Two longtime Manassas companies that have grown and prospered along with the city have been sold in recent weeks. But the families behind Merchant's Inc. and Manassas Ice and Fuel Co. say their commitment to the city is not ending.
The Merchant family has long been associated with Manassas's growth and development. It also has played a large role in the development of Old Town and donated the building that now houses the new Center for the Arts on Battle Street.
Manassas Ice and Fuel has been owned by the Parrish family, which has long taken a leadership role in the city. Rep. Harry J. Parrish (R-Manassas) was a longtime mayor. His son, Harry J. "Hal" Parrish II, is the city's vice mayor.
Some say a bit of the city will disappear with the changes to the companies.
"Time moves on," Mayor Marvin L. Gillum (R) said. Manassas Ice and Fuel "and Merchant's are long-standing names in Manassas, and I think it has been of some concern to the city. But I'm sure both of the new entities will keep their interest in the city, and I'm sure the Merchants would have it no other way.''
Merchant's and its 112 retail tire and auto-repair stores is being acquired by TBC Corp. of Memphis, one of the nation's leading tire distributors, for as much as $72.5 million. TCB officials said that most of the 1,600 people employed by Merchant's will stay with the company after the acquisition Tuesday. TCB will eventually change the name of the Merchant's outlets to Tire Kingdom.
Merchant's was started by W. Caton Merchant 60 years ago. Still family owned, it had $150 million in retail sales in 2002, making it the sixth-largest independent tire dealer in North America.
"Things change. Generations change. Merchant's has had a very long successful run, and there comes a time to let go," said Mae Merchant, who became chairman after her husband's death in 1983. "I think there comes a time for everything, and the same with" Manassas Ice and Fuel.
Merchant said the sale does not mean the family will shrink from participating in city affairs.
"I love Manassas and have been very active and so has my daughter, Carol Kirby, and we will continue," she said.
Last month, the Parrish family sold Manassas Ice and Fuel's residential heating oil business, which serves about 2,200 residential accounts in Northern Virginia, to Central Hudson Enterprises Corp. of Poughkeepsie, N.Y., for an undisclosed price.
"Both of our families are getting older," the senior Parrish said. "In our case, [selling] looked like it was the best move to make. And I guess it was the same with the Merchant family."
He said the timing of both sales was coincidental, because the companies were founded by two good friends.
"Caton Merchant and I played ball in high school, and after World War II, we built apartments and he lived next to me, and that's where we started our families," Parrish said. "We were close friends."
Parrish said the sale of his family's oil business is not the end of the company. The family still owns the company's real estate, ice and frozen foods businesses. And the family's continuing commitment to the city goes without saying, said Parrish, who was recently honored by the city for a half-century of service.