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Leaving A Legacy

Father And Son Huntsville Businesses

Article by Amy Bailey & Carrie Tate

Photography by Whitney Dean, Glass Jar Photography

Originally published in Huntsville City Lifestyle

Many of the businesses in Huntsville span multiple generations of father and son.

Loring & Co. Fine Jewelers was founded in 1996 by Rick and Eleanor Loring. Rick Loring remembers choosing Huntsville for a variety of reasons, "Huntsville is a welcoming city with a small town sense of community and a larger city’s amenities. We saw it as a place of opportunity and a great place to raise a family." The business is now run by their son Trent Thomas.

When asked why Trent loves working with Rick, he states "His thoughtfulness in every situation. He is slow to come to a conclusion and approaches topics from as many angles as can be imagined. I often hear “let me sleep on that one” and I know that no stone will be left unturned in his approach to a decision. He also presents his thoughts as just one way to think about it and leaves it ultimately up to the person asking the question to make their own call."

Trent remembers, "Upon graduation from gemology school I returned home and started working at the family business. I was very unsettled with where I wanted to be and what I wanted to do. Rick would tell me to not the leave my car running in the driveway. This meant to settle in and allow myself to fully be present here in Huntsville. This was exactly the advice I needed to hear, or as we like to call it 'Rickisms'."

Rick sees it as a great privilege to work alongside Trent. "To see him put his own ideas to work, and grow the business, every parent should be so lucky to work with their children. Trent is truly one of the good guys and his values align perfectly with the values that have made Loring and Co. what it is today. Being a parent to him and his brothers is a blessing."

They both agree that one of the true joys of Loring and Co. has been the relationships formed. "It is a happy business where we get to celebrate milestones with our customers who become dear friends."

Trent and Rick also love giving back to the community that has given their business so much. Rick states, "We hope our legacy will be that we made Huntsville an even better place to live. Hopefully one or more of the five grandchildren will want to carry on the tradition in the future."

Founded in 1946 by Thomas Elbert Brooks and Ernest Collier, Brooks & Collier is a 4th generation family business located in downtown Huntsville specializing in home, garden, and grills. Huntsville was a big agricultural town at the time. It was known as the “Watercress Capital of the World,” and Collier was a huge player. They built their business on selling farming supplies such as feed & seed to the local farmers. It has evolved over the years to concentrate on home and garden.

On working with his dad Greg, Foster Brooks says, "I get the chance to spend time with my dad almost daily which is pretty special. Not many people can say that, so it is something I try to never take for granted. Retail can be stressful, but we try to have fun with it. I think we have made a great team, and I appreciate all of his guidance and support along the way.”

Greg says, “The long-term success of the store has been largely because of the father-son element. Each generation seems to push the company forward. Having a trusted confidant to bounce ideas and help steer the direction of the business is priceless. I draw on Foster to keep me somewhat current. The family business is just another business without family.”

“I love the idea of being able to work with future generations, and carry on the family tradition, but would never force that. I just want them to be happy with whatever they decide.”

The challenges they faced during the pandemic were unprecedented. Greg says, “Closing our store down during our peak season was not ideal, but we persevered and I believe it made us stronger as a company. We did not let any of our staff go during that time, which enabled us to work as a team like never before.”

Foster recalls a fond memory, “We had a woman in recent years who used to come sit every day on a bench in the garden. We never disturbed her or asked what she was doing. One day she came in smiling and told us that she was just diagnosed cancer-free. She had been coming to the garden to feel calm. It was her happy place.”

Since they work pretty much every weekend, there is little time outside of work. Foster says, “Free moments are usually spent at our favorite spots - Monte Sano, the golf course, or strolling through downtown Huntsville.”

When asked What’s the best business advice you ever received? “Take care of your employees, customers, and community and they will take care of you.” - John Shields, Century Automotive

Now in its third generation, Bill Penney Motor Company was founded in 1946 by William (Bill) E. Penney, Senior. The company provides sales, service and repair of automobiles for the people in northern Alabama and southern Tennessee. Bill's son Jerre ran the business for many years, and has since retired, putting his son Zack at the helm.

A sense of family is an important thread woven between the Penney men. Jerre and Zack enjoy telling stories of Bill and funny anecdotes about old times in the car business over father-son lunches. Their unshakable bond is easy to recognize and it's not only because they look alike. These two truly enjoy spending time together, in and out of work. 

Both have wonderful memories of attending car auctions while Zack was growing up. As Jerre states, "Zack would go with me to the car auctions in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Florida. Over the years he would help me look at the cars, their condition and help me decide what we wanted to buy. I am so proud of him and his accomplishments; it is an honor to be able to pass the business and history to him." Zack continues, "After college I was able to work alongside him in the car business and I always enjoyed going to the auctions and buying cars with Dad. He taught me the value of hard work."

As much as hard work and family has become a hallmark of their business, just as important is their great respect for others. "My dad taught me that you treat people the same way that you would want them to treat your mother, wife or children. And to be honest and thank God for your blessings" says Jerre. Zack adds, "Our company’s mission statement is to enrich the lives of our employees, customers, and communities we serve. For over 77 years that’s been our goal. Take care of your people, take care of your community, and in turn they will take care of you."

When asked what they love about Huntsville, both men are emphatic - it's the people. Neither would trade living in Huntsville for anything. Jerre responds, "I am a Huntsville native. I am so very proud of the diversity and friendliness of the people here. I've seen the city go far beyond anyone's expectations." Zack agrees, "Huntsville just keeps getting better! It has everything you could ever want. The landscape, the seasons, the people, the culture. I am proud to live in and serve this great city."

Mike Aziz founded Aziz Fuel Distribution and Real Estate in 1989. Mike chose Huntsville because of its strong government workforce. Navid, his son, is now instrumental in the business, “I love working with my dad. To learn from an individual who started as a cashier of a gas station to owning one of the larger privately owned oil companies of North Alabama is inspiring.”

Mike says, “I love that my knowledge and efforts will be passed on with Navid at the helm. I hope future generations find something they love to do, whether it be the family business or something else.”

Leaving a legacy of honesty is important to the Azizes. “We want to leave a legacy of businessmen who are honest and help other individuals in business.” Over the years, Mike and Navid have helped set up many individuals with their first business here. “It is great to see people grow into owning multiple businesses that started from the one we advised them on.”

On Huntsville, Navid says, “We love this city because it is clean and people are so polite to one another.” For the Azizes, an ideal day begins with morning coffee on the patio and ends with the family gathering for dinner.