MANATEE -- Manatee County is not only filled with family owned businesses, but boasts ones that have lasted decades, contributing to the fabric of this community.
When Mixon Fruit Farms celebrated its 75th anniversary at a luncheon Thursday, the Mixons recognized more than a dozen Manatee-based businesses that have remained in business through generations of family.
Janet Mixon was inspired by the long-term businesses throughout the county, in part by her own immediate family's company, Sandhoff Construction, which is celebrating 55 years.
"All these people who have worked for us or we do things for, they've been family businesses, and there are tons in this community," Janet Mixon said. "That's what makes this community so wonderful."
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She became overwhelmed with emotion, pausing as she remarked how it was nice to share the moment with everyone in the room, acknowledging the challenges businesses face.
"A lot of you guys who have been around a long time, it's not easy being a business, and it's not easy being a family business and to survive this length of time," Mixon said.
Dean Mixon has fond memories of those businesses like Bealls Department Stores, which has its
headquarters in a former Tropicana building in Bradenton. The company is celebrating 99 years, turning 100 in 2015.
"I remember as a kid that was the only place in town you could go to buy your Cub Scout uniform right in downtown, in the old Bealls store," he said. "I'm telling my age now."
State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, in charge of his 40-year-old family run insurance agency, marveled at the presence of the numerous long-term family businesses.
"I think it says Manatee County is a great place to live and work and raise a family. Our economy is driving again and it's a great place for business to grow," Boyd said. "And the communities have been good to all these businesses to allow them to be here this long."
Susan Ambrose of The Chop Shop, in business for 43 years, said hard work is the key to success while maintaining a family atmosphere.
"You have to be dedicated to your business, it has to be a priority," Ambrose said.
None of the businesses present at the event were older than Pelot's Pharmacy, in the old Manatee village neighborhood east of U.S. 301 since 1894. With their family's roots deep in the community, Amy Tindell and Jessica Pelot, daughters of owner Robert Pelot, said giving back is just as important as being a long-time business. They are involved with the Sunrise Kiwanis and Southeast High School.
"We both grew up in the store," said Pelot, who is a manager at the store along with her sister, a pharmacy tech. "I remember some of our older customers and they remember us growing up."
Rodney Smithley of Smokey's Mirrors and Glass, celebrating 88 years in business, said giving good prices is necessary -- and so is being willing to communicate well with customers who have become friends over the years. He said his faith has allowed him to be more patient in his line of work.
"They're really curious about glass work and how it's done, how it should be done," he said. "You're just like a politician in my business because you talk more than do work. You're explaining everything, and that's why I enjoy my work because I like talking."
The Hoopingarners, which include Brent with his sons, Caleb and Jordan, of Keeton's Office & Art Supply, are in the business of helping other businesses get what they need to function. And that resonates in the community where business is often reciprocal among the long-timers.
"We are a local business, and we rely on each other. We need each other," Jordan Hoopingarner said. "For example, if we need our air conditioning serviced, we use one of our accounts. We do business with people that do business with us. We're as much part of the local community as anyone else."
As Kris Cox, chief executive of Cox Chevrolet, whose motto appropriately is "A Family Tradition Since 1926," notes that you have to have customers to keep you in business.
"Without the community, we wouldn't be here," he said.
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.