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How local businesses keep their doors open for decades

JAY SOWERS/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Stephanie Weeks, center, poses for a photograph with her parents, Weeks Warehouse Furniture co-owners Steve and Angie Weeks in the store's showroom on Carter Street in Vidalia.
JAY SOWERS/THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Stephanie Weeks, center, poses for a photograph with her parents, Weeks Warehouse Furniture co-owners Steve and Angie Weeks in the store’s showroom on Carter Street in Vidalia.

Story by April Garon/The Natchez Democrat

Natchez is home to a number of businesses that have kept their doors open for Miss-Lou customers for 50 years or longer.

Four area businesses have survived the decades to become landmarks of the community while following different strategies to keep their doors open for so many years.

Blankenstein’s Supplies and Equipment

Blankenstein’s emerged in each era ready to jump into different fields but still kept its roots planted in the community.

“It’s the ability and willingness to change with the times — adjust or die,” Vice President Kathie Blankenstein said.

The company started as a wholesale grocery business in 1893 then moved to restaurant supply and welding. Today, their divisions include restaurant, janitorial, welding/industrial and water/pool supplying as well as pool building.

“This business is so old, we’ve hung on through bad times,” Blankenstein said. “You have to always look for what’s needed in the community and fill the need.”

Each division grew naturally out of the other. When E.W. Blankenstein started selling carbon dioxide for fountain drinks, it sparked the idea to sell welding and medical gases. Most recently, the pool chemicals arm of the business grew into a full-fledged pool construction division.

“We don’t know the future — nobody does, Blankenstein said. “But when changes come as they should and will, we will see a place where we can fit in — and continue.”

The Malt Shop

Malt Shop owner Gloria Neames aims to preserve the iconic restaurant and keep it the same as it’s always been.

“One of the beautiful things about the Malt Shop is that its multi-generational,” Neames said. “People say they rode their bikes there as a kid, and now their kids come — sometimes even their grandkids. “It’s been through each generation.”

Neames said the restaurant’s consistency, along with courteous staff and good food, are the keys to their success.

The restaurant has been serving up food for more than 60 years, including to many diners who have visited the Natchez icon throughout their lives.

“One couple told me they courted each other here, and they’ve been married 50 years,” Neames said. “And they are still coming back.”

Silas Simmons

Silas Simmons accounting firm also has a strong generational connection to their customers.

Managing partner Chuck Caldwell and partner Sim Mosby’s fathers were partners at the firm, and they routinely serve clients whose families have been with the firm for generations.

“If you leave it better than you found it, then you’ve paved the way for future generations,” Mosby said. “That’s what our fathers did for us, and what we are doing now.”

Both partners said the business kept its doors open since 1932 by simply doing a good job for the clients.

“Historically, in this field you were recognized for the quality of the work you did,” Mosby said. “That’s the philosophy we stick to.”

Caldwell said the firm has survived through major changes in accounting, including a proliferation of technology, from the introduction of computers to specialized software.

Mosby and Caldwell both said they were proud to be corporate citizens of Natchez.

“There are opportunities here in Natchez,” Mosby said. “The young people who join us believe in that as well.”

Weeks’ Furniture

A similar desire to stand by their customers is fundamental at Weeks’ Furniture in Vidalia.

“Customers should be like your friends,” owner Steve Weeks said. “It doesn’t matter what you are selling — tomatoes, cars, furniture — before you can sell one piece of furniture, you have to sell yourself.”

Weeks said he earns the trust of his customers through honest pricing. He said he doesn’t want them to make a purchase only to find it much cheaper at a competitor.

“If you consistently have lower prices, they keep coming back and don’t look at the competition,” Weeks said.

The business will celebrate its 50th anniversary in May 2014. Weeks credits part of their longevity with their location.

“We are located on a major highway with 40,000 cars coming through a day,” Weeks said. “If we were off the beaten path, it would be different.”

He also said being located in the Miss-Lou helps their success.

“The cities of Vidalia and Natchez are doing a good job,” Weeks said. “If they grow, we grow.”