Milestones – History of Elizabeth City

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Elizabeth City Brick Company – Established 1892

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“If you owned a business in the olden days, you worked hard and did well,” says Curtis Chambers,
co-owner of Elizabeth City Brick Company. “Today, working hard ain’t hardly enough anymore.”  The recent economic downturn hit the company hard, but they are reversing the trend and coming out of the slump. Chambers and partner Jerry Kelly bought the business in 1988; their customers were local contractors who purchased bricks and supplies for homebuilding. Contractors are still their main customers, but now they sell directly to consumers for do-it-yourself projects: patios, outdoor kitchens, landscaping, and small additions. “We can help visualize and plan your project so you buy just the right amount. We’ll sell you one brick if that’s what you need. We have more brick than anyone in the area.” 901 N. Hughes Blvd, Elizabeth City, 252-335-2965.

Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland – Established 1906

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A culture of respect, family, and flexibility leads to longevity and success at the Hornthal, Riley, Ellis & Maland law firm.  “We recognize we’re going to spend a lot of time together here. We want everyone to respect, like, and enjoy working together,” says Phil Hornthal.  Lawyers aren’t pigeonholed at the firm. “We’ve hired people for one specialty, but if they discover they’re happier practicing a different type of law, we allow that to happen.”  A constant re-evaluation of the business is important, too. The full service law firm has 12 full-time lawyers, nine of whom are partners, and additional counsel attorneys. At an annual retreat they examine where they have been and where they are heading. With such a positive culture, the prediction is that they are heading for at least another 100 years. 301 E. Main Street, Elizabeth City, 252-335-0871. hrem.com.

Perry Auto Group – Established 1916

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The Perry name is known and respected as a mainstay in the local car business. Selling autos for nearly a century, Perry Auto Group is the oldest dealership in northeastern North Carolina. Five generations have run the business, with Wayne Perry and his son, Chris, now at the helm ready to celebrate its one-hundredth anniversary next year. The auto industry may change, but the Perrys recognize that in order to be successful, their Golden Rule business philosophy (treating people as they would like to be treated) must stay the same. “I believe to this day, [that philosophy] is why we’re successful,” says Wayne. “Do what you tell people you’re going to do. Go the extra mile. No matter the year, no matter the changes, the car business will always be a people business.” Chris agrees wholeheartedly. “We treat every customer as an individual. In our business, there is one customer at a time and they get our full attention. We look at every customer as a lifetime customer and treat them as such.”  Performance Chevrolet, 1005 W. Ehringhaus Street, Elizabeth City, 252-338-9100. Carolina Chrysler-Dodge-Jeep-Ram, 1001 Halstead Blvd, Elizabeth City, 252-335-0724. perryautogroup.com.

City Beverage Company – Established 1939

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When you consider that City Beverage Company has been in business since the repeal of prohibition, it is easy to see that they have a wealth of generational knowledge on tap. That knowledge is helpful in light of the recent changes to the beer industry. Craft beer production increased nearly 10% in 2013 alone. The Dixon family, owners of City Beverage Company (an Anheuser-Busch Inbev distributor), recognizes that beer is getting more specialized each year. Customers are more refined in their tastes and they expect more choices. Mike Dixon, a third generation co-owner, says, “In the last six to eight years, craft beers have really taken off.” City Beverage keeps up with the trend by adding more craft products to their portfolio. “Not only has Anheuser-Busch Inbev added products, we’ve developed relationships with about 20 craft and micro-breweries to provide the beers our customers are looking for.” Staying abreast of the trends in the industry is important, and the Dixon family does it well. 1471 Weeksville Road, Elizabeth City, 252-330-5539. citybeverageco.com.

Perry Glass Company- Established 1944

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It all started at the Navy-owned blimp hangar for Robley (Bob) Perry, Sr. as World War II was winding down. “Dad was a painter by trade. He and Mom saved $1,000 to start a painting business. He put a bid in to paint the blimp hanger and got his first big job,” says son Ricky Perry. From there, senior Perry established the family’s retail paint and supply business. On some painting jobs, his crew noticed that windowpanes were cracked and broken. Since there was no glass company in town, Perry seized the opportunity and began to sell cut glass. Ricky Perry attributes the success of the business to being service-oriented and recognizing opportunities for diversification. Today, they provide all varieties of glass from residential windows and shower enclosures, to auto glass, custom framing, and commercial storefront windows. 621 W. Broad Street, Elizabeth City, 252-335-4353. perryglass.com.

Sawyer’s House of Furniture – Established 1955

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Business is a family affair in more ways than one at Sawyer’s House of Furniture. According to Bryant Sawyer, “It’s totally a family business. All the owners are family as well as the managers. And we’re all involved in the decisions regarding the business.” In 1955 Calvin and William Sawyer began the business with a small store selling simple furniture pieces. Now, they have a 52,000 square foot showroom with a complete line of home furnishings, flooring, electronics, and major appliances. They consider their customers to be extended family. “That’s a big part of our success,” says Bryant. “We have a lot of generational customers who have shopped here for a long time. Their kids and grandkids are now loyal customers, as well.”  1015 US Hwy 17 South, Elizabeth City, 252-338-3901. sawyershouseoffurniture.com.

Article By: Deborah J. Malenfant
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