gaining traction, aided by notables such as the Mondavi family. The estate purchase in Portugal was not linked strategically to the ongoing cooperage business, but it made a nice fit. “It was clearly a separate entity,” Kay recalls. “The opportunity was there, price-wise, and Napa Valley, where Vincent also considered buying vineyards, was already very expensive beginning back in the late ’80s.

“We were convinced of the region’s uniqueness because fortified Port wine is only made in Portugal’s Douro Valley,” she adds.

Family businesses need to make way for family, and children arrived in 1992, 1994 and 1996. The Bouchards decided to have the children schooled in Napa Valley, where the educational system was more established, instead of Douro Valley. “Vincent would always be there for the harvest in September and October, and then in the spring for blending the ports. We would spend a big part of our summers as a family at the Quinta.”

In 2004 the whole clan moved to Italy for a decade. “During this time wine tourism started to grow and we embraced this with open doors at our Quinta, did a lot of restoration to include the B&B and our Bistro Terrace,” Kay says. A new direct-to-consumer wine sales program — which today accounts for 70% of sales — funded the venture, and life settled into predictable seasonal routines. “Since 2014 we’ve spent July through October at the Quinta,” Kay says.

Today Vincent and Kay have 22 full-time employees at Quinta do Tedo and eight more at Bouchard Cooperages. Oldest son Paolo has a degree in economics, and after working for several years at wine-related startups he joined Bouchard Cooperages as international business development manager in Napa. Daughter Odile has a degree in biology and is now finishing her international master’s degree in wine tourism and innovation, writing about the impact of COVID-19 on Douro Valley vineyards. “Her scientific background applies as well as her creativity and people skills and passion for Portugal,” Kay says. Odile assists Vincent and Kay with public relations and social media at the Quinta and is developing wine tourism offerings for the estate.

Youngest son Joe is studying for the GMAT and plans to be in Europe. He currently is at the Quinta with his sister while COVID-19 affects the world, working to modernize the e-shop and update internet sales channels.

“Our children,” Kay says, “have all worked harvests in Italy and in France and of course at our Quinta. They all have a good work ethic, passion and dedication for what they pursue. Their long-term visions will come with time.” 

With COVID-19 as a global backdrop, some future initiatives are on hold. “We hope to stay afloat.” Kay says. “We do have plans to open up an additional summer tasting room in another building at the Quinta for more personalized tastings and tours of our cave, the first of its kind in Douro Valley.” The Quinta closed to the public in March, with only production and vineyard workers onsite there. At Bouchard Cooperages, everyone is working from home.

On May 4 the 75-seat tasting room reopened with a maximum capacity of just four guests. Outdoor tastings and picnics have been added to visitor options to emphasize fresh air and safety.

“I’m so happy that Odile and Joe are together during this hard time at the Quinta since March, when Odile’s internship in Porto with a wine tourism company closed and Joe had just arrived in Portugal to prepare for his master’s studies,” Kay says. Vincent, Kay and Paolo currently are in Napa Valley, hoping for an average Bouchard Cooperages sales season.

“Luckily, we have two strong businesses, but the repercussions of the pandemic are unknown,” Kay says.   

Copyright 2020 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact     

Family is part of the package at New Jersey box company

Marketing 101 teaches that packaging is an important part of marketing strategy, a tenet that has been a boon for Accurate Box Company of Paterson, N.J. The fourth-generation family business manufactures corrugated packaging featuring “high graphics” that include up to seven colors.

Accurate Box serves a range of industries, such as food and beverage companies and the auto aftermarket. The company’s top customers include Kellogg’s, Keurig Green Mountain, Worthington Industries (a steel manufacturer), PepsiCo and Danone. Its products are used in e-commerce and for packaging of wares offered in big-box stores, to name a couple of examples. 

With revenue between $100 million and $200 million, Accurate Box is not as large as its competitors, but that may not be true for long. “We’ve tripled in size in the last seven or eight years,” says CEO Lisa Hirsh, 60, who runs the company with her husband, Mark Schlossman, 62, vice president of sales. Daughter Samara Ronkowitz, 30, is the marketing and sales manager.

In 1944 Lisa’s grandfather, Henry Hirsh, started the business as a small folding carton company in Newark, N.J.. Her father, Charlie, joined him in 1950 and took over in 1964 when Henry passed away. In the 1970s Charlie was instrumental in instituting the “litho-laminated” process used to make the company’s current boxes. Lisa joined the company after college in 1982.

Around that time, the company moved to Paterson, Lisa and Mark married, and her father asked his son-in-law, who was working in advertising sales in New York, to join them. Today Charlie is mostly retired, but he still has a desk in her office and serves on the company’s advisory board. Lisa, Mark and Samara are the only shareholders.

In the mid-1990s, Accurate Box ceased manufacturing folding cartons and started focusing more on the high graphics corrugated part of the business, now the company’s niche. Lisa became president and CEO in 1997. A big impetus to the growth of the business is that it has continually reinvested in new machinery and equipment — printing presses, die-cutting machines and two robotic systems in the finishing department, for example.

“Our competition may be integrated companies that have their own forests and make their own paper, but we’ve invested in the machines that can handle the burden of work we demand of them,” Hirsh says. “Because of that, we’re making, printing and gluing boxes much faster every hour. Everything about our operation is pretty much new and enhanced, which gives us an advantage.”

Passing the baton
When Lisa took over, Accurate Box was certified as a woman-owned business. She says certification has given the business an edge. “Now that companies are looking to promote minority- and women-owned businesses, we still need to be competitive and make a very high-quality product, but some of our customers see having a supplier with this designation as an advantage,” Lisa says.

Having her father as a mentor was also valuable. Charlie was a great teacher, Lisa recalls, especially in stressing that she and Mark needed to be involved in every aspect of the business. He also taught them to learn from their mistakes. “He also stressed not to do things a certain way just because we always had,” she says. “That was never his way, which was tremendous for both Mark and me. Dad also could have written a book about succession planning and how to transfer decision making and not meddle.”

However, Lisa notes, Charlie came from a generation that believed the business leader had to have all the answers and make all the decisions. “Being a woman and coming from my generation, I wanted a more collaborative style of management. So in the 1990s, we started putting teams together to solve problems, and insisting on total quality management, including lean manufacturing. I brought in an outside consultant to help us with those.”

That person was also a mentor for a time, as well as a few others, Lisa says. “Before I reported to my father, I had both good managers and bad, and you learn from both.”

Recently, partly because of Samara’s entry into the business and the company’s growth, Accurate Box started an outside advisory board. “It’s a more formal governance process, and even though we’re still making the final decisions, it’s really nice to have other heads in the discussions and the decision making,” Lisa says. The couple’s older daughter, Jenny, 34, who lives in Boston and is in a different business, also serves on the advisory board. “It’s been nice to get her involved, too,” Lisa says.

The company, which recently doubled its headquarters space, celebrated its 75th anniversary last year. Accurate Box has also received a number of awards. Lisa Hirsh was honored with Ernst & Young’s New Jersey Entrepreneur of the Year award for manufacturing in 2001 and the STEP (science, technology, engineering and production) Ahead Award from the Manufacturing Institute in 2016. The company was recognized with a Top Workplaces honor in 2019 by                                                                   

Patricia Olsen, a frequent contributor to Family Business, writes the magazine’s “At the Helm” column.

Copyright 2020 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact     

Building a solid lumber company

Isabelita “Lita” Abele, the CEO of Woodbury Heights, N.J.-based U.S. Lumber Co., has a simple formula for success: Be persistent, be honest and remember the gatekeeper.

That’s probably because the petite dynamo with the Filipina accent has been mistaken for the gatekeeper at her family’s lumber company, not its CEO.

Abele’s husband, Merrill “Les” Abele, 82, founded the precursor to U.S. Lumber in 1974. About 10 years later, he met Lita at a restaurant in Boston. His eye caught the petite Filipina dining with a girlfriend. Lita Marcelo, who was working as a nanny for a family in Maine, was in Boston for a short vacation. Les and Lita kept looking at each other until, finally, the friend invited him to sit down.

“He called twice a day, sent a dozen roses a week, then visited Maine every other week. He courted me in the Philippine way. He asked my parents’ permission to marry me. And my employer had to approve him!”

Had they not, she might not have married him, Lita says with a laugh. She and Les still regularly visit her former employers — both physicians — and all their children are friends.

Les recognized his wife’s instinctive talent. Lita, who had been a schoolteacher in the Philippines, took to sales like a fish to water. Les wanted her to work alongside him, so he taught her everything else she needed to know about the construction lumber business: the various kinds of woods, the suppliers, pricing, invoicing, collections and so forth.

Lita, now 68, took over as CEO in January 1993, when Les semi-retired. Since then, the company has grown to about $10 million in annual sales. With the exception of its leased truck drivers, all employees are family members. In addition to Lita and Les, who still works part-time, Lita’s daughter Romilett Yulo, 45, is the office manager and her husband, Marvin Yulo, 43, is the yard foreman. Marvin and Romilett’s younger son, Kyle, 17, works at the company after school. Their older son, Brandon, left the business in 2018 to join the Coast Guard — following the example set by his uncle Jeff Yulo, Marvin’s brother, who worked at the yard before joining the Navy.

A nephew and niece also have jobs at the company. Romilett’s brother Ryan Marcelo, 40, was employed there for a time but left 10 years ago.

When Lita took over as CEO, some former employees — all male — bristled.

“I have different rules, and I laid out expectations and they didn’t like it,” she says bluntly.

A woman in a man’s world
In such a strongly male-dominated field as construction, it’s not surprising that customers might assume Lita is the CEO’s assistant, not the CEO.

“My accent is my asset. I used to cry when people would criticize me, but I thought about it and said, ‘OK, how many Americans speak three languages?’ ” Lita, who taught high school history and language in the Philippines, speaks Spanish, English and Tagalog.

“I turned that to advantage and turned my accent into a sales tool. Now when you hear my voice, you always say, ‘That’s Lita from U.S. Lumber!’ ”

She makes it a point not only to visit customers’ job sites, but also to introduce herself to the gatekeepers. Receptionists and assistants call her the “Kisses lady” because of the Hershey’s candy and Filipino treats she brings.

Lita’s skills are part of what grew the small company into a position of leadership among building materials suppliers in the Philadelphia tri-state area, but another factor in its success is her ability to take what normally would be a challenge and turn it into an opportunity. She targets federal, state and municipal projects with diversity requirements to use a certain number of minority- or female-owned contractors. (U.S. Lumber qualifies as both.)

The company has supplied materials for such notable projects as Lincoln Financial Field, where the Philadelphia Eagles play; Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies; some Atlantic City casinos and many of the area’s interstate highways. U.S. Lumber has also been involved in projects for Philadelphia Gas Works and PECO (the area’s power company).

Although diversity requirements might open the door, the company’s reputation for service keeps customers coming back. U.S. Lumber promises 24-hour turnaround for delivery in the tri-state area.

Lita also makes it a point not to put customers into voicemail. “When they call me, I’m always available. When they call Marvin, the yard foreman, he answers. When they text and need lumber tomorrow, it’s there.” Even when the company closes early, phones are forwarded so a human always picks up.

Contemplating the future
Although the company has had very few non-family employees and no outside salespeople since Lita took over, she acknowledges that may someday change.

Romilett prefers to remain in her role as office manager and bookkeeper rather than move into sales. Marvin is starting to accompany Lita on sales calls, but he enjoys being yard foreman.

Lita and Les are comfortable with Romilett and Marvin’s ability to run the company. They often will take a long vacation and leave the two in charge, but it’s clear that Lita is torn about the future. She doesn’t want to force her children into taking over if it’s not what they want, but she does want to see U.S. Lumber continue in the family. At present, only Lita and Les have ownership, she at 51% and he at 49%.

Lita already has quite a legacy to her credit. Having never lost her love for teaching, she’s a contributing author to four business books with a fifth on the way this summer. Both she herself and U.S. Lumber under her leadership have won multiple business awards, including her selection by the Filipina Women’s Network as one of the 100 Most Influential Filipina Women nationwide in 2009 and globally in 2017. She is a frequent participant in panel discussions and presentations and has served the boards of multiple community and business organizations.

Lita has no immediate plans to retire, preferring to live in the moment. As such, there’s no concrete transition plan in place for U.S. Lumber other than the classic “Someday all this will be yours.”

The answer may lie with G3. Kyle once jokingly pointed to Lita’s chair and announce his intention to someday sit in it. That may be more prescient than he knows, and Lita laughs that he might someday be his parents’ boss.

“But only if that’s what he wants to do,” says Romilett.  

Hedda Schupak is a frequent contributor to Family Business. 

Copyright 2020 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact    

New Orleans frozen treat is an American classic

Shortly after Mardi Gras on Feb. 25, another grand New Orleans tradition begins: the reopening of Hansen’s Sno-Bliz stand, usually around March 1.

A Hansen’s Sno-Bliz is not your average snow cone. It’s an ethereal treat, powdery as Aspen snow, layered with flavors like lavender, satsuma and passionfruit.

“It’s light and fluffy, like an airy gelato,” says Ashley Hansen, 46, the third-generation owner of the business. “If you bite into something crunchy, there’s something wrong with the machine.”

The city has several snowball stands, but only one Sno-Bliz. Ashley’s grandfather, Ernest C. Hansen, invented the motorized ice-shaving machine in 1934.

Back then, snowballs were sold from pushcarts, with vendors using a wooden planer to shave a block of ice. “The vendor would plane the ice in front of you into cardboard trays, and it was filthy,” Ashley says.

Ernest’s wife, Mary, created homemade syrups and made frozen treats using the prototype machine. Hansen’s Sno-Bliz at first operated on the sidewalk outside Mary’s mother’s house. Untouched by human hands, her confection was sanitary. The ice was ground more finely, and the flavorings, made fresh daily, were better. She charged 2 cents, double the going rate at the time.

By the mid-1940s, the Hansens had established a storefront. In 1944, the business moved to its current location.
“My grandfather built the machine, but my grandmother built the business,” Ashley says. Mary remembered each customer’s favorite flavor. The grandchildren of her original customers are Sno-Bliz customers today.

Ashley, who was always very close to her grandparents and began helping them when she was 12, took over the business from them. Neither her father, Gerard (Jerry), nor his brother (Ernest Jr.) worked in the business, though Jerry helped her at a few critical times.

“My grandfather told his sons, ‘I wear blue jeans so that you won’t have to.’ He wanted them to go to college and have professional careers with titles,” Ashley says. Jerry became an attorney and Ernest Jr., a pediatrician.

Ashley is a twin; her sister, Allison Hansen Mullis, works at Bell Helicopter. One young cousin works at Hansen’s Sno-Bliz part-time after school.

Mary never wrote down any of her syrup recipes. As she grew older, it became obvious that dementia was setting in. Ashley would watch her make the syrups, and late at night she and her dad would experiment until they got the flavors right.

“Every morning I would make the syrups, then pick up my grandparents, make sure they were clean, make their breakfast, and bring them over” to the stand, Ashley says. “My grandmother would see the syrup I’d made and think it was all left over from the day before and want to throw it out. I had to convince her that I’d just made it.”
Ernest taught Ashley about mechanics, and to this day she uses — and personally maintains — the second machine he built in 1939.

Since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans in 2005, “Places that didn’t flood have become more valuable in both a sentimental and economic way,” says Ashley. “Everyone knows what it’s like to lose so many precious things.”

Hansen’s stand, located on the highest point of the city, was not flooded, although its roof was damaged.
The hurricane was just one of the traumatic experiences that befell the family that year.

In March 2005, Ashley’s mother, Marie, a teacher, died suddenly. Ashley’s pet dog died just before Katrina hit.
In the wake of the storm, “Both the house I grew up in and my grandparents’ house across the street had 8 feet of water in them,” Ashley says.

“My grandmother was in the hospital, not doing well. I wanted to evacuate. Dad said no but I said, ‘You’re leaving with me.’ My grandfather would not leave his wife, so we got permission from the hospital to leave him there with a sitter so that he wouldn’t be the hospital’s responsibility.”

By then, the evacuating traffic was already gridlocked. Ashley and Jerry were stuck for more than 11 hours. Eventually, they headed to northern Louisiana, where they stayed at a friend’s house.

“When we heard the levees broke, we just cried.”

They also were frantic about Ernest and Mary. “When the hospitals failed, it was not like a normal medical evacuation,” Ashley says. “We had no idea where they were. We spent days trying to find them.”

At the time, Allison was working at the Pentagon, and her military friends helped to find Ernest and Mary at two different hospitals, two miles apart, in northern Louisiana.

“We snuck my grandfather out to be with his wife till she died, at age 95, after 72 years of marriage,” Ashley says. Ernest died the following March at age 94.

“People left sunflowers, old Polaroids, letters from kids when my grandfather passed. That’s when I realized they were also grandparents for half the city.”

Ashley later married and divorced. Through it all, Sno-Bliz has been her anchor. Now a single mom, she calls taking care of her grandparents and their business her superpower.

Her efforts were honored in 2014, when Sno-Bliz received an America’s Classics Award from the James Beard Foundation. The award honors regional eateries with timeless appeal whose offerings reflect the community they serve.                                                    

Hedda Schupak is a frequent contributor to Family Business. 

Copyright 2020 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

Family cleaning brand remains untarnished

Alison Gutterman does not like to clean. Some people do, she realizes, but she’s not one of them. That’s funny, because her family owns Jelmar, the Skokie, Ill.-based company behind CLR and RustX cleaners and a dozen others.

Alison knows she isn’t alone in her disdain for removing stains. Not long ago, Jelmar executives discussed how to motivate people to clean. One suggestion was to harness the power of music.

So Jelmar launched its own channel on Spotify, a popular music-streaming service.

“There’s something about a good music beat, an uplifting song, that will encourage me to do things I don’t want to do,” Gutterman says. “We took a survey, and 80% of people [said they] like to listen to music when they clean.”
Playlists cover a number of genres, such as country, Latin pop and rock. Songs include “Dust in the Wind” and “Car Wash.”

Alison’s grandfather Manny Gutterman founded a sales company in 1949. He took other companies’ products and brought them to the retail market (drug and department stores, etc.). By 1967 he decided he wanted to find his own products to sell and launched Jelmar LLC with its first product, Tarn-X tarnish remover. It was one of the first products to label itself “as seen on TV,” with an extended commercial that showed over and over again how the product could bring silver and other metals back to life with just a wipe of the cleaner.

In the 1980s, with Manny’s sons Arthur and Steven on board at the company, the family looked to expand its cleaning line. The result was CLR, so named because it could break through calcium, lime and rust. That line has since grown to more than 10 specialized cleaning products.

The company also sold a few other products over the years, including Hair Wiz, an instrument for home haircuts that crossed a comb and a cutting blade, but Jelmar now focuses on cleaning products.

In 1995, Alison joined the family business, which was being led by her father, Arthur, and her uncle, Steven. Shortly after, Steven left the business to start another with his children and sold his interest to Arthur.

“I had a few jobs after college, and then Mom told Dad to offer me a job. It was not planned,” Alison says. “I always thought I would do something in advertising [or] public relations or go back to school for a law degree.”

She had no training in the company, even in those early years, she says. “But I don’t think my father was necessarily trained, either. I was thrown a lot of projects no one else wanted to do and wasn’t necessarily qualified to do.”

Alison says her mother, who died in 2009, also helped her rise in the company.

“Mom said to my dad, ‘You just need to let go and let Alison lead. Trust that she will be able to lead,” Alison says. She became CEO and president in 2007. Arthur, 82, lives in Florida and serves as an adviser to Alison.

Since taking over, Alison celebrated Jelmar’s 50th anniversary in 2017 and has continued to innovate, working to make CLR cleaners environmentally friendly. Jelmar holds the trademark for the term “greenvenient.”

“The products were not always environmentally safe, and not all are,” Alison says. She adds that the company continues to work with chemists to do even more. Jelmar has been a “Safer Choice” partner to the EPA since 2004 by showing that the ingredients in the company’s products are safer alternatives to their competitors.

But innovation doesn’t guarantee prosperity, Alison says. The company behind CLR is tiny — just 17 people on staff. Jelmar has no lab or chemists of its own, working instead in tandem with developers.

The company’s size is also making it increasingly difficult for it to continue to sell its products in big-box stores, where it competes with large public corporations that produce similar cleaners. Jelmar cannot produce to the same scale. What’s more, it also competes with some chains’ own private-label products.

Alison says she has some ideas on what will happen next at the company, but no concrete plan. Currently, she expects there will be a non-family management team when she is ready to retire.

Her niece Rebecca Dann served as a marketing intern with Jelmar while in college but hasn’t joined the company full time. Rebecca’s mother, Alison’s sister Jamie Hinton, owns a small portion of the business, but has never worked in it. Alison’s daughters, Michaela, 13, and Eliza, 9, are far from joining the company.

Between running Jelmar and being a single mom to two daughters, Alison doesn’t have much time to use her products herself. Even with a great soundtrack, cleaning isn’t a priority for her.

“I have to be honest, I have people who help me with [cleaning],” she says. “You always want to outsource the things someone else can do better. I have outsourced the things I don’t necessarily enjoy doing so I can spend time with my kids.”

Copyright 2019 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact                        

A symbol of endurance

The Zildjian family knows a lot about longevity. In less than four years, the family and their company will celebrate 400 years in the music business. The family, whose company is a fixture on every list of the world’s oldest family businesses, has plenty of experience with succession, disruption and celebrating legacies.

According to the family’s history, their ancestor Avedis I was an alchemist who found that an alloy of copper, tin and silver created a metal with musical properties. Osman II, the sultan of the Ottoman Empire, brought Avedis to his palace to make cymbals for the sultan’s elite bands.

The sultan gave Avedis the name “Zildjian,” an Armenian word meaning “son of a cymbal maker.” The alloy remains a family secret.

Avedis was released from the palace in 1623 and given permission to start his own cymbal-making business. The rest is history. A very, very long history.

It would be five generations before the company — and family — would move to the United States.

Avedis Zildjian III immigrated to the U.S. in 1909. He worked at a candy factory and soon owned one of his own. In 1927, Avedis’ uncle Aram, who was running the business in Constantinople, told Avedis it was his turn to take over.

According to the history on the company’s website, Avedis III was reluctant to take on the company, which had never been very profitable. He convinced his uncle to move the business to America in 1929.

Over the years, the company would survive the Great Depression, a fire that de­stroyed the original manufacturing facility in Massachusetts and more. During this time, Avedis revolutionized cymbals by creating and naming the hi-hat, sizzle and crash. These cymbals were thinner than the original design and were embraced by big bands.

Known commonly as Zildjian, The Avedis Zildjian Company manufactures cymbals that have been part of the drum kits of countless musicians, including Sheila E., The Rolling Stones’ Charlie Watts and The Roots’ Questlove.

“We’re a mature business in a mature industry,” says Cady Zildjian, 40, a 15th-­generation family member who is a director on the company’s board and works part-time in the family office.

The company had to be flexible and adaptable, not just mature, says Craigie Zildjian, Cady’s aunt. For example, while the business had been passed on only to direct male descendants of Avedis I, that changed as the family approached the end of the 20th century. Craigie was the first woman in the family to join the business in 1976. In 1999 she was the first woman to run the company; she retired earlier this year. She now chairs the board of directors.

At this point it would seem the company has a life of its own, but while there is momentum, the Zildjians say brand recognition does not negate disruption. There has been consolidation in the industry, including Zildjian’s recent acquisitions of Mike Balter Mallets and Vic Firth Company, adding drumming accessories to its catalog.
“Technology has definitely disrupted the acoustic in­strument market, but you can never really replace the sound of a drum kit,” Cady says. “You do see technology assist in manufacturing, and that’s been very important in our quality.”

The company has a non-family executive team, aside from Debbie Zildjian, who heads up human resources.
Cady says there is pressure to steward such an iconic brand, but there’s “more pride than pressure…. We all see it as a privilege.”

However, “The brand is a lot bigger than the company” and the family, Craigie says. There are just 10 shareholders. Sisters Craigie and Debbie are G14; Cady, her sister, Emily, and cousin Samantha (all in their 30s) are G15; and there are now five in G16, including the newest addition, Colton, who is only a few months old.

The size of the family is one of the reasons why independent directors have been brought onto the board, which is currently working on a long-term growth strategy.

“Now we have a diversity of thought,” Craigie says. “We need to be more strategic, so we have directors from larger companies.”

The company is onboarding the 15th generation “as 14 winds down a little bit,” Cady says. A family council is in place to encourage shareholders to engage with the business.

“The company had been run a certain way for so long. The company that we have today is not the company my grandfather ran 50 years ago,” Cady says. “You can’t be complacent and think the brand is going to carry the business.”        

Copyright 2019 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact                                            

Time Printers' family legacy dates to Reconstruction era

Al Maddox Jr. and his siblings are printers in a digital world, but they’re holding on to traditional relationships they’ve made face to face in the Baltimore area.

The family started in the professional printing business in 1907. Founder Gabriel B. Maddox Sr. owed his career to Booker T. Washington and the then-new Tuskegee Institute.

“As a young man, [Gabriel Sr.] was taken under Dr. Washington’s wing. [Washington] saw things in [Gabriel] that gave him an idea of what [Gabriel] could be,” Al Jr. says. Washington sent Gabriel to the Hampton Institute, where he studied printing instruction. When he graduated, Gabriel founded the institute’s first print shop.

Washington wanted Gabriel to train other printing educators, who would prepare Reconstruction-era African Americans for jobs as skilled workers.

When Gabriel left Tuskegee, he moved north, settled in Baltimore and opened Maddox Printing. Gabriel had three sons; the eldest, Gabriel Jr., joined him in the business.

The other two sons, J. Albert (Al) and Francis (Frank), opened their own shop, Time Printers. They worked as printers at Baltimore’s African American newspaper, working opposite shifts to keep the company going until they were solvent five years later.

The brothers were “time” oriented, Al Jr. says. They offered a quicker turnaround for people who needed printed material to be delivered quickly and correctly.

“A lot of people, even up to today, say they think of us because ‘time is of the essence,’ ” he says. “Now more than ever, we’re up against the internet that is available in an instant, but they know if they came to Time Printers, they’ll get what they need.

“That’s a lot to live up to, is it not?”

Maddox Printing no longer exists. When Gabriel Jr. died a decade ago, no family members wanted to take over, so it dissolved. Al and his siblings are continuing the family’s printing legacy at Time Printers. Five of Al Jr.’s six siblings work in the company. Frank’s only son didn’t go into the family business.

Al’s siblings in the business hold a variety of roles: Brenda and Lisa work as customer service representatives and share accounting duties; Lisa is a salesperson as well; Dan is a prepress supervisor; Wayne is a prepress manager who handles the graphics department; Greg is a pressroom supervisor.

The only family member from the fourth generation to join the business thus far is Dan’s daughter, Mona, who is a graphic designer. Al Jr. is unsure if anyone else will join. He and his siblings had experience outside of Time Printers before entering the business, in roles as diverse as insurance and teaching.

In addition to leading Time Printers, Al leads an initiative to educate people on the value of the printing industry.
At the bottom of his emails is a signature: “Print grows trees. Go ahead, print my email. You will read it 10-30% faster and produce 20% less CO2. If you really care about the environment, save energy by turning your computer off tonight. Go to”

While he was the chair of a professional association, the Printing Industry of Maryland (now known as the Printing & Graphics Association MidAtlantic), the group launched the website to let people know that print wasn’t a wasteful, unsustainable product, as is often reported. Instead, he hoped to show how concerned the printing industry is about the environment in the present and future.

Paper printing is 95% sustainable, he says. The industry actually plants “far more trees than we use.

“It’s been an uphill climb because there are other situations at work. Recycling is becoming more and more of a challenge, and it does use energy, but it is still an environmentally sound process to recycle paper.”

And while the chants of “save a tree, go paperless,” sound good, corporations may have other incentives to cut printing.

“It keeps them from having to employ people to have things printed,” Al says. “And they don’t have the expense of mailing things to you.”

There’s no doubt that the proliferation of online services has made it easier to do a lot online, including paying bills, which eliminates paper statements, checks and envelopes.

But there are some products that seem irreplaceable, and those often act as introductions for Time Printers, earning the company customer loyalty and repeat business. Those are often the items that mark some of the happiest and most difficult times of people’s lives — a wedding program or a remembrance card distributed at funerals.

People still appreciate such print products, he says.

“One of the rewards we get is the appreciation that people show us when we get what they were looking for on time,” he says. “They come into the plant when they have conferences and seminars for their brochures or workbooks and say, ‘Years ago I came to you because I had a death in the family, and you did such a magnificent job. You put us at ease when there was so much going on at the time.’ ”

He says that’s what makes the family business more of a calling then a money-maker. He strives to help people share their concepts and dreams and make them come to life while honoring the rich history of his family’s printing legacy.

“To whom much is given, much is required,” he says.  

Copyright 2019 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact

Fee brothers bitters help mixologists make magic

Anyone who enjoys craft cocktails has probably tasted a Fee Brothers product. The  Rochester, N.Y.-based creator of artisan drink mix products has overcome many obstacles in its 155-year history.

Young Owen Fee arrived in America from Ireland in 1835. He opened a butcher shop in Rochester in 1847 and died in 1855, leaving his wife, Margaret, to manage the shop and raise the couple’s five children: four boys and a girl.

By 1864, Margaret and James, the eldest son, had converted the butcher shop to a saloon and delicatessen. James opened a separate grocery and liquor store and, with his three brothers, expanded to a winery and import business.

In 1881, brother Owen Fee Jr. and matriarch Margaret both died. The three remaining brothers — James, John and Joseph — renamed the business. James and John were partners and Joseph was their right-hand man until he died in 1895 at age 45.

“I’m led to believe James needed to borrow money from his brothers and the name became Fee Brothers because they felt a little slighted,” says Joseph (Joe) Fee, 54, one of the two fourth-generation owners. The other is his sister Ellen, 60.

“I’m president, treasurer, sales manager and the guy who climbs under machines when something breaks,” Joe says. “Ellen is vice president and secretary and doesn’t climb under machines unless she can’t avoid it. She does all the R&D on new products, runs the production and makes sure I have product to sell. We like to say she handles everything wet and I handle everything dry.”

In 1908, a fire caused $400,000 of destruction (more than $11 million in 2018 dollars), but six months later the Fees were up and running again.

During Prohibition, second-generation member John Fee Jr. got creative. A malt extract beverage called “Bruno” was labeled with the picture of a bear (i.e., beer) and a warning not to add yeast to the product, as it was likely to ferment. Wink, wink.

The illicit alcohol served in speakeasies often tasted terrible. Fee Brothers began producing flavorings such as Benedictine, Chartreuse and other cordial syrups to make the alcohol palatable. The company had inadvertently found its future.

After Prohibition, Fee Brothers returned to selling alcohol but had to downsize to survive. Several cousins exited, leaving the business to John Jr. and his wife, Blanche. They had two children, John C. Fee III (Jack) and Nancy. John Jr. developed the famous Frothy Mixer that gave a lemon flavor to whiskey sours and Tom Collins drinks, leading to the motto, “Don’t Squeeze, Use Fee’s.”

By 1950, he decided to focus solely on mixers. But he died suddenly a year later at 58, taking the mixer formulas to his grave.

“It wasn’t exactly that they went with him,” says Joe. “He had a recipe book. The procedures were written out, but the actual measurements were still in code. It would say, ‘take a scoop of ixmus.’ What was ixmus? What size scoop? We had his scoops, but didn’t know which one. Was it a rounded scoop or a level scoop? Working from my grandfather’s notes, my father had to re-create the recipes.”

Jack Fee had earned a degree in chemistry and a job at Eastman Kodak. Though he’d worked at Fee Brothers during summers, he knew nothing of production or running a business. His chemist’s training helped him figure out and standardize the recipes, while Blanche and Nancy kept the business going with the help of Blanche’s father.

Joe and Ellen are two of Jack’s eight children. Though their six siblings and many cousins worked summer jobs at Fee Brothers, they’re the only two who made it a career.

“My oldest brother, John, was in the business for about 12 years, but he and my father were like two gears going in the opposite direction,” Joe says. “My father was brilliant at keeping the facility in wonderful condition and setting everything up in logical order, but he didn’t want to make sales calls. He was not a people person. That’s where my brother came in.” John, now 70, left and became a highly successful insurance agent.

Joe enjoys meeting bartenders and selling the product. Ellen likes to mix things and wants to go home at night. “Too many family members in a business makes for arguments. My sister and I get along because I don’t want to do her job and she doesn’t want to do mine,” Joe says.

Both have veto power, but Joe says neither of them used it more than once in the 28 years they’ve been partners.

With only 14 employees, many long-term, there’s little formal hierarchy. “My shipping guy has been here more than 20 years,” Joe says. “We told people he’s a foreman, so if he sees people goofing around, he’s welcome to tell them not to.”

Joe and Ellen hope another generation will someday come into the business, but the siblings will make them work for it. “Both Ellen and I have done every job in this place, down to cleaning toilets.”

Their hard work has paid off. Today Fee Brothers offers about 100 products and ships to customers worldwide from a warehouse built in 2014.                         

Hedda Schupak is a frequent contributor to Family Business. She recently profiled Modlich Monuments of Columbus, Ohio.

Copyright 2019 by Family Business Magazine. This article may not be posted online or reproduced in any form, including photocopy, without permission from the publisher. For reprint information, contact