The Distance is a podcast by Basecamp about longevity in business, featuring the stories of businesses that have endured for at least 25 years and the people who got them there. Listen to our recent episodes below and don't forget to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Google Play Music.


Keeping Those Refigerators Running

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.

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Fire Sale

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.

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Closure

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.

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Independent Women

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.

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Cold Storage

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.

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Rainbow Connection

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.

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If These Cubicle Walls Could Talk

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.

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Getting the Boot

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.

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Bootstrapped and Proud

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.

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Pulp Fixing

Human history comes with a long paper trail, and Graphic Conservation Company’s mission is to preserve and restore that record. The 95-year-old lab specializes in repairing works on paper, which range from priceless historical artifacts and artwork to personal items like someone’s old letter to Santa Claus. After nearly a century of smoothing wrinkles, patching holes and removing acid burns, there are few problems—on paper, anyway—that Graphic Conservation’s staff can’t fix.

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Always Glad You Came

Bill Carlson describes his business as “a little shot and a beer bar,” but the 61-year-old Uptown Tavern has always been more than a dive. It’s a place where third-shift workers can unwind in the early morning and where people without a place to go on Thanksgiving can come in for a free turkey dinner. Bill, a veteran bartender, knows that even a humble tavern needs to keep evolving to survive.

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A 102-Year Winning Streak

Bowlers Journal International is the longest-running sports monthly in the United States, and it’s a print magazine that’s held on to a remarkably loyal base of subscribers and advertisers since its founding in 1913 by a Chicago shoe salesman. Of all the stories Bowlers Journal has told, the most enduring is that of its own longevity and close relationship with its readers.

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