John Watson, who owns Hanckel-Citizens insurance (1872), examines an old ledger.
Son and father partners at Richmond & Fishburne (1882), Walker and Rick Richmond, enjoy the view over High Street.
It would be easy to say that Monticello is the oldest business in town. Easy, but wrong if continuous operation counts. From 1831-1923, the place was more of a private dwelling than it was either a plantation or an acclaimed tourist site and research center.
And that's just one illustration of the problem of trying to come up with a list of the oldest Charlottesville businesses.
Here's another question: Should a place be included if it's now in the hands of– egads– non-Charlottesvillians? That was once the roiling debate at a blog called cvillenews.com on the subject of Keller & George, a venerable jewelry store now owned by a Greensboro-based family of jewelers.
And there are other swirling questions. When I started compiling this list, I had the pleasure to chat with retired business owner and avid historian Preston Coiner, who passed away suddenly in September. He told me how his grandfather began trading things at a Water Street marketplace near the C&O freight office called "the tie lot" (so named because folks would tie their horses there).
"It was commerce before it was organized," said Coiner, who was unable to specify exactly when in the range of 1907 to 1910 the business eventually called Coiners' Scrap Iron and Metal began.
"Just a willing buyer and a willing seller," said Coiner. "I was never able to determine when my grandfather went into the scrap business."
And Coiner sold it to a Roanoke outfit in 2008.
My personal favorite old business is the Jefferson Theater; and, no, that's not because I owned and operated it for 14 years. It's because it's a) fun, and b) still entertaining Charlottesvillians. It also meets practically every test: same building, same name, same basic configuration, maybe a little more music and beer today than in 1912.
If you look at the accompanying list I compiled, you'll see that I included a bunch of non-profit businesses but not churches. Sorry, I had to draw a line somewhere. You'll also see that I included McGuire Woods even though I couldn't get the behemoth firm to return my entreaty for information. By contrast, the little law firm of Richmond & Fishburne not only took my call but posed for a photo. Maybe that's what local ownership is all about!
1819 - University of Virginia - Established by the General Assembly with the urging and energy of former American president Thomas Jefferson.
1832 - Charlottesville National Guard - Established as the Jefferson Guard and later reorganized as the Charlottesville Blues and still later as the Monticello Guard.
1834 - McGuire Woods - Egbert R. Watson begins a law practice in Charlottesville, later partners with George Perkins, and eventually it grows into a multi-state behemoth with more than 900 attorneys in 19 offices. Now headquartered in Richmond.
1855 - The Michie Company/LexisNexis - Like McGuireWoods, it's hard to continue calling this a local business because the firm has been swallowed by an international conglomerate.
1856 - St. Anne's-Belfield School - Traces its roots to the opening of The Albemarle Female Institute.
1870 - The Hatton Ferry - Established as a for-profit business, long run by the state, and now in the hands of a non-profit, this tiny hand-poled boat ferries cars and people across the James River west of Scottsville.
1872 - Hanckel-Citizens Insurance - Established as L.T. Hanckel and Sons, it merged with Citizens Insurance Agency in 1924 and moved to its present location at Third and East Jefferson in 1942.
1873 - Keller & George Jewelry - Long a mainstay of downtown, it moved to Millmont Street around 1994, the year a trio of North Carolina-based brothers bought it.
1878 - The Miller School of Albemarle - Founded as the Miller Manual Labor School, this Crozet-area high school originally emphasized the trades for boys. Went coeducational in 1884.
1882 - Richmond and Fishburne Law Firm - Founded by Daniel Harmon, it had many name changes over the years but has had the current name since 1966.
1890 - Timberlake Drugs - Always downtown, Timberlake began occupying its current building, a former bank, in 1917.
1892 - The Daily Progress - Today's readers may be surprised that the Progress was just one of many newspapers back then. Several ownership changes include one announced in 2012: its purchase by billionaire investor Warren Buffett.
1892 – Riverview Cemetery - With about 12,000 graves and room for around 7,000 more near the Rivanna River.
1893 - Martin Hardware - Now located on Preston Avenue, this is an all-around hardware store with everything crammed into one compact location.
1893 - Better Living, Inc. - Launched as Charlottesville Lumber and once having an extensive general contracting division that built such showplaces as the original University Hospital and McGuffey School, this firm now sells building materials and furniture from a pair of side-by-side locations on Seminole Trial.
1897 - The Charlottesville Elks Lodge - Although now located at Darden Towe Park, this club was long a mainstay of High Street, an edifice recently rehabilitated as the Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.
1904 - Martha Jefferson Hospital - Founded as the Martha Jefferson Sanatorium Association Incorporated, and named for the daughter of Thomas Jefferson, it became, in 2011, part of regional healthcare non-profit Sentara.
1905 - Red Lands Club - "The swell and aristocratic club of Charlottesville, and it is here that the F.F.V.s of the masculine gender meet o'nights in executive session," according to an old Daily Progress commemorative edition.
1907 - Hill and Wood Funeral Home - Launched as the Irving, Way, Hill Company, the division of labor went as follows: Willard Irving handled the livery business, C. T. Way was a carriage maker, and J. H. Hill was the undertaker.
1907 - Grand Home Furnishings - Begun as M.C. Thomas, this is now the area's biggest seller of mattresses and more.
1907 - Gitchell's Studio - Actually, it's older than this, but 1907 is the year that Frank Gitchell bought "New Era Photography," which he renamed Gitchell's and then passed to his son, Billy, who then sold it to current owner Jim Carpenter.
1907 - Charlottesville Piano - Founded in Massachusetts as Shaw Piano, this company didn't move to Charlottesville until 1987. On the other hand, it's still in the hands of the family that founded it.
1908 - Pepsi Cola Bottling of Central Virginia - Serving up soft drinks for 104 years.
1909 - Charlottesville Press - Established as Virginia Printing, Inc., this is the longest-running offset press firm in town– and one of two with a company executive on the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors: Rodney Thomas.
1910 - Cycle Systems - The Charlottesville division of this Roanoke-based company was established by the grandfather of the late Preston Coiner at the "tie lot."
1911- Standard Produce - Still one of the major distributors of fresh fruit and vegetables to Charlottesville restaurants.
1912 - The Charlottesville Salvation Army - It opened in February of that year.
1912 - Snow's Garden Center - Leroy H. Snow started the operation back in 1912 in Belmont before relocating to Avon Street in 1978. Company exec Duane Snow is an Albemarle Supervisor.
1912 - The Jefferson Theater - Opened in October of that year as a combination silent picture and vaudeville house. It would spend much of the 1970s and 1980s as "The Cinema" and "The Movie Palace," but a history-minded owner brought back the original name in 1992, and a later one made it a sizzling and viable music venue in 2009.