Business Ownership: Keeping it in the family

by Howard Prosnitz, Staff Writer of Teaneck Suburbanite

February 11, 2009

The dynamics of family members working together day after day, year after year, and sometimes decade after decade could provide a sociologist with a lifetime of research. Such enterprises can be a source of both stability and stress. But for five multi-generational Teaneck business -- ranging from real estate offices to restaurants -- the experience has been positive, cementing ties to family and community and handing down an established source of income. These businesses, in their third and fourth generations of family ownership, are Teaneck institutions. Taken together, they represent 17 generations or more than 500 years of family ownership.

Limone's Farm

Limone's FarmLimone's Farm, begun 102 years ago, mirrors the history of Teaneck.

When James Limone arrived from Italy in 1906, he contracted with William Walter Phelps to farm 85 acres of Phelps's land that included the area where Teaneck High School and Route 4 are located today.

Although most of the produce that Limone raised went to market, Phelps allowed him to sell surplus from the small, three sided shack on Palisade Avenue. That shack was the origin of Limone's Farm.

Today, Andy Limone, James's grandson, builds and installs commercial and residential waterfalls and pavers while his wife Therese runs the retail business at 892 Palisade Ave.

The farm passed from James to his son, Anthony, and in 1976, to Andy, Anthony's son.

Although Limone's Farm still sells produce, the farm stand is no longer a significant part of the business. Today, Limone's Farms is known mainly as a garden supply center and a specialty food and catering business.

"I know the names of 90 percent of my customers and we know what foods they like," said Therese. "If I make a soup on a particular day, I will call customers who like that soup. We don't try to compete with supermarkets. We are growing rapidly but we are small enough to accommodate individuals."

While Limone's Farm goes back more than a century, it was the opening of the George Washington Bridge in 1931 that changed the commerce and character of Teaneck. Cedar Lane, a rural road lined with farms and houses, was rezoned for businesses in anticipation of burgeoning development and influx of traffic. Four Cedar Lane businesses that emerged in that era continue their family traditions.

Robert Morrill Insurance Agency

Robert Morrill InsuranceFounded in 1957 by Robert Morrill I, the Robert Morrill Insurance Agency is in its third generation of family ownership and of the Robert Morrill name. In 1974, Robert Morrill II became president, and in 2002 ownership passed to the founder's grandson and granddaughter, Robert Morrill III and Dana Morrill.

The Morrill family has deep roots in Teaneck. Both the founder and his son served on the Teaneck Board of Education, the latter for 16 years. A four-letter athlete at Teaneck High School, Robert Morrill II, began working for his father in 1958 after leaving college early as a result a football injury and his mother's diagnosis of terminal cancer.

"My dad had a little, one man insurance agency, and he asked me to answer telephones while he took care of my mother. That was 50 years ago and I am still answering phones," Robert Morrill II recalled during a recent visit from Florida, where he lives today.

The Morrill Agency sells personal and commercial, general and casually insurance.

Unlike nationwide brokers such as All State or State Farm, which sell only their company's products, the Morrill Agency represents eight different insurers.

For many years the Morrill Agency wrote the township's insurance, but today Teaneck, like many municipalities, is self-insured.

"Any business changes and you have to go along with those changes," said Robert Morrill II. "The big step in insurance today is from the era when everything was handwritten. But every change puts a chink in your armor because you spend more time trying to improve with the change than selling insurance."

Tulp Agency

Tulp AgencyA few doors from the Morrill Agency, Michael Tulp presides over a real estate and insurance company started by his grandfather, Herman, in 1922.

"The George Washington Bridge was yet to be completed and my grandfather had the forethought to open a little agency right on this corner," said Tulp, who speculates that the Tulp Agency is the oldest business on Cedar Lane.

In the late 1950s Herman's son, Howard, took over the business, which, by then, had expanded to personal insurance, Michael Tulp entered the business in 1985, becoming president in 1995.

"We are a neighborhood agency, a throwback to an earlier time," Tulp said, noting that he employs only a secretary and one part-time salesman and shows most of the properties himself.

"We are very local. We specialize in service. We are a boutique, not a department store," Tulp said.

As an example of personal service, Tulp notes that in the 1940s his father sold a Queen Anne Road home to a professional couple. Fifty years later when the couple moved, Michael Tulp handled the sale.

Bischoff's Ice Cream

Bischoff'sTwo Cedar Lane businesses have entered their fourth generation of family management.

In 1934 Albert Bischoff opened Bischoff's Ice Cream. Although enlarged over the years, the confectionary/restaurant stands at its original location. In 1947 Bischoff's son-in-law Ralph, Brunkhorst, took over management, and in 1988 ownership passed to Ralph's daughter, Anita, who runs the business today with her husband, Gary Mather. Co-owner Richie Zanette has been with Bischoff's for more than 40 years.

"Richie worked here as a teenager and then went away to college," said Anita. " When he came back he decided he wanted to be part of the business and my father took him in and he became a partner."

Anita's sun Steven represents the fourth generation of family ownership.

Ice cream has long been a Bischoff specialty. Anita noted that (201) Magazine ranked Bischoff's ice cream as the best in the county.

Business peaks at the Christmas and Easter seasons and near Valentine's Day. Bischoff's employs its own chocolate maker who sets its chocolates in special molds.

Teaneck roots run deep in the family. Anita graduated from Teaneck High School in 1963 and her husband, in 1961. Their son Steven lives in the Elm Avenue home where Anita grew up.

In February Bischoff's will celebrate its 75th anniversary.

"An advantage of a family business is that you don't have to start from scratch," Anita observed. The negative side is that sometimes it is difficult to separate personal life from business. "But we all like to work together and we have managed very well."

Manor Shoes

Manor ShoesManor Shoes has operated under various names since 1928 when Angelo Panettieri opened a shoe repair shop on Cedar Lane one block east of Manor's present location.

In the 1940s, Angelo's son, Frank, took over the business and added a retail shoe department. In 1969, Frank was joined by his son Frank Jr., the current owner.

"I had just been discharged from the military and all my friends in the area were still in," recalled Frank Jr., "I didn't have anything else to do and I was bored. I came in for a couple of days to help out and I am still here."

Frank Jr. has recently been joined by his son Matthew, who represents the fourth generation.

Under Frank Jr., Manor developed into a full service shoe store, providing a range of specialties, in addition to selling major brands of men's and ladies shoes. Manor is also an approved Medicare facility.

"We are different from a mall store," said Panettieri, who employs three shoemakers. "We work with physical therapists and doctors and fill prescriptions. We do footwear for diabetics and people with arthritis, and we do special orthopedic work."

Manor is currently expanding, having recently taken over an adjoining store. The new section features computerized equipment that accurately measures the foot and identifies pressure points.

"A family business can be very tough," Panettieri observed. "There are a lot of people involved, but we always got along very well with each other. Business on Cedar Lane is good."