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They Still Do That? 11 Old-Fashioned Businesses That Are Still Thriving

Chad Brooks
Chad Brooks

Think the milkman and the shoe cobbler are a thing of the past? Think again. These quaint businesses have come back from the edge of extinction.

Old Fashioned Businesses

Industries like cobbling and lumberjacking, once staples of the American economy, were pushed to near extinction through the years, victims of an evolving nation and a changing economic landscape. Many, though, have figured how to reinvent themselves, and are now back again and thriving. Some things just never go out of style, like these 11 types of businesses.


Innkeeper/bartender, barkeep, bartender, whatever you want to call it has a long history, longer than that of the United States. Though bars haven't exactly gone out of style, the way drinks are made and presented are ever-evolving, Justin Timberlake even has his own mixologist. Bartenders will forever have jobs, but it is also creating jobs beyond the pub. Makr Shakr has even developed a robot bartender that can serve and create nearly endless drinks. The old is new again. 


The art of hairstyling has been with humans since the ancient world; in fact, the earliest razors date back to the Bronze Age in 3500 BC. The skill continued to evolve and, in the 19th century, barbershops became especially influential to American communities. While many salons and barbers have updated with the times, there are still plenty that keep in touch with their roots and maintain tradition.

Today, barbershops like Old Tyme Barbers in Midtown hearken back to the classic style and atmosphere the older days. Old Tyme Barbers was established in 1929 and has retained its nostalgic quality for four generations.


Prior to the 1960s, the majority of homes in the United States had milk delivered straight to their front doors. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, most consumers could only get milk via home delivery. Milkmen quickly became staples of the neighborhood, spending their days riding horses from house to house and delivering milk to those who needed it. As the year's progressed, milkmen transitioned into driving refrigerated trucks, but their responsibilities stayed the same. However, as refrigerators replaced iceboxes in the 1950s and 60s, regular milk-delivery became unnecessary.

While the role of the milkman faded, it hasn't vanished altogether. Today, a number of businesses in communities throughout the United States offer home milk-delivery service. Among them are Illinois-based Oberweis Dairy, which delivers milk to tens of thousands of homes each year, and Massachusetts' Thatcher Farm, which has delivered milk for more than 100 years.

Local Breweries

Americans have brewed beer since the early days of the original Virginia colonies in the late 1500s. By the early 1600s, the first known brewery had opened in today's Manhattan. Small breweries became an important industry in the United States, fueled by high levels of immigration from traditional beer-drinking counties like Ireland and Germany. However, Prohibition in the 1920s nearly put an end to small breweries for good.

When the government lifted the alcohol restrictions in 1933, large brewing companies began to take hold of the industry. By the 1970s, only a few dozen breweries remained in the United States. Over the next 20 years, many in the country began experimenting with brewing their own beer at home, which eventually led to the creation of microbreweries. As the quality of beer from these small breweries improved, so did their popularity. The Brewers Association reports that the number of craft brewers has grown from eight in 1980 to more than 1,600 in 2010, and the majority of Americans now live within 10 miles of a brewery, such as Avondale Brewery in Birmingham, Ala., and the Blue Point Brewing Company in Long Island, NY. [See Related Story: How to Start Your Own Craft Brewery]

Doctors who make house calls

Before the days of hospitals and doctor's offices, patients could only receive medical attention if a physician treated them in the comfort of their own homes. By the start of the 1970s, however, doctors began realizing that seeing patients in an office would prove more efficient, allowing the treatment of significantly more people.

While house-call doctors had become nearly non-existent in the 1980s and 90s, they have started making a comeback in recent years. Today, many house-call doctors specialize in treating seniors and those with illness or diseases that prevent them from leaving the home. Among those offering such services is Mobile Doctors, which operates in eight different cities across the country. House-call doctors have also spawned a new breed of physicians who practice "concierge medicine." These doctors operate without the constraints of insurance rules and regulations. Their service isn';t cheap, however. Patients wanting concierge services can expect to pay a yearly retainer fee of a $1,500 on top of the charge for each visit.


From New England to the Pacific Northwest, industrial logging has played a large role in the country's history. Logging dates back to the early settlers of the 1600s, but took off in the mid 1800s, from Maine through the rest of New England. And as Americans began their move farther west, so did the lumberjacks. At the time, lumberjacks were exclusively men who lived in logging camps with up to 100 other workers. They labored tirelessly, sending billions of pieces of timber to the mills each year.

While that kind of lumberjacking may have faded away following World War II, the logging industry has not. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that more than 53,000 loggers currently work in the United States, and projects the industry to grow by 4 percent over the next 7 years. Logging has gotten renewed attention in recent years, too, thanks to reality television. The History Channel's "Ax Men" and the Discovery Channel's "American Loggers"; have shined a light on the industry and the danger of the work. Among the logging companies that have benefited from their appearance on reality TV are Oregon's J.M. Browning Logging, which has been in operation for more than 25 years, and the family-run Rygaard Logging, which has knocked down timber in the state of Washington for more than two decades.

Grocery Delivery

Grocery delivery has existed in the United States since the 1800s. Originally, families would send a list of items, first by letter and later by phone, to their local general store. A clerk at the store would then collect the requested items and deliver them straight to the customer. However, as supermarkets became more popular with shoppers, the role of the grocery delivery boy diminished. In recent years, though, the delivery service has seen a resurgence with the creation of companies that specialize in bringing groceries directly to the shopper's home in the name of sheer convenience. Peapod has led the rebirth, delivering more than 22 million orders across 24 U.S. markets. This service allows shoppers to select their groceries and delivery time and date via the Internet. The success of Peapod has spawned a number of similar companies, including Netgrocer and We Go Shop.

Ice Delivery

One of the most common needs among Americans before the advent of the refrigerator was ice. Most homes had an icebox that kept their perishable items cold, and those devices needed ice, which people mainly obtained through delivery services. Ice deliverymen would lug blocks of ice weighing as much as 100 pounds to homes throughout the area. The deliverymen would take the ice straight to the kitchen and then chisel the block down to the perfect size for each icebox. The need for ice delivery vanished when most homes in the United States replaced their iceboxes with refrigerators. <p>While weekly home delivery might not exist any longer, many people still use the service in general. Specifically, a number of businesses, such as Muzzy Ice Service in Nebraska and the Ice Taxi in California, specialize in delivering bags if ice to parties, carnivals, sporting events, weddings and other events.


When the first settlers began making their way from Europe to the United States, shoemaking was among the most popular professions. Known as cobblers, these men would spend their days making shoes and boots from leather, handcrafting pairs specifically for each customer. The requirements of a cobbler began to change following the Revolutionary War, when companies started mass-producing more shoes. Instead of selling shoes directly to shoppers, cobblers started selling them to merchants, who in turn sold them to consumers.

By the end of the 19th century, nearly all shoes were manufactured in factories, and not handmade by cobblers. While the role of the cobbler dissipated during this time, the profession has seen a resurgence in recent decades. Instead of making shoes, however, 21st century cobblers focus on fixing them. Today, cobblers repair broken soles and heels and refinish worn-out leather. They are a favorite of cost-conscious consumers who prefer the cheaper option of fixing an old shoe, rather than buying a new pair. Shoe-repair shops, such as Michigan's King's Shoe Repair and Oregon's Derek's Shoe Repair and Accessories, are found in many communities throughout the country.

Knife Sharpeners

As was the case with cobblers, knife sharpening was a popular profession among many U.S. immigrants in the 1600s and 1700s. During that time, the craftsmen would set up shop in front of their homes and sharpen knives using nothing but water and a grindstone. Knife sharpeners played a critical role in 1800s and early 1900s communities, as many U.S. residents could not afford to buy new knives each time their old ones went dull. As the years went on, knife sharpeners began opening their own shops and using electric equipment to ease the grinding the process.

While the average consumer today doesn't often use a knife sharpener, the food service industry regularly calls upon the craftsmen's services. Chefs, butchers and restaurants across the country turn to their local knife sharpeners, such as Southern California's Gary's Knife Sharpening Service, to keep the tools of the trade in proper working condition. While the original knife sharpeners spent most of their time grinding the blade away, today's sharpeners, like those at Chicago's Art of Sharp, use a multiple-step process that includes cleaning and straightening the blade, as well as sharpening and honing it.

Family Farming

The agriculture and farming industries have held a prominent role throughout the country's history. Until the Great Depression, agriculture was America's predominant industry. Farmers were responsible for putting food on the tables of every home, and they worked from sunup to sundown to produce enough food. Throughout the early 1900s, the nation had an abundance of farms. But many family farms went out of businesses after World War II because of large factory farms that used emerging technology to increase productivity.

The surviving family farms have seen a rebirth of sorts in recent years, as health-conscious consumers have become more concerned about the origins of their food. More than ever, shoppers seek locally grown and raised vegetables and meats. The United States Environmental Protection Agency reports that just over 2 million farms operate in the United States today, more than three-quarters of which are family farms, such as Kansas's Schenker Family Farms, which specialize in farm-fresh meats, and California's Rutiz Family Farms, which grows pesticide-free, organically fertilized vegetables, berries and flowers.

Additional reporting by Adam C. Uzialko and Shannon Gausepohl.

Image Credit: Maxpetac / Getty Images
Chad Brooks
Chad Brooks
Business News Daily Staff
Chad Brooks is a writer and editor with more than 20 years of media of experience. He has been with Business News Daily and for the past decade, having written and edited content focused specifically on small businesses and entrepreneurship. Chad spearheads coverage of small business communication services, including business phone systems, video conferencing services and conference call solutions. His work has appeared on The Huffington Post,,, Live Science, IT Tech News Daily, Tech News Daily, Security News Daily and Laptop Mag. Chad's first book, How to Start a Home-Based App Development Business, was published in 2014.