Jackson’s Oldest Businesses

The oldest businesses in the world have been passed down by families. Their importance to the economy, communities and continuity of any city can’t be underestimated. Jackson has many such businesses, among those five that have passed the century mark with family at the helm from generation to generation.

Batte Furniture

Batte Furniture is now on Northside Drive, but according to John Batte, “We had three different locations downtown: 102 East Capitol (1883), then 104 West Capitol. Then in about 1937 they moved to 217 West Capitol, which is now the Pruitt Oil Building. Dad built this building in 1961, and when he added the third floor warehouse in 1969, he closed the downtown store.”

“My great-grandfather, Edwin A. Batte, founded the company. I really didn’t grow up with the idea that I would necessarily come into the business,” John says. “But as I got out of college and came to know some other guys, it struck me that most of them would have given a lot of have an established family business. That helped focus my attention on the attractiveness of it, so I just came in with Dad.”

John says that the business has kept ahead of the curve. “My grandfather John was one of the first in the area to sell the old Edison phonographs, and my Dad sold television sets in the late 40s. The idea of bringing designers into the business was also unique to furniture stores. We were also among the first of our type of store to be computerized and to use cell phones in our delivery vehicles.”

“The way we do business has not changed,” John adds. “When people do business with us, they feel like there’s a backing; it’s not just management. It has to do with the family running the business rather than just owning it. People like the idea of doing business in a local store where they can find someone whose name is on the door.”

Brunini, Grantham, Grower & Hewes

Brunini, Grantham, Grower & Hewes began in Vicksburg . “There is some confusion in my mind whether my grandfather John Baptiste Brunini was brought over from Italy as an infant, or whether he was born in Mississippi,” says Ed Brunini.

“Grandpa’s family immigrated to Canada and came down the Mississippi River looking for farmland. I think they first settled up in the Delta somewhere. Eventually they came down to Vicksburg and set up a grocery business. Vicksburg at that time was a whole different world than what it is now in terms of its importance to the state. Vicksburg was a big commercial center, the biggest cotton factor anywhere on the river.”

“Grandfather never went to college,” Ed says. “He worked for a judge in Vicksburg and went to Charlottesville , worked under lawyers there, moved back to Vicksburg and started practicing law. The first law firm’s name was Brunini & Hirsch.”

“My father was one of the first oil and gas lawyers in the state,” Ed says. “When Tinsley Field was discovered in Yazoo County , we had a small office in Jackson. Over time, the highway system developed; Jackson became more prominent, Vicksburg less and less. My father realized that the future was going to be in Jackson, and here we are.”

Jasper Ewing and Sons

Jackson is home to the oldest audio-visual dealer in the country, Jasper Ewing and Sons. Malcolm Ewing Jr., the current proprietor, says, “The original business started in Baton Rouge in 1906. When WWII started, they moved the Baton Rouge office to New Orleans.

“My uncle (Jasper Junior) had a studio in New Orleans until he retired fifteen or twenty years ago.”

“We started out as a photo studio,” Malcolm says. “Jasper went all over the South taking pictures. Then he opened a motion picture studio. We shot the first educational films made in the South. He would travel to towns in a Brush automobile, hang sheets on a barn, take the rear wheel off the car, hook the generator up to it, plug in the projector and show movies to people who probably had never seen one before. In some cases, it was the first time they’d ever seen a car.”

Jasper Jr. stayed in New Orleans. Malcolm Sr. moved to Jackson and opened a branch on South State Street Feb. 1, 1946. (The original Jasper Ewing was opened on Feb. 1, 1906)

“He liked Jackson,” Malcolm says of his father. “He did a film here called ‘Jackson, the Bold New City’ in the late 30s. We started out with a camera store and pioneered audio-visual products.”

As to joining the business, “My parents tried to discourage me,” Malcolm says. “But this is the only thing I ever wanted to do, from the first day I can remember. I wanted to work here, and I did.”

Hederman Brothers

Hap Hederman, CEO of Hederman Brothers, says, “I had big shoes to fill.”

“My grandfather, Robert Hederman Sr. and his brother Tom founded the company in 1898 when they were working for the Clarion-Ledger,” Hap says.

“Basically, they worked nights at the printing company and days at the newspaper. Then my uncle Zack bought the Madison County Herald in Canton and me and two of our cousins worked hands-on training in a weekly newspaper and printing operation, so it was an all-inclusive training ground.”

“My grandfather and his brother left a legacy, passed it down to my father’s generation,” Hap says. “There were lot of demands; sometimes I wondered if this is what I wanted to do, but it was explained to me in a way that I understood, and I’m thankful that I was patient and did the things that were expected.”

“For a short time beginning in 1998, we went through a consolidation with Master Graphics, but it took me about two years to figure out that the longevity and continuation of this operation would be short-circuited, so I went to the board and asked if they’d be willing to sell it back to us.”

“My son Doug and I have both been fortunate,” Hap says. “We’ve been the beneficiary of a strong discipline, in Doug’s case coming from me, and in my case from my father’s generation, and they received it from my grandfather and his brothers.”

Watkins & Eager

The law firm of Watkins & Eager was founded in Jackson in 1895 by William Hamilton Watkins. According to his grandson, Bill Goodman, “He came from Jefferson County as the twentieth lawyer in town. He was still here after I started in 1953. He had a wonderful career. I tell people we’ve gotten worse every generation since.”

“He raised me to be a lawyer,” Bill says. “I’ve always told people thank heavens I liked it because I really didn’t have a choice. And I’ve thought about that with my own children. I have a son, a son-in-law and a grandson in the firm. But we like to make the speech that we have 70-something lawyers here and everybody’s family. And I mean that.”

“We know plenty of wonderful organizations that do not have a family aspect, and we know plenty of organizations that didn’t survive because they did have that aspect,” Bill says. “When I came along, I didn’t expect to match up to those who came before me, but I sure didn’t want to fail on my watch.”

“Grandpa started in an office in this block of Capitol Street. In 1929, they opened the Plaza Building. We stayed there sixty years, and when we moved here to the Pavilion twenty years ago, we moved right back next door to where he started. In over 100 years, we’ve only moved twice and less than a block.”