On Main Street in Purcellville, the mom and pop shop is still alive and thriving. From jewelry design to farm equipment to propane gas, family-owned businesses are welcoming back the next generations. The common secret seems to be this: no pressure but a big welcome if the kids decide to jump in. The Purcellville Business Association will honor several of these multi-generational businesses at a luncheon later this month.
Design in the Family at Hunt CountryJewelers
It all started because Ed Cutshall didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps and go to dental school. Instead, he went to the Gemological Institute of America and became a jewelry designer and goldsmith. Ed’s son, Logan, has followed in his father’s footsteps and is an award-winning designer in his own right. At the family’s Hunt Country Jewelers on Main Street, father and son are the creative team while Ed’s wife Claire does everything from stone cutting to bookkeeping, and Logan’s wife Carolyn Christensen Cutshall handles sales and marketing.
Ed and Claire Cutshall moved their business from Great Falls to Hillsboro in 1990, then snagged a storefront in downtown Purcellville in 2013 when their son and daughter-in-law came on board. Logan, a 2001 Loudoun Valley grad, started working at the shop as a teen and attended the Gemological Institute while earning a degree in geosciences from Virginia Tech.
“Making jewelry was a skill that my dad wanted me to have growing up,” Logan said. “One summer during my high school years, he asked me not to mow lawns and sit down and start learning the trade. … It was more of a failsafe, something I could fall back on, and that part of it I’ve always been very appreciative of … I actually wound up enjoying many different parts of it.”
“We didn’t want to force him to be in the business, but we also wanted him to know what we did,” Claire said. “It turned out he has a pretty good affinity for it.”
The Cutshalls occupy a unique niche in the jewelry design world, creating unique pieces from uncut stones and overseeing every step in the process, from cutting stones to design to casting metal to selling retail.
Claire, who said she doesn’t have a creative bone in her body, turned out to be a whiz at the more technical lapidary bench cutting stones. Carolyn, also a Loudoun Valley grad with a background in performing arts and a master’s degree in arts administration, has also thrown herself into the family business—starting with doing holiday windows for the shop.
“[My background] certainly did dovetail into managing an artistic, one of a kind jewelry business, but it started because Claire really hates to decorate,” Carolyn said. “I started seasonally doing all the decorations, and it didn’t take very long before that turned into taking shifts and helping answer phones. From that first Christmas, it’s been almost a decade and I’ve never left.”
The dynamics of a family business can be intense, but for the Cutshalls, it’s a good fit.
“I never expected to have a daughter in law who could jump right in and do everything,” Claire said. “We’re in it together. …We’re a tight foursome and I like that very much.”
“It’s fun to have projects and goals to work on together,” Carolyn said. “I tell people who come in the store, not everybody could work with their in-laws, and I do. And I love it.”
Logan and Carolyn have two young sons and are expecting baby number three this month. Four-year-old Guy is already interested in the microscope to his grandparents’ delight, but mom and dad said there won’t be any pressure.
“In a small business it really is a 24/7 deal. When you work with your spouse and your family, the good thing about that 24/7 workday is you get to spend the workday with people you enjoy,” Logan said. “Any job has its challenges, but we play off each other really well. It’s nice to be able to ask questions amongst each other and know that we’re going to get honest feedback. …When we mess up, we all know it, and when we do something great, we all know it.”
Browning Equipment: Serving Loudoun Agriculture Through the Decades
Jeff Browning worked as an industrial engineer for a decade before returning to Purcellville to join the family business and raise his own kids. And while there wasn’t any pressure, he was welcomed back with open arms.
“To my parents’ credit, there was never a demand that you’re going to come back and do this, so that allowed it for both my dad and me to be a choice,” Browning said. “It was a real gift that it was handled that way.”
The company that’s now Browning Equipment started in the 1940s as Whitmore and Arnold, a franchise of the International Harvester agricultural equipment company, at a time when dairy farms dotted Loudoun’s landscape. Jeff’s dad, Rey Browning, worked for International Harvester and connected with the original partners, Bill Whitmore and Bob Arnold, as clients. Around the time of Whitmore’s death, Rey Browning was invited to join the company and came on as a junior partner in 1967. The family moved to Purcellville from Maryland, and Jeff started third grade at Emerick Elementary School.
In 1980, Rey and Carol Browning bought the business from Arnold and from the Whitmore estate and changed the name to Browning Equipment in 1985. Jeff worked summers at the store from the time he was 16, but worked a series of engineering jobs after graduating from the University of Virginia in 1981. In the early ’90s, his parents invited him to join the management team and he accepted. Rey Browning died of cancer in 2005, and Jeff took over the business.
“Working with my father was easy because we had similar business ethics and belief in community and that we’re here to serve the community and if we do that we’re going to succeed,” Jeff said. “I think for our employees when Dad got sick it was comforting for them to know that there was continuity in the business.”
Carol, now in her 80s, still works part-time for the company in administration.
“We both felt strongly that he should work other places before he ever had to make a decision to know for sure that that’s what he wanted to do,” Carol said. “He’s done a great job.”
Jeff’s children, Ben and Natalie, are in their early 20s, are both UVA grads and have promising careers of their own. Like her dad, Natalie got her start working summers in the service department at the family shop, and the door is still open for the third generation.
“I’m going to play it the same way Mom and Dad did with me and say there’s no expectations,” Jeff said.
He said business has stayed strong thanks in part to the company’s ability to adapt to Loudoun in the 21st century, carrying equipment lines that are well-suited for the small farms, vineyards and equestrian businesses in contemporary Loudoun, while maintaining old-school values. Of Browning’s 35 employees, several have been there from the Whitmore and Arnold days, including two who are at or approaching 60 years with the company.
“It’s powerful,” Jeff said. “We’re always trying to serve the community and the community has been kind to us as well.”
Changing with the Times at Valley Energy
Bill Murphy’s parents, Walter and Lorraine Murphy, started Capitol Fuel in the 1960s as a residential coal service and then caught the next wave to heating oil, serving the entire metro region from their Fairfax County base. When Bill and his sister, Mary Murphy Jones, took the reins, the company got a new name—Valley Energy—shifted its focus to propane gas and moved to Main Street in Purcellville in 1997. Now, two of Murphy’s six children, Meghan Murphy Kulinski and her younger brother Tim Murphy, are the third generation to help run the company.
“I think it’s just in our blood,” Kulinski said. “We all grew up during breaks working here doing something through high school and college.”
For Bill Murphy, watching his children get involved and make changes has been a natural evolution, in the same way his parents moved from coal to oil more than 50 years ago.
“I think the common thread from my parents to us to Meghan and Tim is that the business is always evolving,” he said. “Operations don’t really change. You still need the truck, you still need the drivers … but how you do business really changes over the years.”
Kulinski initially considered a different path out of college, but was offered a job with the family business in the early 2000s as the company was making a shift in business strategy to focus on propane gas. Tim Murphy came on board in 2009 when he graduated from college and the company needed help implementing new software.
“I thought I’d come help with that while I was looking for another job and fell in love with the business and all aspects of it,” he said. Ten years later, he helps run operations, while Kulinski works with human resources and other behind the scenes roles. Meghan and Tim are now raising their own families in Purcellville.
“This is exactly where I want to raise my kids. Our customers are our friends and neighbors. We’re intertwined and part of the community,” Kulinski said. “Our kids will see our trucks going by and know Valley Energy. They’re proud of it.”
And that fourth generation is now helping to stuff envelopes and take on small tasks, just like their parents did as kids.
“Some things never change,” Tim Murphy said.
The Purcellville Business Association luncheon, which will pay tribute to some of the town’s multi-generational businesses, takes place Tuesday, Nov. 12 from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Loudoun Golf and Country Club in Purcellville. Tickets are $30 and can be purchased online atpurcellvillebusiness.orgor at the door.