America's character abides in its small businesses. From Amish furniture makers to boutique breweries to family firms that still provide half the jobs in town, these companies are as compelling and distinctive as their owners and regions. Spend a few weeks navigating interstates and back roads from Seattle to Tallahassee. (Hey, gas is cheap.) You'll learn more about character, creativity, and resilience than you will in a year thumbing around your phone. You will also meet remarkable people. And you'll understand that sometimes it's OK not just to act local, but also to think that way.

All these businesses may not have mission statements. But they all have stories. Over the coming months we will bring you one of those stories every week.

Rescuing Savannah's Southern Charm, One Building at a Time

The Southern Pine Company will move mountains to save a historic structure or turn around a life.

Need an Alligator Head? This Guy Can Hook You Up

Forget the beads. Nothing says New Orleans like a preserved alligator head.

The Near-Death and Rebirth of a Local News Business

Daily Voice tries a new model for bringing hyper-local news to the New York suburbs.

The Centuries-Old Buffalo Recipe Transforming a Troubled Community

The buffalo was once everything to Native Americans. On a reservation in South Dakota, a healthy-snack company believes it can be again.

How This Tiny Baseball Bat Company Made the Big Leagues

Phoenix Bats evolved from a niche vintage business into a maker of bats coveted by professional ballplayers.

The One-Stop Shop for Builders, Inventors, and Magicians

McGuckin Hardware has toppled larger competitors and become an institution in Boulder, Colorado by offering an unmatched level of involvement with its customers' projects.

How This 'Mad Scientist' Helped Shape the Music of Jack White, Trent Reznor, and ZZ Top

For years, Zachary Vex remained on the periphery of the Minneapolis music scene. Nowadays, though, some of the biggest rock stars in the world are lining up to buy his company's effects pedals.

The Successful Leather Shop Straight out of 'Portlandia'

Tanner Goods has created a signature brand by tapping into its quirky community of local artists.

A Startup Capturing the Spirit--and Spirits--of New England

Three decades after helping Boston Beer's successful launch, Rhonda Kallman is bringing Olde Towne pride to the liquor business with Boston Harbor Distillery.

Why America's Greatest Artists Come to a Tiny Shop in Kansas City to Do Their Work

Printmaker Michael Sims never intended to open a business, but over more than three decades he's built Lawrence Lithography Workshop into a supplier for some of the country's most prominent art galleries and museums.

A Company That's All About Pets, People, and the Planet

When Montana-based West Paw Design can't find green materials for its pet supplies, it just invents its own.

A Honey Company With 120 Years of History and One Oscar Nomination

Ben Lanier battles weather, disease, and pesticides to keep his bees in shape to produce his family business's signature tupelo honey.

This Company Put Transparency and Flat Management to the Test--And It Worked

Iowa's The Sky Factory has thrown out traditional corporate structure in favor of decision-making by consensus and equal say for all employees.

This Texas Gas Station Turned Camels and Karaoke Into a $30 Million Business

Fuel City, an eight-acre complex where customers can sing a country tune, take a swim, and pet a zebra before filling up their tank, is the embodiment of the adage that everything is bigger in Texas.

Meet the Tiny Tennessee Company Supplying Pearls to Tiffany

For the founder's daughter, now the CEO, American Pearl Company is a living legacy to her father's vision--and her own grown-up priorities.

This Shop Has Everything, Even a Secret Cave

A store in a ritzy beach town that connects to an underwater cave--the only one accessible by land along the California coast.

What This Entrepreneur Learned About Business From Her Great-Great-Great Grandfather

J.Q. Dickinson Salt Works is a modern revival of a long-defunct West Virginia company the founders' ancestors started in 1817.

Everywhere You Find a 4th of July Celebration, This Company Is There

Pennsylvania's Zambelli Fireworks has been lighting up the sky at Independence Day festivities, sporting events, and a host of historic occasions for more than a century.

The Idaho Family Business Keeping the West Wild

Cowboy Cordage has become the go-to source for the ranchers and rodeo stars whose livelihoods depend on a well-made rope.

How Chicago's Weirdest Bookstore Keeps Its Edge

While its surroundings go mainstream, Quimby's Bookstore remains a haven for a clientele that prefers its reading material extra strange.

This Shop Brought Ivy League Style to the South (With an Assist From Michael Jordan)

Julian's became a fashion pioneer by deftly blending a preppy New England look with the traditional.

This Company Turns Tons of Old Sails Into Tons of Cash

Started as a hobby, Maine's Sea Bags has developed into a hip, eco-friendly accessories brand that's growing by 40 percent a year.

When a Las Vegas Casino Needs a Good Dealer, This Is the Place They Call

Nick Kallos set out for Las Vegas with $57 in his pocket. Today his Casino Gaming School has trained 11,000 members of the work force that makes Sin City go.

Why Customers Are Flocking to This Southwest Popsicle Shop

Family-owned Pop Fizz is cooling off scorching-hot Albuquerque with its frozen treats--while trying to revitalize the image of its neighborhood.

Meet the Utah Company That Built the World's Longest Zip Line

Park City, Utah's ZipRider builds 50-mile-per-hour automated zip lines that thrill riders while providing ski resorts with lucrative off-season business.

Detroit's One-Stop Shop for All Things Metaphysical

Tarot and Tea is helping to revitalize its neighborhood by offering card readings, astrology readings, and even spiritual cleansing for homes and offices.

How This Company Turned 3,000 Donated Bicycles Into 400 Percent Growth

Seattle-based Miir has turned designs for better water bottles, bikes, and bags into a model of sustainable giving and deals with REI and Patagonia.

This Entrepreneur Turned Her $1,500 Life Savings Into a Gardening Empire

Innovative floral designs from Graceful Gardens are transforming the urban landscape of Philadelphia.

The New York Bakery That Hires Everyone, No Questions Asked

Greyston Bakery's delicious cookies and brownies are helping fuel its ambitious mission to create jobs and eradicate homelessness.

This Business Is Crossing 'Six Feet Under' With 'Pimp My Ride'

With hearses built from Rolls-Royce and hot rod parts, Rosewood Classic Coaches sends its clients out in style.

The Incredibly Inspiring Journey of a Blind Entrepreneur Who Built a $70 Million Company

Isaac Lidsky has been a child actor and a Supreme Court clerk. For his third act, he has overcome blindness to turn ODC Construction into a thriving business.

This Company Wants to Add a Wee Bit of Scotland to Your Wardrobe

When one of her children was diagnosed with leukemia, Regina Davan was forced to change her career plans. Ultimately it would lead her to found Alt.Kilt, a flourishing custom kilt-making business.

The Hipster Hardware Store That Has Home Depot Scared

Why Nest, Tesla, and Big Ass Fans love Treehouse, a Texas alternative to big-box stores.

This Company's Work Is All Over (and Under) New York

Poly Molding, a construction-material business passed down among three generations of family owners, has helped build portions of some of the New York City area's most iconic structures.

How This Entrepreneur Built a Family-Friendly Fun House Empire

Owen Trailers' over-the-top fun houses, haunted houses, and mirror mazes have been thrilling adults and children alike for decades

The Tiny Furniture Company Giving Ex-Cons a Second Chance

In a small town in the Montana Rockies, Gracie Furniture is generating six-figure sales with a work force made up of former prison inmates.

A Store Where Every Saturday Is Black Friday

The Garment District, an 'alternative department store' in Cambridge, Massachusetts, attracts a constant throng of hipsters, college students, and others in search of bulk and vintage clothes at dirt-cheap prices.

Why Google Is Studying This 300-Year-Old Business

The John Stevens Shop has been carving stones the old-fashioned way since before it was old-fashioned.

Now You Can Get an Entire Church Delivered on Demand

Portable Church Industries provides hundreds of congregations with everything they need to set up for Sunday services in a matter of minutes.

This Tiny Alaskan Company Is the General Motors of Dogsleds

One-person-business Laughing Husky Enterprises keeps mushers moving in the punishing conditions near the Arctic Circle.

Without This Store, Mardi Gras Would Be Just Another Tuesday

Vieux Carré Hair Shop has been outfitting participants in the annual New Orleans celebration in flamboyant wigs and makeup since the 19th century.

How This Stunning Instagram Feed Is Selling Old-School Flannel Shirts

Unable to find a wide audience in the U.S., outdoor gear maker Topo Designs accidentally reached one on the other side of the world.

This Company Makes $50 Million a Year Selling Sexy Orthotics

Meet the Brooklyn foot-care company forcing Dr. Scholl's to play copycat.

These Businesses Are Why America's Romance With Entrepreneurs Endures

Here's to the stores, manufacturers, and services that help to give American communities character and bring the people who live there together.

This Company Makes Fake Human Eyeballs an Art Form

The mother-and-son team behind Erickson Labs Northwest create incredibly lifelike replicas for patients who have lost an eye.

This Ohio Company Is Finally Bringing Air Travel Back to Its Glory Days

Goodfolk & O'Tymes Biplane Rides is keeping alive a nearly hundred-year-old barnstorming tradition.

The Surprising, Boozy Rise of an Island Moonshiner

The Daufuskie Island Rum Company has grown across the Southeast--while operating on a South Carolina island that lacks a single bridge or road to the mainland.

Meet the World's Tiniest, Quirkiest Postal Service

The brother-and-sister team behind Leafcutter Designs turns whimsical art projects into must-have books and gifts.

How This Prairie Tradition Became a Multimillion-Dollar Business

Seth McGinn's CanCooker has become a staple at campsites, tailgate parties, and practically everywhere else people come to satisfy a big hunger.

How This Vermont Sock Company Became a $40 Million Business in a Town of 3,000

Why a generation of outdoors enthusiasts wouldn't dream of covering their feet with anything other than Vermont's Darn Tough socks.

Why Running a Private Detective Business Is as Wild as You Think It Is

Leigh Hearon went from working at Microsoft to investigating high-profile murder cases as the founder of a private detective agency in Seattle.

Why Thousands of People Are Buying This $100 Rubber Duck

Pi lab started out making traditional consumer electronics, but found its biggest hit with a high-tech spin on a classic children's toy.

How This Husband and Wife Created a Bike You Can Ride on Ice

Water Bikes of Buffalo is helping to revitalize its home city with a fleet of unusual bicycles that really go off-road.

How 900 Nude Mannequins Kick-Started This Founder's Million-Dollar Business

Judi Henderson-Townsend's customers never seem to run out of uses for secondhand fiberglass mannequins.

The 77-Year-Old Cowboy Bringing Pianos Into the 21st Century

The Daynes family's piano business has been a hugely important resource for musicians in Utah ever since the mid-1800s.

This Philadelphia Ice Cream Business Is Serving Up a Double Scoop of Weird

Little Baby's Ice Cream has been steadily growing a reputation for both its flavors and its strangeness.

Why These Identical Twins Dream of a Chicago Without Baldness

With help from the Windy City's sports heroes, Restore is bringing in $5 million a year transforming bald men's heads.

How This 30-Year-Old Farm Used Turmeric and Poppies to Build a $50 Million Business

A farm in a verdant region of North Carolina is the centerpiece of Gaia Herbs' $50 million natural supplements business.

How This Family-Run Farm Is Turning Goat's Milk Soap Into a Cash Crop

The Johnson family's eight young children--and 14 goats--have helped build the Bend Soap Company into a big success in the natural-products market.

Before Elvis Was the King, This Is Where He Shopped

Over 111 years, Reed's department store has become as synonymous with Tupelo, Mississippi, as the town's famous native son.

How a Laid-Off IT Guy Built a Million-Dollar Nutcracker Empire

After losing his job, Glenn Crider turned his side business making nutcrackers and other holiday knickknacks into a million-dollar operation.

How This Entrepreneur Bet His Life Savings on Building a Better Sun Umbrella--and Won

The Ultimate Umbrella Company is bringing beautiful new designs to a product not known for innovation.

Why Celebrities Pay Thousands of Dollars for This Colorado Couple's Cowboy Hats

The husband-and-wife owners of Colorado Hats use both new technology and old-school construction methods to make high-end custom hats that draw customers from miles away.

This Kansas Company Has Invented the Lamborghini of Farming Machines

Built on a bus chassis, Stinger Ltd.'s vehicles save farmers countless hours baling and stacking hay.

How This Former Outback Steakhouse Waitress Built a $2.8 Million Retail Brand

Cheekys Brand has tapped into a lucrative, overlooked market with apparel and sassy slogans appealing to country dwellers.

Enchanted Forest, Pygmy Goats, Cinderella's Coach: Meet the Quirkiest Family Business in Maryland

Featuring animals, rides, and giant sculptures from an old amusement park, Clark's Elioak Farm welcomes more than 100,000 visitors a year.

This Camping Company Makes $8 Million From Catering to Indoorsy People

Under Canvas offers high-end 'glamping' experiences to customers who love the outdoors but don't love to rough it.

The One Company for All Your Pokemon and Harry Potter Makeup Needs

Nerds of all stripes flock to Shiro Cosmetics' website for eye shadow, nail polish, and other accessories to complement their character costumes.

How This Made-in-America Bell Company Has Kept the Business Going Since 1832

Bevin Bells, one of the last vestiges of a once-booming American industry, dates back nearly two centuries.

This Guy Invented a 'House Hydrant' and Now Everyone Wants One

Aquor has invented an ingenious outdoor water faucet inspired by the boatbuilding industry in the company's Washington hometown.

Beyond Peanut M&Ms: How a Theater Geek Is Reinventing Broadway Concessions

Sweet Hospitality Group keeps the entertainment going during intermission at the concession stands of some of The Great White Way's most celebrated theaters.

Fortune Telling Can Be a Million-Dollar Business. Just Ask This Company

When you need a fortune-teller or other kitschy animatronic figure to advertise your business, Characters Unlimited has you covered.

How This Family Built a $15 Million Business Around Melting Ice

CALMAC's cooling systems keep office workers comfortable and ice skaters happy all over the world.

This Might Be the Most Unusual Massage Business in the Country

Through her company Equissage, Mary Schreiber has improved the quality of life for countless horses--as well as for herself.

Where the Heck Did All Those $2 Paper Eclipse Glasses Come From? Meet the Guy Who Made 40 Million, Just in Time

American Paper Optics, maker of 3-D glasses and protective eyewear for eclipses, is getting a huge boost from the cosmos.

Why Steven Spielberg and the CEO of Staples Paid Thousands for This Company's Weather Vanes

Martha's Vineyard's elite wait years and spend large sums for weather vanes and other custom metal artwork from Tuck & Holand.

The $50 Million Juice Company That Got Its Start in a Family Station Wagon

Marygrace Sexton has grown Natalie's Island Juice Company into a thriving business through good timing and a refusal to compromise on her products.

What Can You Do With an $81,000 Game Show Prize? Start a World-Famous Bagpipe Business

Dave Atherton's eponymous Illinois business has become the go-to resource for bagpipers looking for the perfect sound.

When Hurricane Harvey Hit Houston, This Family-Run Hotel Fully Realized Its Mission

The owners of Hotel Ylem like a good cause. When Hurricane Harvey arrived, they got one.

How 2 Twin Brothers Turned Boston's Love of Sports Into Big Business

The D'Angelo family's apparel and memorabilia company, '47, has gained a massive following far beyond Fenway Park.

This Entrepreneur Created a Beautiful Artisanal Product--and Then Turned It Into Something People Buy on Amazon

At Analog Watch Company, Lorenzo Buffa is creating designs with natural materials never before used in watches, jewelry, and other products.

How a $100,000 Tortoise Keeps This Family Business a $4 Million Operation

In the Black Hills of South Dakota, Reptile Gardens attracts more than 300,000 visitors a year to its giant collection of slithering creatures.

How The Owners of This Tiny Bakery Bounced Back From Their Food Network Disaster

Kimmee Masi never fully realized her musical dreams, but the bakery she opened has made her a rock star in her New Jersey shore community.

Why This $17 Million Company Wants to Be the Ultimate First Job for Student-Athletes

Meathead Movers has a mission to get both its customers and its employees to new places in their lives.

Dreaming of Opening a Small Business? Talk to These Brothers in Vermont First

Year after year, Dan and Matt Fraser keep their Norwich, Vermont general store running by working 90-hour weeks and rarely taking a single day off.

Making Stained Glass Is Complicated and Amazing. This Company's Been Doing It for 94 Years

Columbus, Ohio's Franklin Art Glass Studios has been crafting beautiful, intricate designs for nearly a century.

This 78-Year-Old Founder Still Works 10 Hours a Day at His Family-Run Business. Here's Why

Even Richmond's most fashion-challenged consumers leave Franco's Fine Clothier ready for the cover of 'GQ.' Franco Ambrogi sees to that personally.

How This 60-Year-Old Company Reinvented the Humble Kitchen Whisk

Best Manufacturers, the sole U.S. maker of kitchen whisks, has innovated everything you can put in a pot.

If You Need a Gorgeous Hot Tub--and a Ruler--These Are the Entrepreneurs for You

Maine Cedar Hot Tubs uses boat-building techniques to craft high-end wooden tubs for house-proud buyers. Oh, and it makes rulers, too.

A Tiny Minnesota Town Now Has Fast Wi-Fi and New Jobs, All Thanks to This Chain Mail Startup

Ada, Minnesota, has fast internet, expanded post office hours, and new jobs thanks to Weave Got Maille, a manufacturer of chain mail supplies.

How a 91-Year-Old Who Doesn't Watch Movies Revived This Iconic Kansas City Drive-In Theater

The Boulevard Drive-In, in Kansas City, Kansas, is both a digital pioneer and sweet shot of nostalgia. Its nonagenarian owner loves people. Movies, not so much.

This Family Lost Its Footwear Company in the Iranian Revolution. Now, It Makes 1.2 Million Shoes a Year in Georgia

Iranian heritage, Japanese design, and a made-in-America commitment powered three decades of growth. Now Okabashi is letting its green flag fly.

Meet the Company Behind Thousands of America's Favorite Mascots

Kinkaid Karacters is a pioneering builder of corporate and team mascots, and teaches people how not to hurt someone while wearing a giant head.

This Decades-Old Toy Company Is the Last of Its Kind. Here's How It Survived

Pummeled by outsourcing and video games, Marble King finds new homes for its products in spray paint cans, women's boutiques, and the occasional blockbuster movie.

This Tiny Company in Wyoming Spins Over 15,000 Pounds of Wool For Retailers Across the Country

Buy a sweater from Mountain Meadow Wool and you can trace it back to the ranch where it started--and help keep a Western tradition alive.

This Guy Is Proving $70 Custom Vampire Fangs Aren't Just for Halloween Anymore

Kaos Kustom Fangs tricks you out like your favorite vampire or werewolf.

He Built a Better Wrench and Logged $60 Million in Sales. Now He's Fighting for His Company's Survival

Loggerhead Tools exulted over its $6 million judgment against Sears and a supplier for copying its Bionic Wrench. Now that decision is gone and the company's fate is back in flux.

This 90-Year-Old Electric Grill Company Is Enjoying Newfound Fame--Thanks to the World Series-Winning Boston Red Sox

Connecticut-based Kenyon Grill is a 90-year-old business with a winding history and a lucrative partnership with America's best baseball team.

Inside the $400 Million Family-Run Supermarket That Helped Launch Martha Stewart and Paul Newman

Stew Leonard's, America's most entertaining retailer, chose to grow slowly to preserve its family-friendly, quirky personality.

Published on: Mar 23, 2015