Rubin: Born in 1893, Lachman & Co. ages gracefully
Stick around for 123 years and you generate a few stories, like the one about the fire.
That was 1943. Sol Lachman had died on the operating table seven years earlier — they were clumsy with brain tumors back then — but his widow was running the jewelry business, and Dora was tough.
She sifted through the rubble of Lachman & Co. the next day, found whatever wasn’t ruined, rented a storefront across the street on Michigan Avenue in Detroit and went back to work.
Seven decades later, Lachman & Co. has migrated north to Southfield. Like medicine, it has evolved; founded by a watchmaker in 1893, it now sells trophies, awards and executive gifts — basically, anything you might expect to be engraved and presented to someone who succeeded.
The company is far from the oldest in Metro Detroit, but this is an era where people live longer while occupations are almost disposable. A tenure that dates to Grover Cleveland’s second presidency seems at least worthy of a plaque — which brings up another story.
As part of the Detroit 300 celebration commemorating the city’s tricentennial in 2001, any business that had been around at least 50 years received a keepsake with a mounted Pewabic tile.
Lachman & Co. won the contract to create them, meaning “we made our own plaque,” Carrie Lachman says. “And they paid for it.”
Lachman, 54, represents the fourth generation. She’s the one who oversaw the migrations to Telegraph Road above Eight Mile and to the Internet.
Meantime, the first three generations oversee her.
Respecting the past
Portraits of her great-grandfather Joseph, grandfather Sol and father Philip take up most of wall behind her wide granite desk.
They just hang, though, rather than loom.
“It’s fun to tell the stories,” she says, “but it’s not me. I didn’t do it.”
It’s a sensible attitude, and probably a healthy one. Running a business carries enough responsibility without answering to someone who greeted customers on Michigan Avenue when it was dirt.
The oldest company in southeast Michigan is considered to be George Jerome & Co., a surveying and civil engineering firm in Roseville. Other extremely senior citizens include the architecture firm now known as SmithGroupJJR (1850) and the Roma Cafe (1890).
The Detroit News has been around since 1873, and we’re not even the oldest newspaper in our building. But Lachman & Co. has seniority over Pewabic (1903), Faygo (1907) and Better Made (1930).
The longevity “is exactly what drew me in,” sayd Doug Fraser, Michigan regional manager for the insurance reconstruction company Belfor USA.
He drives by the showroom on his commute to work, and the sign that reads “Established 1893” resonated when he needed an award for something akin to employee of the year.
“I didn’t want something cheap out of a catalog,” he says, and he’s since become a regular: “The selection is extraordinary, and the place is authentic.”
One ring, or 100 clocks?
If you won a bowling trophy in the 1950s, Carrie Lachman says, her dad probably provided it.
He began the transition from jewelry to corporate gifts and awards the day someone came in, admired an expensive Longines clock and said, “I’d like 100 of these.”
Carrie Lachman had once intended to go into theater, then considered fashion before Philip Lachman’s illness brought her into the firm. The youngest of five children, she’s the only one still in the area, and her two collegiate sons have other interests.
It strikes her that having made the company her own, with emphases on glass and crystal and a business model heavy on phone, mail and online orders, she might ultimately be the last Lachman out the door.
If that happens, she says, she’ll be OK with it — as was her father, who died in 1995.
“Don’t ever let this business run you,” he once told her. “You run the business.”
She takes that as permission to close, sell, change, or do whatever she sees fit. But that’s well down the paved road.
For now, she has orders to fill and helpful bureaucrats to correct. Every time she fills out a form, Lachman says, a clerk assumes there’s a typo and tries to change her date of opening to 1983.
Nope, she tells them. It’s 1893, a very good year.