by Jamie Walden
Posted 3/23/2009 12:00 am
Updated 11 months ago
Arkansas Business is celebrating its 25th anniversary with a special publication, but, as an advertisement for Meadors Adams & Lee insurance company notes, we're just "rookies."
Meadors Adams & Lee, founded in 1909, is one of 220 Arkansas companies that have survived at least 100 years – through bubbles, recessions, the Great Depression, two world wars and, in a few cases, the Civil War.
Arkansas Business has published its list of centenarian businesses twice before, in 2004 and 2007. The ranking includes private, nonprofit organizations such as private colleges and trade associations.
As long as the Rose Law Firm of Little Rock stays in business, it will hold the title of the oldest Arkansas company. The full-service firm based in Little Rock was founded in 1820. To put that in perspective, the Rose Law Firm formed only 17 years after the United States acquired the land that is now called Arkansas as part of the Louisiana Purchase. And it would be another 16 years before Arkansas achieved statehood.
About 12 years after Rose opened, the Times Record, now the Southwest Times Record, set up shop in Fort Smith.
Shortly after that, in 1834, the institution now known as University of the Ozarks at Clarksville was founded in Washington County as Cane Hill School, making it the oldest institution of higher education in the state.
Seven companies that we know of have turned 100, give or take a few months, since the last publishing of Arkansas' oldest companies list in 2007. The birthday businesses are Farmers Bank & Trust of Blytheville, HomeBank of Arkansas of Portland, C.J. Horner & Co. of Hot Springs, First National Bank of Lewisville, Meadors Adams & Lee Inc. of Little Rock, Merchants & Farmers Bank of Dumas and Shepard's Inc. of Little Rock.
Since the last list, some of Arkansas' oldest establishments have been scooped up by other businesses.
The Brinkley Argus, Brinkley's newspaper since 1876, was merged with the Monroe County Sun in Clarendon around June 2007.
Lancaster Management of Gadsden, Ala., purchased the De Queen Bee and the De Queen Daily Citizen from the Ray Kimball family in a deal announced in March 2007. Shortly thereafter, the De Queen Daily Citizen (founded in 1897) folded. However, the De Queen Bee, a weekly publication that also dates back to 1897, still hits the racks every week.
Arkansas witnessed a high-profile casualty when the aged retailer M.M. Cohn closed after 133 years of business.
Founded by Polish immigrant Mark Mathias Cohn in 1874, the company remained in the family until The Dunlap Co. of Fort Worth, Texas, purchased it in 1989. Dunlap gave up on M.M. Cohn in 2007, and all that's left of it is some signage on vacant storefronts. (For more on M.M. Cohn, see the list of "25 Downfalls" in this week's special 25th anniversary issue of Arkansas Business.)
The financial sector of Arkansas' oldest companies experienced only a name change, but it was historic nonetheless. Elk Horn Bank & Trust Co. of Arkadelphia, which had the same name since 1884, got a new name last year: Southern Bancorp Bank of Arkansas. It was part of a common branding campaign for the three charters owned by Southern Bancorp Inc. of Arkadelphia.
The Power of the Press
Despite the flurry of failing national newspapers, things aren't all bad with the news business.
Though the list of oldest companies is fairly saturated with 43 banks, the dominant industry is news. Of the 220 companies in Arkansas that have survived more than 100 years, 67 are newspapers.
"A lot of the information that you can find on newspapers now is all bad, when the other side of that story is that the smaller newspapers and, in many cases, the community suburban newspapers are doing very well," said Tom Larimer, executive director of the Arkansas Press Association. "But you don't ever hear that. You just hear the bad news about the metro dailies struggling to stay afloat and in some cases not staying afloat."
But the success of small-town papers is not just luck.
"They're not just sticking around. Some of them are doing very well and growing because they are the main source of information for the people in their communities. That's long been their franchise and nothing has changed in that regard," Larimer said.
"They don't get their news anywhere else. They don't have TV stations in these small communities. Obviously they get TV, but they don't necessarily cover their local news. And that's why newspapers have remained relevant to their reader bases in these small communities."