Over 50 and Still Fabulous – A look at Wellesley and Weston’s oldest businesses
Cheryl Fenton writer
Many towns have familiar places, people, or things that have seen their share of the years, good times and bad, but have remained true to the community. A stately, ancient tree that has weathered many a storm. Older residents who share past experiences and give meaning to the history of the town. Sometimes it’s even a local business, one that many of us have grown to depend on.
Here’s a look at Wellesley and Weston’s long-established and still thriving businesses that have remained in the hearts of their customers for more than 50 years.
Page Waterman Gallery
Picture Perfect: Because it is one of New England’s oldest picture framing companies, chances are you might have a piece of art framed or purchased from The Page Waterman Gallery. In continuous operation since 1917, it began as Sue Rice Studio, most likely the only photography and framing studio owned and operated by women in the country, with Rice and her childhood friend Sue Page as proprietors. In 1983, Wellesley resident Sturtevant (Sturdy) Waterman became the new owner. Armed with art history, paper restoration, and conservation studies, and a two-year stint in Paris, he built a picture-perfect example of success—a gallery of custom picture framing and preservation of fine art. Today, he has a four-person team assisting him to build it further.
A Larger Framework: As most businesses grow, decisions are made. And the most significant change for Page Waterman was a physical one—the move six buildings over to today’s location. The space created a modern workshop that allowed for greater capabilities as well as antique frame restoration. “It also vastly improved the gallery space, which now has 11-foot ceilings with two large skylights,” Waterman points out. “The natural light makes it possible to pick and choose the correct mat colors quickly and accurately.”
Photo Finish: Still a young boy during the gallery’s 50th birthday, Waterman has his eyes set instead on the upcoming centennial in six years for which he has planned an exciting array of events for the occasion. “It has been fascinating to keep abreast of artistic styles and trends since that’s the journey we must undertake to stay vital in today’s competitive environment.”
A Fix-it Man: When Antonio Jarvis became the go-to appliance repair tech for family and friends, he believed that starting his own business was a logical next step. Jarvis Appliances was born in 1957.
With a less than ideal starting point in his mother’s barn, he was granted permission to repair items at the fire department while the firemen slept. Business got hot, and Jarvis eventually rented his first store and began selling two brands—Maytag and Hotpoint. A move to his current location in 1966 kept business jumping until his retirement in 1983, when children Nancy, Tony, and Marcia took over. Forty years later, they now carry over a dozen different brands of major household appliances, such as Sub-Zero, Gaggenau, and Thermador.
Time Travel: Just when you think a 50th birthday celebration at an appliance store would be a washout, out come the fifties-style finger foods, 1950s attire, a time machine of decorations, and two antique 1950s cars. “We had a great outcome and it was fun to celebrate with everyone,” says Danielle Dunn, who is part of a third generation of the Jarvis family.
Future Plan: With an exterior remodel recently completed, future upgrades are already in the works on the sales floor and showroom. Since the passing of Antonio Jarvis, there’s currently a second and third generation working at Jarvis, so family-business status has endured. “We’re very family oriented,” says Dunn. “Just like how we have a third generation working here, our customers’ children and grandchildren have been coming in to buy appliances because of all the good things their parents have said about Jarvis.”
Banking on Good Ideas: When local leaders get together with a plan, they usually hold the keys to a wealth of opportunity. That’s exactly what happened in 1911, when Wellesley businessmen pooled their resources and began a small community bank. With an original location on Washington Street, the business moved to its current site in the early 1970s with a second branch on Linden Street opening in 2002. Wellesley Bank has certainly seen its share of growth in an often uncertain financial world. With an increased focus on commercial lending and commercial depository services and the addition of a wealth management business, there’s even talk of opening a third branch in the Lower Falls in the first quarter of 2012.
Community Focus: “We actually like when customers come in. We have real conversations with them about their financial needs,” says Tom Fontaine, President and CEO of Wellesley Bank. Employees treat customers with an unparalleled professionalism that is sometimes lost among the big-boy names in banking. “We’re extremely focused in a relatively small geographic market that we’re blessed to be in because of strong real estate values, a highly educated population, and a very diverse employment base,” he says. His sentiments are backed up by the bank’s slogan: “We have our roots where others have their branches.”
Priceless Gifts: It’s unusual to give gifts to others on your own birthday, but Wellesley Bank saw nothing wrong with sharing the wealth. For its centennial celebration, Wellesley Bank made generous contributions to some first-rate local charitable organizations that totaled close to $100,000.
Deland, Gibson Insurance
Full Circle: Deland, Gibson Insurance founder Charles E. Deland’s name is still the cornerstone of what is annually ranked as one of the largest family-owned agencies in New England. Deland, who founded the agency at the turn of the century, hired George W. Gibson, who began work there in 1935. George’s son Charles W. (Charlie) Gibson, the current president, joined the firm in 1972 after serving in the U.S. Navy. Several name changes later (from mergers and new partners), things returned full circle in the late 1980s to reflect the two original families and the name that the community continues to embrace. There was a move in 1984 from Boston to Wellesley, and today’s agency is 45 employees strong and writes about $40 million in premiums. The Gibson name will be carried on through the next generation now that Charlie’s two sons have joined the firm.
Personally Insured: Deland, Gibson Insurance has been recognized by the State Association as one of their few “Five-Star” agencies and is proud to be included in elite programs such as Chubb’s Cornerstone designation. All of these distinctions don’t change the one-on-one level of customer involvement. “Back in the fifties we called ourselves ‘The Agency of Personal Service,’” explains Charlie Gibson. “That’s still the reason for our success. We insure our friends and neighbors and hope they refer clients to us,” he adds.
An Anniversary Adventure: What better way to celebrate a 100th anniversary than to take out a little insurance. Travel insurance, that is. For the centennial, the entire staff of Deland, Gibson flew to Florida and took a cruise to the Bahamas for four glorious days. “Most cubicles at 36 Washington Street still have pictures of happy, tanned faces in them,” Gibson says.
BL Ogilvie & Sons Hardware
A Friend’s Warmth: If at any time a longtime Weston resident needed to get from point A to point B in a snowstorm or heat his dream home during a frigid winter, it’s possible he sought help from an Ogilvie. BL Ogilvie & Sons has been in operation since 1919, when Beriah Lamont Ogilvie started out selling coal. Throughout the years, business continued to grow with the addition of a sawmill and lumber from what is today called the Ogilvie Town Forest, to eventually building several roads and houses in Weston and serving as town snow plow in the first half of the 1900s. In 1932, they added a heating oil business, and their family has been keeping generations of residents warm in the winter ever since. In 1993, wanting to give back for decades of their success, the company donated two acres of land to the Weston Forest & Trails Association.
Since then they’ve become a full-service hardware store, doubled the size of their lumberyard, and added Weber gas grills, a propane filling station, and Benjamin Moore paints to a growing product inventory.
Back in the Day: Thinking back to the celebration of its 50th anniversary in 1969, it’s not hard to see the changes that have happened in the world in terms of what things are worth. To celebrate the occasion, Ogilvie’s extended a coupon for 50 percent off any $1.00 item or 50 cents off anything of greater value. “Remember it was 1969!” laughs Kevin Whittemore, B.L.’s great grandson, manager of the home heating oil division, and vice president of Ogilvie.
A Little Nutty Humor: When it comes to adding levity to the dry industry of hardware, Whittemore nails it in a story he tells. “One day an elder local came in, and he asked for a wood screw. I told him, ‘I’m sorry sir but all our screws are made of steel.’ Hardware humor.”
Faber’s Rug Co., Inc.
Post-War Boom: Tom Faber, Sr. was a World War II veteran who saw his share of the action as a Seabee, building airstrips and harbors on Pacific atolls, often while under enemy fire. Thanks to the GI Bill, Tom was able to get work in Wellesley after the war, and by the early 1950s, his rug cleaning, binding, and repair business was booming. A consummate perfectionist, Tom trained his employees so well that rug stores in the area began hiring them away. Not one to shy away from a challenge, Tom decided to “fight fire with fire” and opened his own retail business taking advantage of the growing consumer demand for wall-to-wall carpeting.
Family Ties: In 1963, Tom opened a small store on Grove Street, and in 1967 moved to 9 Central Street where he shared 450 square feet of space with a home decorating store. Tom’s father joined the company in 1965 to mind the store while Tom was out installing carpeting, and Tom’s sons Tom Jr. and Bob joined the firm in the 1970s, followed by their sister Donna in the 1980s.
Bound for Success: Today, the company occupies 28,000 square feet of space at 9 Central Street and handles residential as well as commercial accounts including Wellesley College, Babson College, the Harvard Club in Boston, and the Chatham Bars Inn. Faber’s is one of the few retailers in the country to buy carpet in volume and carry an extensive inventory of top-quality carpet rolls and more than 3,000 Oriental rugs on the sales floor. Through buying in volume, the store is able to pass the savings along to its customers.
Despite its growth, Faber’s is still very much a family business, and 10 of its 22 employees are members of the Faber family. On any given day, you’re bound to meet founder Tom Faber, Sr. who still comes in three days a week.
© 2011 Elm Bank Media | Beth Furman, Publisher | Beth@ElmBankMedia.com