On the corner of Farewell and Marlborough streets in Newport, Rhode Island stands the White Horse Tavern. I mention it not because I want to offer a review of the restaurant’s fine cuisine. I mention it because the White Horse Tavern was established in 1673. That makes it just about the oldest existing business in the United States.
Last week I was at another fine eatery – Lenny’s. Lenny’s is a chain of Manhattan sandwich shops. And again, I have no desire to offer an opinion about their food. I mention Lenny’s because they prominently display a sign in their stores that proclaims “Since 1989” as if that is something that should impress us. I am not impressed.
Now I know that it is unusual for a business in the United States to last 100 years, never mind the 341 years the White Horse Tavern has been serving ale in Newport. But am I really expected to admire a business that is younger than my youngest child?
Frankly, I am not impressed by any business that is younger than I am. I think this is quite natural. When you’re 25, anything that’s been around for 50 years seems pretty old and established. When you’re in your 50s and beyond, your perspective changes quite a bit.
Businesses have a natural lifespan that is usually equivalent to the working life of their founder. Some businesses manage to pass the baton to the next generation or two, but businesses still being run after the death of the founder are in the minority. I think that businesses should avoid touting their date of establishment at least while their original customers are still alive and patronizing the business.
Once a business has been around for 100 years, it has earned the right to brag. But let’s stop this nonsense of celebrating the longevity of businesses that are less than 50 years old. If the business isn’t old enough to have had John Lennon as a customer, it has no right to promote its establishment date.
Strangely, while some businesses advertise how old they are, people mostly don’t. You don’t see John Grisham bragging on his book jackets that he has been writing “Since 1989.” You don’t see Phil Collins placing a logo on his albums bragging “Established 1981.” Perhaps there is a difference between corporations and people. (Alert the Supreme Court!)
For those of us over 50, any business bragging they were established during the Reagan Administration will get a big yawn. Most of us have articles of clothing that old. No, what we need is a restaurant like Barbetta on West 46th Street in Manhattan that proudly advertises at the top of its web page: “Since 1906.” Now, that’s impressive.