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Century-old businesses talk about their longevity, success

May 8, 2019

ATTLEBORO, Mass. (AP) — More than 100 years ago, Henry Achin was working in his machine shop in North Attleboro with his partner during a bitterly cold winter.

According to family legend, the partner, a man named Savoy, was fed up with working in the cold garage, turned to Achin and said, “I’m done with this. It’s all yours.” And he quit.

Henry would turn the machine shop into an auto repair business that has lasted 100 years and is still going strong on this, its centennial anniversary.

It’s one of several small businesses in the Attleboro area that are in their second century.

Those who run the businesses say there is no magic or secret formula to their longevity. It’s mostly hard work that allows them to survive and thrive.

“It requires determination and flexibility,” Sarah Achin, vice president of Achin’s Garage, said.

The fourth generation in her family to run the garage, she said the auto repair business is a tough one and it takes a lot of determination to make it work.

It also takes the flexibility to be willing to change when times call for it.

In the 1980s, her father wanted to add a towing business to the garage to provide income during lean times. There was some resistance, but now towing accounts for about 60 percent of her revenue, Achin said.

Although the business was started by her great-grandfather and her grandfather and father took over when their times came, Sarah Achin said she originally had no intention of following in their footsteps.

She was selling chemistry modeling software after getting a master’s degree in chemistry from Arizona State University when her father asked her to help out at the garage.

The move was supposed be temporary.

That was 15 years ago. She is now vice president, her father, Donald Jr., is retired, and she is pretty much running the show.

She said she has stayed all these years out of family pride.

Pride is a word you hear a lot from longtime local business owners. Here’s a look at some of the better-known ones.

Morin’s Diner

When JB Morin opened the Franklin Diner on Mill Street in Attleboro in 1911, workers in the abutting factory would lower buckets on ropes from the upper windows to the diner for him to fill with hamburgers and sandwiches.

It is that kind of innovation that has kept the family business thriving after more than 100 years and four generations.

“You have to look for the latest trend,” owner Bill Morin said.

He points to his son John, the manager, as an example.

Morin’s use to have a handful of beers in stock, but John saw the craft beer craze coming and now the restaurant has over 100 brands.

Of course, the restaurant is now near the corner of Park and South Main streets and is one of the city’s best known businesses.

It has gone from being the Franklin Diner to Morin’s Diner to Morin’s Hometown Bar and Grille, although most people still call it Morin’s Diner.

But the name isn’t the only thing that keeps changing.

Bill Morin remembers the time when Balfour had a huge factory just down the street where the Riverwalk is now. About 1,500 people worked the day the shift there, he said, and lot of them went to Morin’s for lunch every day.

That captive audience wanted mostly basic diner food.

Now, the restaurant offers a much wider selection of lunches and dinners to attract people to downtown Attleboro, especially young people.

John Morin said Sunday brunch is a huge part of the business and nowadays young people want a bloody Mary with their food as early as 10 a.m.

Bill Morin said the menu is now 40 percent seafood, a big change from when his grandfather JB and father Russell Sr. were in charge. Back then, the restaurant was known for its Charlie Burgers.

Another item in the recipe for success has been a consistency customers can count on.

“People have come to know what to expect — a good meal at a good price,” John said.

ATTLEBORO ICE & OIL

In the days before electricity, people kept their food cold by storing it in ice boxes. An Attleboro man named Carroll Thacher sought to capitalize on the market by starting the Attleboro Ice Company in 1884.

Now called Attleboro Ice and Oil, the company is still on Pleasant Street next to its original location and still sells ice along with heating oil.

The company used to get its ice by cutting blocks out of Cooper’s Pond in the winter and storing it all year. Deliverymen would travel the streets of Attleboro looking for homes with a card in the front window indicating they needed more ice, according to company President Ernie Goulet.

The deliverymen would then drag 100-pound blocks into the house and put them in the ice box, he said.

By 1908, Thacher was able to buy out two competitors in Attleboro to become the main source of ice in the city, according to an article at the time in a publication called Cold Storage and Ice Trade Journal.

Goulet said the company has changed hands over the years and his father Gene bought it with his two brothers after dropping out of school in eighth grade and working there his entire life.

Goulet said he too started working at the company as a child, doing whatever odd jobs needed attention. He said as a small boy he would offer to go out on oil deliveries with his father late at night.

The company has survived more than 130 years by earning the trust of its customers, he said.

“It’s mostly just the reputation we’ve earned. You try to be fair and treat people right,” he said.

APCO MOSSBERG

In 1889, right about the time North Dakota was becoming a state and Benjamin Harrison was becoming president, Frank Mossberg was starting a wrench manufacturing company in Attleboro.

At first the company concentrated on special tools for the city’s jewelry industry and then expanded into wrenches for bicycles. Ten years later, he formed Frank Mossberg Company and began manufacturing all kinds of tools, getting into the auto tool business from 1910 to 1920.

In 1927 it merged with APCO of Providence and became APCO Mossberg.

W.H. RILEY & SON

W.H. Riley & Son is one of the oldest companies in the area, founded by William Riley in 1873, when the country was undergoing Reconstruction after the Civil War.

He started off selling coal, wood and straw. Later he expanded into kerosene.

Today the North Attleboro company is run by a seventh generation of relatives, Matt and John Allen, and sells heating oil and propane.

Matt Allen, a vice president, said the key to his company’s success has been customer service.

Many smaller local oil companies have been bought out by larger, regional firms, but Riley & Son is still small enough to give personalized service to its customers, he said.

“The bigger you get, you lose a handle on customer service. We have a finger on the pulse of customer service,” Allen said.

The company also tries to stay current with new developments in the industry, introducing biofuels to be more environmentally friendly, he said.

“We’re adapting to the market with new fuels. We don’t plan on going anywhere,” Allen said.

Online: https://bit.ly/2JlZieQ

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Information from: The (Attleboro, Mass.) Sun Chronicle, http://www.thesunchronicle.com