The test of time

What does it take for family-run, county businesses to survive and thrive through the decades?

Historic photos courtesy of Animas Museum, Center for Southwest Studies, and Durango Herald files Enlarge photo

Historic photos courtesy of Animas Museum, Center for Southwest Studies, and Durango Herald files

What makes a succesful business tick?

Luck, love and hard work.

These are the essential parts that wind up in every conversation about business longevity. Luck is good timing and foresight. Love is the force that keeps founders together for better or worse. Hard work is perseverance or, as Vicki Vandegrift of Vandegrift Diesel said, “It’s not knowing when to throw in the towel.”

As we explored the topic of longevity in this magazine, we spoke to owners of many longtime, family-run businesses in La Plata County. Everyone interviewed echoed these words, almost verbatim: “This is a tough place to make a living.”

And yet, they chose to stay.

In one interview, Ryan Lowe, executive chef and general manager at the 40-year-old Ore House Restaurant, turned to owner Bill “Beatle” Abshagen and said, “This place is very much a part of you.”

Investing luck, love and hard work into a business makes it an extension of self and family unity. When people put so much time and personal energy into a product or service – no matter whether it’s cars, chile, or newspapers – the business begins to absorb the entire community as a family. Customers feel this when they walk in the door, in the way they are treated, and in the happiness of the staff. The longer this feeling of family is sustained over the years, the deeper ingrained the commitment from both owners and customers. After a decade or two, a “landmark” is born.

But it’s not all milk and honey. Like any family, longtime businesses have ups and downs – and internal arguments. Wilma Piccoli, matriarch of seven children in the Eagle Block Company clan, solves problems the old-fashioned way.

“We’re Italian. We holler at each other until we figure it out.”