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Downtown's long-serving businesses carry on tradition

Sue Guinn Legg • Mar 2, 2019 at 11:26 PM

Among the longest serving businesses with roots in Johnson City’s downtown historic district there at least a dozen that have come down through multiple generations of their founding families and three that date back more than a century.

Summers Hardware and Industrial Supply

Summers Hardware and Industrial Supply was founded in 1893 as small retail hardware store and expanded in 1974 to provide industrial maintenance, repair and operations supplies to local manufacturers.

An early image of the Summers building at the corner of Ashe and Buffalo streets shows how it appeared when trolley cars crisscrossed downtown and horse drawn carriages and wagons maneuvered its streets.

Today the company continues to operate in the same location with an inventory of more than 14,500 items in stock and a fleet of trucks available for their same day and next day delivery.

Harman Ice and Cold Storage Company

Another of downtown’s most senior commercial operations, Harmon Ice and Cold proudly shares the story of how it has “a clear favorite,” doing business in East Tennessee for more than a century.

According to the company’s website, C.E. Walker and his brother-in-la, R.E. Harman, first partnered to form the Walker Ice and Coal Company in 1915, producing ice in 300-pound blocks that were delivered to homes by horse drawn wagons for icebox refrigeration that predated today’s electric refrigerators. In winter they also delivered coal that was burned for heat.

In 1935, Harman bought out Walker and the company became Harman Ice and Coal. R.E.’s son Estel Harman came on board and the family business continued to focus on home delivered ice and coal through the end WWII when the mass production of electric refrigerators ended the era of home delivered ice. R.E and Estel began crushing and bagging their 300-pound blocks of ice that was sold at filling stations, grocery stores, and movie theaters, a new form of ice business that grew rapidly and evolved over the decades to automated ice makers capable of producing 40 tons of ice a day.

When Estel son’s Harry joined the company in 1967, Harman Ice became a three-generation family operation and by the early 2000s, Harry’s sons Reese and Andy brought the family business into its fourth generation.

Today, the company operates ice plants in Johnson City and Knoxville and a distribution center in Kodak that together serve all of East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, and Western North Carolina as well as wholesale customers, sports arenas and concert halls from Florida to Canada. The company also provides cold storage warehouse space for national food distributors and, as an approved vendor for Federal, Emergency Management Agency, packaged ice to natural disaster areas.

Johnson City Wofford Brothers Insurance

In business for more than 100 years, Johnson City Wofford Brothers Insurance was founded in downtown Johnson City in 1896. Its early offices were located on the 200 block of East Main Street near the site of present day Majestic Park in the heart the city’s historic district.Today its offices are located at 3201 Bristol Highway in north Johnson City.

Bowman’s Jewelers

Founded by Robert W. and Janelle Bowman, Bowman’s Jewelers opened for business in downtown Johnson City in 1927 and will celebrate its 93rd anniversary in October. The shop was originally located on West Market Street and later moved to its longtime location on Fountain Square in building now occupied by Mel’s Stamps and Coins. in 1999, the company moved out of downtown to its current location in Shops on Roan across Mount Castle Drive from The Mall at Johnson City. Now under the management of third generation of Bowman family jewelers the shop is now owned and operated by Robert and Janelle grandchildren Linda Bowman O’Dell and her brother Robert W. III.

The Shamrock

Opened in 1929, The Shamrock will celebrate nine decades of doing business downtown on March 17.

For all but the first two of its 90 years, the shop has been owned and operated by the late Lafe Cox and the current proprietor, Lafe’s son, Jack and Jack’s wife Sheila.

As popular for its for friendly atmosphere as it is its selection of fine cigars and tobaccos, hot dogs, sandwiches, ice cream, shakes and homemade lemonade, The Shamrock continues to do business at its original location on the corner of Buffalo and West Walnut streets.

Albert’s Pawn Shop

Albert’s Pawn shop has been doing business in downtown Johnson since the 1920s. The shop was founded by Albert Rothbart who ran the business for nearly 50 years, originally from a storefront across the street from its current location at 104 West Market Street where it has been doing business since Since Rothbart’s death in the early 1970s, the shop has been handed down through three generations his family who continue to operates the shop at Market Street as well as Uncle Sam’s pawn brokers on the 100 block of West Main Street and two other Albert’s Pawn Shops in Kingsport and Bristol.

Johnson City Bedding

Johnson City Bedding is a family owned and operated manufacturing firm that has been producing mattresses, box springs and variety of other sleep related accessories and products in since 1934. Located at 250 West Market Street, the company’s products are marketed under the Restonic, Spring Air, At Last, Resolute and several other private label brand names.

Johnson City Press

Established in 1934 as the Johnson City Press-Chronicle, the city’s only daily newspaper will mark its 85th year of publication on June 12, 2019. The newspaper was owned and operated by three generations of by Carl A. Jones family prior its sale to the Sandusky Newspaper Group on May 1, 2002. Today, the paper continues its daily publication from its original offices at 204 West Main Street.

WJHL

On the air for more than 80 years, WJHL first began broadcasting as as AM radio in 1938 from a tower on Tannery Knob. In 1953, the station and expanded into television under the same call letters selected in honor of its founder Haynes Lancaster. In 1954 the station moved its transmitter to Buffalo Mountain and 15 years later to Holston Mountain, expanding its reach with each move. In 1960 the Lancaster family sold the station to Roy Park Broadcasting which sold it to its current owner Media General took over 1997. Today, WJHL’s studio maintains a prominent downtown presence in the former Johnson City Post Office building at 338 East Main Street.

Preston Woodworking

Established in 1958, Preston Woodworking has been “at the cutting edge of every major trend and technique in custom residential and commercial countertops” for more than 60 years. It’s showroom is located at 620 West Walnut St. across the street from Firehouse Restaurant.

Mel’s Stamps and Coins

A 45-year standard in downtown Johnson City, Mel’s Stamps and Coins has been doing business in the heart of the city’s historic district since 1974, originally from as shop at 100 West Market Street and at its current location at 85 Fountain Square since 1999. The shop is owned and operated by Melvin Broyles with help from his wife and grandson. Forty-five years in, Broyles said he plans to stay at it at least another year.

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