There’s an old saying that if a new business survives five years, it will be successful and continue to operate for many years after.
It mostly has to do with management expertise and the ability of the business to be flexible, fluid, to adapt with a changing economic and consumer world around them.
“The business expanded during the Depression, after my grandfather bought it in 1930, introducing smaller leather items, which allowed it to survive,” said Rob Schafer, owner of Schafer Leather Store, 140 Front St. “There was less need for harnesses after the combustion engine. That was also about the time awnings were added to the business.”
Schafer Leather, along with a handful of other Marietta businesses, obviously survived their first five years of business and more than 100 years more.
Among those with outstanding and extraordinary longevity — Cawley & Peoples Funeral Homes, with three locations at 408 Front St. in Marietta, 227 Lock St. in Lowell, and Ohio 339 in Barlow; Crescent & Sprague Supply Co. Inc., 1100 Greene St.; Schafer Leather; and The Marietta Times.
These are among the oldest continuously operating businesses, each established in Marietta prior to 1900.
Schafer’s remains one of the oldest, started in 1867 when Bavarian brothers Adam and Louis Schafer moved their harness shop from Cincinnati to Marietta. The two (Louis is Rob Schafer’s great-grandfather) made horse harnesses for the Union Army in the Civil War.
“In 1867 they began making harnesses at this location (140 Front St.) and continued with horse-related products two generations,” he said. “It was a harness world back then.”
“Adaptation” took Schafer’s into today’s fifth generation.
“We’re always looking for something new and different,” Rob Schafer, who purchased the business from his father, Robert, in 1994, said. “Something exciting and unique. It works.”
For Bill Peoples, owner of Cawley & Peoples Funeral Homes, the original business began in Lowell two years later than Schafer’s Leather, in 1869. In the earliest days, furniture stores and funeral parlors were one in the same. When fine furniture wasn’t being built, coffins were.
“We trace our roots to Schneider Funeral Parlor at Lowell,” Peoples said. “It remained in that family two generations, then went to the Spies family for two more generations before my father, Robert S. Peoples, purchased it in 1947.”
Cawley & Peoples opened in Marietta in 1898.
The funeral home itself has been in continuous existence since those early days in Lowell. Before 1900, most all funeral services were done in the home, including embalming and visitation of the dead.
“Everything was done at home,” Peoples said. “They were called morticians at that time, and they came to the home. There was no building. At about the turn of the century (1900) our business looked for a way to provide more services to the public.”
As the population grew, homes soon were too small for funeral services or for visitation of the deceased. In many of Marietta’s large Victorian, turn of the century homes, family members who died were still presented for viewing in the family parlor.
“Most community funeral homes were family-owned,” Peoples said. “Generations of the same family built trust.”
Ben J. McKinney’s vision, when he purchased The Weekly Times in 1890 for $7,000, is still unknown, said his grandson, William B. McKinney (former owner and publisher) when he retold the history at the centennial of The Marietta Times in October 1998.
“I am certain that he did not envision The Times becoming Marietta’s oldest continuous business and serving this area as a daily newspaper for 100 years,” McKinney said.
The Daily Times, later The Marietta Times, was established in 1898. Early on the story is told of one of the many duties of reporters for The Times, to meet arriving trains (12 trains daily) not only to find out who was coming and going, but to learn of events in outlying communities the trains passed through.
John, Louis P. and Louis Schafer of Schafer Leather about 1890.