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The Distance


+17 FANS
What's the hardest thing about business? Not going out of business. The Distance features stories of private businesses that have been operating for at least 25 years and the people who got them there. Hear business owners share their stories of hard...Show More
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31:43 | Aug 15th, 2017

This is the first episode of our brand new podcast called Rework. If you like it you can subscribe to Rework on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts. Welcome to the first episode of Rework! This podcast is based on Jason Fried an...Show More

19:04 | Aug 1st, 2017

Lily Liu was 16 years old when a talent scout approached her at a department store. She started her career as a model, but found her true calling behind the scenes, first representing her three daughters and then opening her own talent agency. For Li...Show More
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16:03 | Jul 18th, 2017

Tim Masters describes himself as "just a mattress maker," but that belies the business acumen he's gained over decades of building and selling beds. Tim's store in the Chicago suburbs, Quality Sleep Shop, opened in 1969 and has held its own against t...Show More

17:46 | Jul 3rd, 2017

Ben and Larry are longtime owners of two different music-related businesses, a payroll service for musicians and an auctioneer of rare classical LPs. They don't know each other, but they have something in common: They're both still running their busi...Show More

17:54 | Jun 20th, 2017

Troy Henikoff was a college student in 1984 when he wrote his first program, a piece of software to help his grandfather's steel warehouse manage their inventory. That summer project led Troy to start his own software consulting business a couple yea...Show More

19:54 | Jun 6th, 2017

In 2010, as Worksman Cycles was emerging from the recession and ready to grow again, the maker of heavy-duty cycles saw an exciting opportunity to supply the bikes for New York City's bike share program. But the city rejected Worksman's proposal, and...Show More

19:08 | May 23rd, 2017

Worksman Cycles is the oldest American bicycle manufacturer that still makes its products in the U.S. Founded in New York in 1898, Worksman has outlasted the demise of American cycle manufacturing by focusing on a niche category: heavy duty tricycles...Show More

15:33 | May 9th, 2017

Nom Wah Tea Parlor is New York Chinatown's oldest dim sum restaurant. For decades, it served Cantonese dumplings and rolls in the traditional way, from trolleys pushed around the restaurant. When Wilson Tang took over Nom Wah in 2011, he switched fro...Show More

14:09 | Apr 25th, 2017

Matt Stock is a business owner who loves marketing and has embraced the unglamorous job of selling a pretty mundane service: basement waterproofing. He's tried everything from Yellow Pages to billboards to Internet advertising at U.S. Waterproofing, ...Show More

13:55 | Apr 11th, 2017

Every year in the weeks leading up to Easter, the four-person staff at Danish Maid Butter Co. starts counting sheep. The Chicago company has made lamb-shaped butter for more than 50 years, moving from wooden molds dropped in cans of ice water to a mo...Show More

14:28 | Mar 28th, 2017

In an industry known for selling commodities at low margins, Jungle Jim's International Market in suburban Cincinnati, Ohio is something else entirely. It's a super-sized grocery store that's also a tourist attraction with animatronic characters, a d...Show More

14:15 | Mar 14th, 2017

Cullinan's Stadium Club and Beverly Records sit next door to each other in the Chicago neighborhood of Morgan Park. The owners of the two businesses have been friendly since Dan Cullinan opened his bar and grill in 1989. But even Dan couldn't imagine...Show More

15:22 | Feb 28th, 2017

In 1989, Deborah Maris Lader had recently moved to Chicago and was looking for a studio where she could make prints and meet other artists. She couldn't find a place like that, so she opened her own: the Chicago Printmakers Collaborative. Deborah als...Show More

15:22 | Feb 14th, 2017

Bruce Roper never planned to start a business. As a teenager, he wanted to be a Beatle. As an adult, he moved to Chicago after a brief stint running a music store and began fixing guitars. Over the next quarter century, Bruce built up a modest but st...Show More

16:03 | Jan 31st, 2017

Jewelry tells a story. For Kathy, the owner of a 90-year-old jewelry store in Berwyn, Illinois, every piece of her jewelry adds up to a larger, richer history about the business that she joined as a 16-year-old part-time employee and ended up running...Show More

13:50 | Jan 17th, 2017

The neighborhood appliance store is all but gone from the American retail landscape. But on Chicago's north side, Cole's Appliance and Furniture Co. has been selling refrigerators and sofas from the same corner since 1946. The Krasney family, which h...Show More

16:35 | Jan 3rd, 2017

The modern office has gone from private offices to cubicles, and from cube farms to more open spaces with lower partitions. All those changes have been good business for Office Furniture Resources, which is marking 25 years of buying and reselling th...Show More

16:34 | Dec 20th, 2016

The Richardson family arrived in Spring Grove, Illinois in 1840, when brothers Robert and Frank each claimed 80 acres of farmland that had become available for homesteading. Successive generations of Richardsons tried their hand at cash crops, dairy ...Show More

14:54 | Dec 6th, 2016

When the Chicago Cubs won the 2016 World Series, Jim Piko Jr. wasn't just thrilled as a longtime fan of the team. Marathon Sportswear, the screen printing company his father started in the family garage in 1980, began printing tens of thousands of of...Show More

04:22 | Nov 29th, 2016

In 2009, as Chicago manufacturer Wiegel Tool Works was emerging from the recession and wanting to hire again, company president Aaron Wiegel noticed that his job ads for tool and die makers were going unfilled for months. That realization led to his ...Show More

13:26 | Nov 22nd, 2016

Otto Wiegel founded Wiegel Tool Works the day before the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. This year, his three grandchildren mark the manufacturing company's 75th anniversary. The family business, which specializes in precision metal stamping, has su...Show More

04:00 | Nov 15th, 2016

The products that AR-EN Party Printers makes—customized items like gift tags and coasters—are a luxury and not a necessity, but that doesn't make them any less important to the company's customers. AR-EN can't afford to misprint a couple's monogram o...Show More

16:40 | Nov 8th, 2016

When Gary Morrison's mother and her best friend got into the foil-stamped napkin business in 1979, the two women were just looking for a side project that would make them some extra money. Decades later, Gary is running AR-EN Party Printers, a compan...Show More

08:25 | Nov 1st, 2016

From seagrass caskets to biodegradable urns designed for water burials, there is a growing number of options when it comes to burying the dead. In this mini episode, Claudette Zarzycki of Zarzycki Manor Chapels, a 101-year-old funeral home, talks abo...Show More

15:36 | Oct 25th, 2016

Four generations of the Zarzycki family have lived behind or above their funeral home, starting with founder Agnes Zarzycki, the first woman funeral director of Polish descent in Chicago. Today, 101-year-old Zarzycki Manor Chapels is still run by wom...Show More

04:56 | Oct 18th, 2016

It takes a lot of work to make a dead body appear healthy and lifelike. It also takes a lot of chemicals, like the kind manufactured by 124-year-old Frigid Fluid. In this mini episode, learn more about embalming and some of the strange phone calls th...Show More

16:39 | Oct 11th, 2016

The modern practice of embalming started in the U.S. during the Civil War, and Brian Yeazel's family got into the embalming fluid business a few decades later. Frigid Fluid, the company his great great uncle founded in 1892, is also the inventor of t...Show More

03:34 | Oct 4th, 2016

R. Russell Builders is still recovering from the worst housing market it's experienced in its 60-year history. But before "subprime mortgage" was a household term, company founder Ron Russell, Sr. was overcoming his own personal challenges so he coul...Show More

16:01 | Sep 27th, 2016

The housing crisis wiped out half of the homebuilders in the U.S. This is the story of one that survived, but emerged from the recession to find both itself and its industry drastically changed. Ron Russell Sr. founded R. Russell Builders in 1956, an...Show More

03:52 | Sep 20th, 2016

Willie David Langford Senior's picture is on the wall of Langford's Barber Shop, the business he founded in Atlanta in 1964. The barber shop has long been a neighborhood haven, not least of all for the many kids who grew up in the area. In this mini ...Show More

13:03 | Sep 13th, 2016

LaMichael Langford grew up watching his uncle run a barber shop and would sneak in his friends to cut their hair. LaMichael eventually took over the business that his uncle opened in 1964, and Langford's Barber Shop has been a constant in an Atlanta ...Show More

05:25 | Sep 6th, 2016

John Stallworth has worked almost non-stop at his hardware store for over 40 years. He's passed that work ethic down to his son, John Jr., who works alongside his father at the shop on Chicago's South Side. In this mini episode, find out what it take...Show More

15:13 | Aug 30th, 2016

John Stallworth has been selling hardware and fixing bikes at his shop on Chicago's South Side for 50 years, helping to anchor a neighborhood that's struggled with population loss and divestment. John's Hardware and Bicycle Shop is the kind of old-fa...Show More

05:26 | Aug 23rd, 2016

Jenny Yang held many different jobs in Taiwan and the U.S. before discovering her passion: running one of Chicago's oldest tofu manufacturers. In this mini episode, Jenny talks about her long, winding journey to Phoenix Bean Tofu and how immigrating ...Show More

16:11 | Aug 16th, 2016

In 1999, Jenny Yang discovered a small tofu company in her Chicago neighborhood that made the fresh soybean curd she remembered from her native Taiwan. Seven years later, when Jenny learned the business was in danger of closing, she impulsively stepp...Show More

05:10 | Aug 9th, 2016

Choosing and taking care of a knife can be an intimidating process for home cooks. In this mini episode, Northwestern Cutlery owner Marty Petlicki and a culinary school director offer some knife tips and dispel a common misconception about what a sha...Show More

14:17 | Aug 2nd, 2016

In 1972, when two cousins opened Northwestern Cutlery, their knife rental and sharpening business, they chose a location in Chicago near the city's meatpackers. Over the next decades, the dramatic transformation of the neighborhood around the busines...Show More

12:25 | Jul 26th, 2016

We ride along with a two-man 1-800-GOT-JUNK truck team in Vancouver, British Columbia and learn about what they will and won't take (no bed bugs or asbestos, please), what kind of personality is required for the job and some of their best finds.

16:07 | Jul 19th, 2016

Brian Scudamore was 19 when he set up his junk-hauling business with a used pick-up truck and a stack of business cards. But his ambitions were always greater than being a one-man junk operation. Brian Scudamore wanted his company to have a brand as ...Show More

05:37 | Jul 12th, 2016

In the ice sculpture world of the 70s and 80s, swans ruled the roost. Jim Nadeau carved a swan every Sunday for the brunch service of the hotel where he worked. He doesn't make too many swans anymore, but the shape is still taught in culinary schools...Show More

15:46 | Jul 5th, 2016

In the 1970s, ice carving was the province of chefs at high-end hotels that made the sculptures part of their decor for Sunday brunch. Jim Nadeau came out of this tradition. Then, in 1980, he got the idea to start his own ice carving business in the ...Show More

05:03 | Jun 28th, 2016

The Nedra Matteucci Galleries in Santa Fe, New Mexico draws many visitors looking to admire or buy fine artwork. Then there are the treasure hunters, who come to the gallery looking for clues about a chest of valuables reportedly buried in the Rocky ...Show More

15:39 | Jun 21st, 2016

Santa Fe, New Mexico is home to around 200 art galleries. Even in this thriving art scene, Nedra Matteucci's gallery stands out. The 44-year-old gallery, which she bought in 1988, is housed in an adobe compound spanning two acres, and the business ta...Show More

12:44 | Jun 14th, 2016

In the second half of the conversation between Paul McKenna of Starship restaurant and Anne Pezalla and Kate Pezalla Marlin of Lively Athletics, the business owners talk social media, the dark side of coupons and what's next.

15:25 | Jun 7th, 2016

We're trying something new with this episode. It's a conversation between business owners on different ends of the experience spectrum. Sisters Anne Pezalla and Kate Pezalla Marlin opened their women's athletic apparel and running shoe boutique, Live...Show More

07:01 | May 31st, 2016

With 95 years of history behind it, the Willowbrook Ballroom in Willow Springs, Ill. has seen many generations of dancers come and go. One dancer in particular has stuck around: Resurrection Mary, the ghost of a young woman who's reputed to haunt the...Show More

13:38 | May 24th, 2016

When Birute and Gediminas Jodwalis bought the Willowbrook Ballroom from the business' founding family nearly 20 years ago, they inherited an intensely loyal but shrinking customer base of Sunday afternoon dancers. The 95-year-old Willowbrook is one o...Show More

03:19 | May 17th, 2016

The primary business at the Funk family farm is maple syrup production. But the farm also grows corn and soybeans to supplement the income from maple syrup. Mike and Debby Funk, the fifth generation to farm on the family land in central Illinois, met...Show More

12:45 | May 10th, 2016

Central Illinois is a long way from Vermont or Canada, but that hasn't stopped the Funk family of Funks Grove, Ill., from building a multi-generational maple syrup business. Every year, the Funks collect sap from thousands of trees that have been pas...Show More

12:12 | Apr 26th, 2016

Some of the audio world's most revered headphones come out of a narrow, graffiti-covered house in Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood. Grado Labs has been handcrafting phono cartridges and headphones at this location for six decades and remains under...Show More

02:59 | Apr 19th, 2016

In the early 80s, long before he became the CEO of LION, his family-owned manufacturing company, Steve Schwartz ran his college fraternity's refrigerator rental business. Fridges are a far cry from LION's core business of making protective gear for f...Show More

14:51 | Apr 12th, 2016

LION's products can mean the difference between life and death for the customers of this family-owned company, which makes protective clothing and training equipment for firefighters. From its origins in 1898 as a horse-and-wagon operation selling cl...Show More

04:25 | Apr 5th, 2016

The 2014 ownership transition at Women & Children First was an emotional process, as the founders of the feminist bookstore sold their business to two staff members after 35 years at the helm. In this mini episode, the past and present owners of Wome...Show More

15:09 | Mar 29th, 2016

Throw your hands up at me! In 1979, Ann Christopherson and Linda Bubon opened a store in Chicago to sell books by and about women. Their business, Women & Children First, became a place where emerging writers could be discovered, a safe space for wom...Show More

04:00 | Mar 22nd, 2016

The Great Depression hit shortly after Joe and Katherine Sapp opened their Chicago ice cream shop, Original Rainbow Cone, and subsequent generations of Sapps haven't forgotten what it meant to almost lose everything. In this mini episode, current Rai...Show More

14:43 | Mar 15th, 2016

Opening an ice cream store in Chicago is not for the faint of heart. Factor in a mostly deserted neighborhood and the Great Depression, and the idea of selling ice cream looks utterly harebrained. Yet that's exactly what the Sapp family did in 1926 w...Show More

16:09 | Mar 1st, 2016

The modern office has gone from private offices to cubicles, and from cube farms to more open spaces with lower partitions. All those changes have been good business for Office Furniture Resources, which is marking 25 years of buying and reselling th...Show More

04:33 | Feb 23rd, 2016

Shaun Hildner, co-producer of The Distance, goes shopping for cowboy boots at Alcala's Western Wear and learns "an old cowboy trick" from business owner Richard Alcala.

15:12 | Feb 16th, 2016

As an urban metropolis east of the Mississippi River, Chicago might seem like an unlikely home for a purveyor of cowboy hats, boots and shirts. Yet Alcala's Western Wear has flourished in the Windy City for over four decades, building a massive selec...Show More

16:34 | Feb 2nd, 2016

Human history comes with a long paper trail, and Graphic Conservation Company's mission is to preserve and restore that record. The 95-year-old lab specializes in repairing works on paper, which range from priceless historical artifacts and artwork t...Show More

13:58 | Jan 19th, 2016

Bill Carlson describes his business as "a little shot and a beer bar," but the 61-year-old Uptown Tavern has always been more than a dive. It's a place where third-shift workers can unwind in the early morning and where people without a place to go o...Show More

16:17 | Jan 5th, 2016

Bowlers Journal International is the longest-running sports monthly in the United States, and it's a print magazine that's held on to a remarkably loyal base of subscribers and advertisers since its founding in 1913 by a Chicago shoe salesman. Of all...Show More

01:48 | Dec 24th, 2015

In this mini episode, Carol Richardson of Richardson Farm explains how to tie a perfect bow.

16:18 | Dec 22nd, 2015

The Richardson family arrived in Spring Grove, Illinois in 1840, when brothers Robert and Frank each claimed 80 acres of farmland that had become available for homesteading. Successive generations of Richardsons tried their hand at cash crops, dairy ...Show More

16:47 | Dec 8th, 2015

Kerry Hubata started dancing at the age of eight and hasn't stopped. In 1968, she and her mentor opened a classical ballet studio in the Chicago suburb of Evanston. The two women never set out to be entrepreneurs, but they ended up with a sustainable...Show More

16:11 | Nov 24th, 2015

Athena Uslander is the Cyrano de Bergerac of brownies. The company she co-founded in 1983, Silverland Bakery, makes sweet treats that are sold under the names of grocery stores and restaurants across the U.S. and even internationally. Silverland Bake...Show More

15:20 | Nov 10th, 2015

When Abdul Qaiyum, a young Pakistani immigrant, discovered Merz Apothecary in 1972, the Swiss German drugstore was on the verge of closing permanently after nearly a century in business. Qaiyum bought the store from the founding family and has run it...Show More

15:58 | Oct 27th, 2015

The Peter Troost Monument Company has been making grave markers, headstones and mausoleums in the Chicago area since 1889. The issue of longevity has a particular resonance for fifth-generation president Lisa Troost, who knows that the product she se...Show More

15:21 | Oct 13th, 2015

Stacey Bales has worked in almost every department at her family manufacturing business, from the front office to the shop floor. But when it came to running the entire company, she expected her father, Steve, to do that for at least another decade. ...Show More

16:10 | Sep 29th, 2015

As students of history, Harlan Berk and his three children know that circumstances around them can change rapidly. They've learned to adapt the family business through 51 years of buying and selling ancient coins, as well as antiquities and maps. Fro...Show More

19:57 | Sep 15th, 2015

The Jones family has been farming in Iowa for generations. They have weathered tough winters, the consolidation of small family farms and the farm crisis of the 1980s. Today, 29-year-old Will Jones is in charge, and he's melding his own vision for th...Show More

12:46 | Sep 1st, 2015

There's been a laundromat on this corner of Berwyn, Illinois for more than a half century. But it was the current owner, Tom Benson, who made the World's Largest Laundromat into the family-friendly destination it is today. This is an edited and impro...Show More

14:04 | Aug 18th, 2015

The warehouse at Carma Labs in Franklin, Wisconsin is filled with boxes of the 78-year-old company's signature product, Carmex lip balm. But there's something else going on in this concrete storage facility. Carma Labs President Paul Woelbing, the gr...Show More

14:44 | Aug 4th, 2015

Alfred Woelbing made the first batch of Carmex at his kitchen stovetop in 1937. He was looking for a cold sore treatment and came up with a hit lip balm instead. Nearly 80 years later, Carma Labs is still independent and running under family ownershi...Show More

14:15 | Jul 21st, 2015

The list of classic Chicago foods includes pizza, hot dogs, Italian beef—and Eli's Cheesecake, a creamy confection with a hint of sour cream and a butter shortbread cookie crust. The dessert was first served at Eli's The Place For Steak, a restaurant...Show More

13:25 | Jul 7th, 2015

Some of the audio world's most revered headphones come out of a narrow, graffiti-covered house in Brooklyn's Sunset Park neighborhood. Grado Labs has been handcrafting phono cartridges and headphones at this location for six decades and remains under...Show More

15:03 | Jun 23rd, 2015

Chicago's Fulton Market district is the city's last remaining food market, a hub for meatpackers and wholesalers of agricultural products. But a wave of new development, including high-end restaurants and luxury condos, is transforming Fulton Market ...Show More

08:08 | Jun 17th, 2015

Jason Fried co-founded Basecamp in 1999 and in 2014 launched The Distance. Shaun Hildner sat down with Jason to talk about The Distance and the kinds of business stories that interest him.

14:28 | Jun 9th, 2015

In 1932, an orphan named Roy Sheffield started Ashland Addison Florist Co. by selling bouquets of flowers at a busy Chicago intersection. Eight decades later, the fourth generation of Sheffields is still delivering flowers to customers. The Sheffield...Show More

13:05 | May 5th, 2015

Albert Karoll started his custom menswear business from his Chicago apartment with just a phone, a legal pad and a book of fabric swatches that he took to customers' homes and offices. In the early 1990s, he combined his fledging business with five l...Show More

09:59 | Apr 7th, 2015

Chicagoans of a certain age can recall growing up with the Victory Auto Wreckers television commercial, a low-budget ad that seemed to run endlessly on afternoons and late nights. It turns out that 30-second spot, featuring a shaggy haired guy whose ...Show More

09:18 | Mar 5th, 2015

When Al Capone needed crates to smuggle liquor to his speakeasies, he bought boxes from a Chicago manufacturer called Ideal Box Co. Today, the company is run the Eisen brothers, whose great-grandfather started the business in 1924, and the Eisens are...Show More

08:10 | Feb 17th, 2015

In the early days of fast food, restaurants like McDonald's and Burger King made their burgers onsite, and they relied on Harry Holly's patty-molding machine to get the job done. The patty press helped standardize the fast food hamburger by ensuring ...Show More

12:22 | Feb 3rd, 2015

Yes, that's the actual name of this business, and there's more to it than just its 13,500 square feet. The World's Largest Laundromat serves free food, provides children's entertainment and offers workshops to customers on subjects like immigration r...Show More