(A July 4th tradition, first published on SmallBusiness.com on July 3, 2014)
Founded in 1705, 71 years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence, The John Stevens Shop in Newport, RI, continues to design and hand-letter one-of-a-kind inscriptions in stone, practicing a craft and using methods and tools that date back to the Romans. Nicholas Waite Benson, 49, has been the owner and creative director of the business since 1993. A MacArthur Fellow (sometimes called, “the genius grant”), Nick began working at the shop at age 15 with his father, John Everett Benson. In turn, John Everett Benson learned stone carving from his father, John Howard Benson, at the age of 15.
How to keep a business running for 309 years
The work of Nick Benson and his staff will be around for centuries. It seems only appropriate that the company creating that work has been around for centuries as well. After John Stevens founded the shop, it was maintained by six generations of Stevenses, until Nick’s grandfather, a printer, artist and stone carver, bought it in the 1920s. It is one of the oldest continuously-operated business in the U.S..
According to Nick, he wasn’t all that interested in the family business during his childhood. “I began carving lettering in 1979, but I didn’t give it much thought until