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Passing on a legacy business to the next generation takes grit, grace — and some financial know-how. But how do these families not just survive but thrive?
Three businesses from rural West Virginia to NYC’s Chinatown share what happens when you go beyond the storefront and take part in the community.
It’s very important that the older generation is willing to listen to the younger generation to move forward together.
I love that my daughter is here teaching me.
Hot Sam’s is a dynasty of Detroit style
Hot Sam’s is Detroit style
“Growing up in Detroit, we always had this sense of swag,” Tony Stovall recalls. “During the Depression, men would line up for the soup kitchen dressed in a hat, topcoat, suit, shirt, and tie.”
He’s dressed to impress: a striking gray windowpane jacket, mock neck sweater, and pork pie hat — with a matching pocket square, of course.
Hot Sam’s, the oldest haberdashery in downtown Detroit, was established in 1921, which means they’ve been the epicenter of Detroit fashion for 100 years. Throughout that time, says co-owner Stovall, it has been synonymous with Detroit style, attracting Black celebrities and sartorialists such as Detroit mayor Coleman Young, boxer Joe Louis, and Motown musicians such as the Temptations and the Four Tops.
Today, Hot Sam’s doesn’t feel 100 years old. The store on Monroe Street is laid out in modern lines, offering a hip and stylish display of suits, trousers, shirts, jackets, and accessories. Colors range from the elaborate peacockery of forest green, electric blue chevron, and bright ochre leopard print to the more subdued, everyday wear of pinstripes and gray blazers.
It was also where Stovall’s father took him to get his first actual suit as a teenager: it ended up too short for his growing, 6’2” frame, but that didn’t matter. “I always liked clothes, and I liked dressing.”
It was the 1960s, and while Stovall’s family wasn’t wealthy, his parents always instilled in him the idea that clothes were a way to take pride in your appearance, no matter how much money you made.
“We called it ‘keeping your front on,’” says Stovall.
Clothes also became Stovall’s ticket out of the east side of Detroit. In 1974, he went to work at Hot Sam’s as a salesman.
“I knew that I could expand my wardrobe if I started working at a clothing store and got a big discount,” he says with a big laugh.
Less than a year after he was hired, he became the store’s top salesman, making more than an electrical engineer annually. After working as a salesman for 20 years, he and business partner Cliff Goodwill Green, a fellow Hot Sam’s employee, purchased the store from its original owners.
“At Hot Sam’s, we create images,” says Stovall. “If you want to look like a judge, we will make you like a judge. If you want to look like a hip-hop star, we can create a hip-hop image. If you want to look like a choirboy, or if you want a look for your wedding or prom, we can do whatever you want.”
Keep reading - Hot Sam’s story
Hot Sam’s is a community
To say that Hot Sam’s is a men’s clothing store in downtown Detroit is accurate. But Lauren Stovall, Tony’s daughter and the store’s soon-to-be second-generation owner and legacy preserver, describes the family business as much more than that: “It’s not so much a place where people are coming to shop. Rather, it’s a place where everybody knows your name, where people come to chop it up.”
It was a deliberate strategy, says her father. Stovall and Green installed TVs and couches because they wanted their customers to feel comfortable, sit, and talk about whatever was on their minds — church, marriage, elections — anything.
“I wanted to create a relationship so that when people do decide to buy something,” says Tony, “they’re going to remember Hot Sam’s is the place.”
In the store, Stovall and Green greet customers with fistbumps and hugs. They know their customers’ favorite colors and preferred trouser lengths, but they also know their customers’ birthdays and ask about their family members.
That’s because wrapped into the intricacies of running a business — paying taxes on time, making payroll, and paying utilities — is “being a part of the community,” says Green.
Since 1994, Hot Sam’s has hosted numerous community events for Black communities, such as Dress for Success seminars with the Detroit school system, makeovers for Wayne County Community College, and donating suits to prison re-entry programs.
Lauren remembers her Girl Scout troop raising over $100,000 at a fundraiser for the United Negro College Fund presented by Hot Sam’s. During the pandemic, Hot Sam’s gave away suits to community members who passed away who couldn’t afford them.
“I don’t know any store where you can go in and say, ‘I don’t have any money,’ and you could still walk out of the store with something. We do that here [at Hot Sam’s],” says Lauren.
Hot Sam’s is Black pride and inspiration
Hot Sam’s customer base is majority Black — always has been. The city of Detroit is 77% Black. But only 10% of Detroit businesses are Black-owned.
For this reason, failure was never an option for Hot Sam’s.
“In 1994, the other business owners said we would be out of business in six months — that’s how they felt about Black brothers taking over a business in downtown Detroit. They didn’t think we had the knowledge or the wisdom to run a successful business,” says Green. “We carried the [Black] community on our shoulders. Today we’re the only men’s clothing store left. They’re all gone!”
Stovall’s eyes dance as he recalls his life’s most significant achievement (apart from being married 43 years and his family, that is): “Come on. I worked at a store. And then I bought the store. I don’t know if there’s any bigger dream that you can have!”
“As African Americans, if we could learn to support each other from an economic standpoint, we could be a little bit more powerful in terms of having your word be heard,” says Green.
But by operating a successful business, Stovall and Green say they’re dispelling the misconception that Black people cannot run a business successfully and helping their community realize they can be whatever they want to be.
Stovall says an important part of that mission is mentoring Black businesses. As a founding member of the Detroit Black Chamber of Commerce and sits on the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation and the Detroit Entertainment Commission, Stovall helps teach Black businesses how to get funding, how to get resources, and how to stay in business.
He adds, “If this is our community, and we care about our community, then you must be involved.”
Hot Sam’s is family legacy
“Here’s our story,” says Stovall. “We went through the Depression, the recession, and the pandemic, but Hot Sam’s still rises after 100 years.”
Hot Sam’s longevity, says Lauren, is a testament to the families that run the store and its authenticity. But it also needed her help. “I came in with a new way of doing things and of reaching people, and there was initially a lot of pushback [from her father and Green],” she says. “They had to build up trust in me.”
“Lauren came at a time when we were stuck,” Stovall says. “People were just walking past our store.”
Lauren created a Hot Sam’s website and e-commerce system, sent out customer surveys, and began marketing on social media — which was a boon during the pandemic.
“When I saw the rewards [of her work], I realized my age group should listen to young people a bit more, so we can bridge the gap of our wisdom and their ingenuity,” Stovall explains.
Lauren says her job is to connect the old and the new, to help tell the story of Hot Sam’s past while bringing it to a new generation of customers.
She firmly believes that an essential part of creating a legacy is making a formal succession plan.
“The Black community — my community — does not talk enough about money, even within our families. We operate from that mindset of lack, but we have to know that there is an abundance, that [money] will not run out, that there are finances available to us.
“What does generational wealth look like? What does a succession plan look like? We must get outside of the uncomfortability of these conversations and create a motivation around money. How can I make it move? How can I make it grow? How can I spread it?”
The city of Detroit is 77% Black.
But only 10% of Detroit businesses are Black-owned.
ACS Demographic and Housing Estimates, United States Census 2019
What’s a piece of advice you can give to other generational businesses?
Hot Sam’s co-owner Tony Stovall
and his daughter, Lauren
Tony: It’s very important that you have individuals bringing different skill sets to the entity, whatever business you’re going into. You [should] have a sense of teamwork together. The goal is not about you and him or who the partners are — the goal is making sure the business is successful.
Lauren: Part of being an entrepreneur is [the aspect of] financial risk that you will take because there is something that you believe about what you’re doing.
My father exhibited to me that risk-taking, that endurance, that perseverance [that happens] before success. There’s so much sacrifice that my father and Mr. Green had to make to carry the store on to today.”
The store was vital to my upbringing.
It grounded me in who I am, my relationship to the neighborhood, and my Chinese-American identity.
Wing On Wo & Co. opens doors to build a better community
“For a long time, I called myself ‘owner-in-training,’” says 31-year-old Mei Lum of Wing On Wo & Co., the oldest continually operating shop in New York City’s Chinatown. “It was really challenging for me to take a chance on this opportunity.”
Founded by Lum’s great-great-grandfather in 1890, it began as a general store serving as a safe space during a time of anti-Chinese sentiment.
Like other Chinatowns across the country, Manhattan’s Chinatown began as a means of economic and racial survival for many Chinese immigrants in the city. Wing On Wo & Co. served as an outpost for a wide range of necessities for the small population of Chinese immigrants who came to call New York City their new home. People came to Wing On Wo (which translates to “always peace” in Cantonese) to find food and other familiar items imported from China. At certain points in its long history, it provided mail and money-wiring services. It housed male boarders, a resident herbalist, and even sold roast pork and chicken cooked in the basement.
As Chinatown was forced from its identity as a neighborhood born out of exclusion into a tourist destination, Wing On Wo & Co. stayed in the family. In 1964, Lum’s grandmother and matriarch of the family Nancy Seid inherited the shop from her father and focused only on selling porcelain and antiques for the next 50 years.
Keep reading - Wing On Wo’s story
A pivotal moment
In 2016, Lum’s family considered selling the store and the six-story building that housed it. Her grandfather was ailing, and Seid needed to care for him full time. “It wasn’t about money,” she says. “There just wasn’t a next generation to take over the shop.”
Still, Lum couldn’t bear the idea of Wing On Wo’s potential erasure. Wing On Wo & Co. wasn’t just a business. It also served as the backdrop to so much in her family. It was where her extended family convened for dinners prepared in the small kitchen housed in the back of the store, where her grandfather gave her Chinese lessons after school, where she played games of hide-and-seek with her cousins.
Thinking about the shuttering of the shop and what that could mean for their block, the neighborhood, and the perpetuation of gentrification of Chinatown brought up a lot of critical questions too.
“The store was vital to my upbringing,” Lum explains.
“It grounded me in who I am, my relationship to the neighborhood, and my Chinese-American identity.”
So she signed up to take over the business. “Even though we would’ve gotten more money from selling the building,” she explains, “I wanted to make sure that all generations of our family had a space to convene and support each other in our livelihoods.”
Lum spent her first year at the helm shadowing her grandmother and learning which business processes worked — and which didn’t.
“My family has never been very aggressive about making money,” Lum says. Seid took over Wing On Wo after retirement, and it was never a business run for the family’s survival. “So in terms of talking about profit, those [ideas] weren’t as strategic as I wanted to hear from her,” she adds.
Seid logged her sales on spiral-bound notebooks with penciled-on spreadsheets.
“[My great-aunt] Betty was our inventory system — we would ask her, ‘How many of these things do we have?’ And she would point to where they were stored.”
Modernizing a 130-year-old business
Learning the ropes from her grandmother necessitated new conversations revolving around money — something her family didn’t always speak openly about. “I’d ask Po, ‘How did you run this business? How much were you making? How did you keep it afloat?’” She also invited her family to discuss pricing for their products. “Now when they’re working the register they’ll tell me, ‘This is our revenue for the day,’ which also brings up our financial health.”
As Lum modernized Wing On Wo’s inventory, point-of-sale system, and e-commerce operation, she also listened to her intuition about what felt right, even if it didn’t raise sales or revenue.
“One of the first things I did was to hold free events for the community,” she narrates, laughing. “A lot of people were like, “What the hell is this person doing? She’s not making money, she’s letting people sit in her store for hours on end.”
Focusing on a manageable business strategy, she says, is key for Wing On Wo. “We’re making sure we have enough liquidity to grow at our own pace and not feel rushed to make all the revenue we want,” she says. “Because we’re a community first.“
Today, the vibrant, brick-red Wing On Wo storefront maintains a tin awning. The wooden Chinese sign that hung in front of the store in 1890 is still on the window display. But the store has been transformed into a contemporary hub for Chinese-Americans in New York City, a revitalized community space honoring what Chinatown used to be even as it operates into the future. Delicate tea sets from Hong Kong share space on shelves with zines, cookbooks, and screen printed tote bags.
From the store, Lum also runs the W.O.W. project, a community-based initiative resisting the gentrification and cultural displacement in Chinatown through arts and activism. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, workshops, artists’ residencies, and talks were held at Wing On Wo, which, Lum says, “reinterprets the original incarnation of the storefront, [which were places] to catch up with folks to gossip, to know what’s going on in the neighborhood.”
By putting a spotlight on its long-time residents and culture, Wing On Wo subverts the outsider perception that Chinatown is merely a tourist destination, says Lum — “by staying true to who we are, our history, and ensuring that we’re educating the people who come in here.”
Putting community — and family — first
So far, Lum’s business strategy to put the community first is working: Like many small businesses across the country, COVID-19 spurred Wing On Wo to transition to starting an e-commerce operation. Family members reconfigured their roles within the shop: Lum’s father, Gary, took charge of shipping and handling, and her mother, Lorraine (Seid’s daughter), ran the website and customer service. Seid became a social media favorite with the Instagram series “Po’s Picks,” where she featured her favorite items in the store.
Apart from keeping the business afloat, going online also helped Lum figure out ways for Wing On Wo to support the Black Lives Matter movement and the fight against anti-Asian violence. The store donated a percentage of its profits to various organizations and collaborated with local businesses to support the Chinatown economy.
It was a learning curve for Lum’s family, and a valuable one: “For us, immigrant communities, and BIPOC folks, there’s always a sense of scarcity, or a need to keep on going to survive and create abundance,” Lum says. “My family didn’t right off the bat understand how showing solidarity and building community will set us up for more of a collective mindset in the future.”
But Gary, Lum’s father, says the transfer of generational knowledge has changed his life.
“I’ve opened up my mind and heart about difficult social issues — Black Lives Matter, the LGBTQ+ community — and I have been able to open my Baby Boomer mind to see where my discomfort is around those social issues,” he says. “And in my openly speaking about my discomfort, I found some similarity and commonality with others.” Lum shares her mantra after five years of helming Wing On Wo with her family alongside: “As long as you’re genuine, and you live and stick by your values, the support from the community will come.”
Today Lum happily — and finally — calls herself the owner of Wing On Wo.
“I had such a hang-up about even the title ‘owner,’” she says with a smile. But running Wing On Wo authentically and on her own terms has changed that. “Now, I have the experience to give me confidence and making decisions and taking risks and listening to my intuition.”
What have you learned since Mei took over the business?
Wing On Wo’s fifth-generation owner Mei Lum and her father Gary
Gary: I have accumulated more spiritual capital in the past five years [since Mei took over] than I have in my lifetime. I feel enriched by my contact with creatives, and young people who are trying to find a grain of themselves. I offer them a little part of the beach in our story, and they feel at home for a moment.
One of the key traits of a successful small business is being nimble and willing to change.
When Lucas and I are talking about the business, we always listen to our kids’ ideas because their generation is going to be the next pool of customers that Modern Homestead will need to survive.
Preservation, reinvention, rebirth with Modern Homestead
For the most part, a drive through rural West Virginia is much of the same: wooded hilltops, maple and oak trees peppering the roadside, farm homes, and villages dotting large expanses of land.
At the intersection of State Highway 92 and Route 7 in the town of Reedsville (population: 593), however, is a warm greeting of a house. Painted moss green, lit up in bright lights, and amid a charmingly landscaped garden: This is Modern Homestead.
Owned by married couple Lucas Tatham and Trellis Smith, the establishment — a combination greenhouse, restaurant, gift shop, and guest homes on one block — is unlike any other in the area, the county, or even in the state.
The business occupies properties that were accumulated slowly in the past 15 years, and renovated as a way of preserving Reedsville’s historic spaces. One of them, an old church, is now a gathering space for events and live music.
“Having this business here and restoring these properties awakens a part of West Virginia that was asleep for a while,” Smith says. “Starting Modern Homestead was a way of opening up these homes to people — but we had to find a way to make it financially possible.”
Keep reading - Modern Homestead’s story
How it started
Modern Homestead evolved from Tatham’s Garden Center, a business founded by Tatham’s parents in 1980. What began as a fruit tree-selling hustle had, by the 2000s, evolved into a “mom-and-pop version of a Lowe’s or a Home Depot” with three locations across Preston and Monongalia Counties, 30 employees, and heavy machinery for landscaping services.
By then, Tatham was living and working in New Orleans with Smith. But when Hurricane Katrina upended their shared lives in 2005 — their home flooded, jobs gone, and the city shut down for months — Tatham moved back home to join his parents’ business.
“My dad never really wanted to look at an income statement or a balance sheet and determine what was profitable,” says Tatham. “He treated the business like it was an extension of a hobby. But I was always involved in the business from an advisor standpoint, so I wasn’t afraid to look at the numbers.”
Initially, he worked for his parents, becoming an equal partner with his mother after his dad retired. After scaling down the business to be more profitable, Smith and Tatham bought his mother out and rebranded to Modern Homestead.
“The first time I saw the new signboard, I wasn’t real thrilled because we’d been in business for over 30 years,” admits Lucas’ mother, Joyce. “But, you have to accept change. This is life, and it’s their turn now.”
The eureka moment for the couple came when they bought the 100-year-old historic home in Reedsville, located at a four-way road that received a lot of traffic for the rural area.
Inspired by living in New Orleans and seeing businesses there repurpose historic homes successfully, they decided to set up their greenhouse there and live in the house.
“There are very few businesses like ours that are located in an old house,” Tatham says. “People like that type of character. They’re looking for something different.”
How it’s going
If Tatham handles the numbers, Smith weaves his passion for design into all the aspects of the business.
“Whether I’m helping Lucas with landscaping design and selecting plants for this property, picking out paint colors, or designing guestrooms or creating menus, that design aspect of me is reflected in all of it,” he says, sitting in the main house, alongside English tea sets and amaryllis bulbs. Upbeat pop music pipes in from the speakers, and the smell of freshly-baked cookies lingers.
Trellis Café, which serves baked goods, coffee, and meticulously planned dinners created by Smith, was another way to open up the homes to customers.
“A lot of important things happen over meals, whether it’s a first date, or an anniversary, or a birthday,” Smith explains. “People come here for special occasions, and it’s nice to be a part of that.”
Modern Homestead’s setup — essentially three businesses in one — made it easier for the couple to embrace the seasonality of the garden center and diversify their profit stream.
“When you define your own business, you can set your own rules,” says Tatham.
Initially, it included posting their photos as a couple in all their marketing materials. “I felt that it was important for people to see our faces, identify us with the business and get comfortable with that,” Smith says.
More importantly, it allows them more family time — which, after adopting their sons Jacob, 11, and Trey, 20, became the couple’s biggest priority. “We were one of the first gay, interracial couples that adopted kids in this county, so we’re considered a success story in the area too,” says Smith.
“Once we got our boys, we knew we were going to organize our business so that we could have a life and raise them at the same time,” adds Tatham.
Part of passing on lessons learned from his parents about the value of earning money and running a family business includes the mantra “everyone in the family gets involved.”
“One of my earliest memories is running the cash register in the Garden Center,” recalls Tatham. “I wasn’t tall enough, so I had to stand on a stool. Customers asked, “Are you old enough to check me out? And my response was, ‘Well, I can count!’”
If he and his brother worked, their parents treated them like regular employees.
“We always got paid but in two separate checks. If we made $20, we got one check for $10 that we could cash and another $10 check that went straight into our savings account,” he explains.
Today they motivate their sons to earn money and save the same way. For Smith, running their business means family stability too.
“We want our sons, being adopted, to know they have roots, and they have a foundation that they can build upon, no matter what they do in life. Modern Homestead will be here for them if they would like to carry it on to the next generation. If they decide to do something else, we’re fully supportive of that too.“
One of the key traits of a successful small business is being nimble and willing to change. When Lucas and I are talking about the business, we always listen to our kids’ ideas because their generation is going to be the next pool of customers that Modern Homestead will need to survive.”
Growers of children, community, and plants
Customers come from all over Preston County because Modern Homestead has become a draw, says neighbors Dale and Carolyn McVicker.
“Properties that were falling down are living again,” says Carolyn. “They’ve infused this energy back to the community.”
Smith and Tatham are “growers of community, as well as plants,” says Dale. It’s true: Smith sits on the Reedsville town council, and Tatham is part of the Preston County Economic Development Authority. They both volunteer on different boards.
“We work hard at [civic engagement] because it gives us a chance to get out into the community and helps strengthen our business,” says Smith.
Tatham and Smith are also a living example for inclusivity in Reedsville, says longtime customer Mary Gainer, the local general practitioner. “They’re a same-sex couple in an area where that is a scary thought for a lot of people. For kids who think they might be different, to see Trellis and Lucas have such a loving relationship is amazing.”
But for Smith, the benefit of running a generational business is the extended, shared connections.
“A lot of Lucas’s parents’ customers are now our customers. And now we’re starting to get their children to be our customers,” he says. “It’s a nice exchange.”
Did you want or expect your children to keep your business going?
Modern Homestead co-owner Lucas Tatham (left), his son, Jacob, and his mother Joyce
Joyce: In the back of my mind, I definitely wanted somebody to carry it on, and we’re fortunate that they did. But with Lucas, I didn’t want to hold him back. I think every kid has to have their dreams. If you force somebody into something and they’re not happy, it’s probably not going to go well.