When Birute and Gediminas Jodwalis bought the Willowbrook Ballroom from the business’ founding family nearly 20 years ago, they inherited an intensely loyal but shrinking customer base of Sunday afternoon dancers. The 95-year-old Willowbrook is one of the area’s last remaining traditional ballrooms, and while the pastime continues to slowly fade away, the Jodwalis’ commitment to their legacy customers hasn’t wavered. They have adapted the event space for a modern clientele while honoring a promise they made to the founding family to keep the Sunday dancers on their feet and the big bands on stage.
The primary business at the Funk family farm is maple syrup production. But the farm also grows corn and soybeans to supplement the income from maple syrup. Mike and Debby Funk, the fifth generation to farm on the family land in central Illinois, met de-tasseling corn as teenagers. In this mini episode, Debby remembers those days of meeting her future husband and tasting his family’s maple syrup for the first time.
Central Illinois is a long way from Vermont or Canada, but that hasn’t stopped the Funk family of Funks Grove, Ill., from building a multi-generational maple syrup business. Every year, the Funks collect sap from thousands of trees that have been passed down in their family and boil it into pure maple syrup. The acres of maple trees, along with syrup-making expertise and the love of a business that’s unpredictable and laborious, are family assets that have sustained generations of Funks.
In the early 80s, long before he became the CEO of LION, his family-owned manufacturing company, Steve Schwartz ran his college fraternity’s refrigerator rental business. Fridges are a far cry from LION’s core business of making protective gear for firefighters, but that early experience gave Steve his first taste of entrepreneurism.
LION’s products can mean the difference between life and death for the customers of this family-owned company, which makes protective clothing and training equipment for firefighters. From its origins in 1898 as a horse-and-wagon operation selling clothing to farmers in Dayton, Ohio, LION turns out everything from Teflon suits worn by medical personnel transporting Ebola patients to mini metropolises spanning 20 acres that can be set on fire to train fire departments.
The 2014 ownership transition at Women & Children First was an emotional process, as the founders of the feminist bookstore sold their business to two staff members after 35 years at the helm. In this mini episode, the past and present owners of Women & Children First talk about the day they officially closed the deal.
Throw your hands up at me! In 1979, Ann Christopherson and Linda Bubon opened a store in Chicago to sell books by and about women. Their business, Women & Children First, became a place where emerging writers could be discovered, a safe space for women to discuss issues important to them, and a neighborhood institution that survived the rise and decline of large chain bookstores. Ann and Linda sold Women & Children First in 2014 to staff members Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenbeck, who are continuing the store’s mission of being independent, literary, political—and sustainable.
The Great Depression hit shortly after Joe and Katherine Sapp opened their Chicago ice cream shop, Original Rainbow Cone, and subsequent generations of Sapps haven’t forgotten what it meant to almost lose everything. In this mini episode, current Rainbow Cone owner Lynn Sapp talks about the physical reminders of her grandparents’ survival mentality.
Opening an ice cream store in Chicago is not for the faint of heart. Factor in a mostly deserted neighborhood and the Great Depression, and the idea of selling ice cream looks utterly harebrained. Yet that’s exactly what the Sapp family did in 1926 when they started Original Rainbow Cone, and their signature treat—five flavors arranged in diagonal slabs—has come to symbolize spring and summer for generations of Chicagoans who grew up on the city’s south side.
The modern office has gone from private offices to cubicles, and from cube farms to more open spaces with lower partitions. All those changes have been good business for Office Furniture Resources, which is marking 25 years of buying and reselling the chairs, desks and cubicles that make up American offices. OFR operates in an industry that’s completely behind the scenes yet touches the lives of workers everywhere.
Shaun Hildner, co-producer of The Distance, goes shopping for cowboy boots at Alcala’s Western Wear and learns “an old cowboy trick” from business owner Richard Alcala.
As an urban metropolis east of the Mississippi River, Chicago might seem like an unlikely home for a purveyor of cowboy hats, boots and shirts. Yet Alcala’s Western Wear has flourished in the Windy City for over four decades, building a massive selection and a knack for customer service. For the Alcala family, now in its second generation of ownership, western wear has proved to be much more than a fashion fad.