Small Business
November 16, 2023

How Pioneer Linens survived 111 years — and counting

For well over a century, Pioneer Linens — a longtime Wells Fargo customer — has evolved alongside its Palm Beach community. The secret to its success? A faithful family with a long legacy of caring about their customers.

It was a special event when Penny Murphy brought her daughters Marissa and Camille — dressed in their Sunday best — to visit their grandfather at Pioneer Linens on Clematis Street. Like their mother when she was young, the two would occasionally pitch in at the family-owned fine linens store in downtown West Palm Beach, Florida.

“When I was growing up, Clematis was your Main Street like you’d see in the movies,” said Murphy, store president and owner. “The earliest memory I have is one summer my mom didn’t want to deal with us anymore, so she sent my brother and I to the store to fold towels for a quarter.”

Several generations of people sit and stand around a bed in the Pioneer Linens store.
For four generations the Pioneer Linens business has stayed in the family.

Four generations have come to make their mark on Pioneer Linens, which is something of an anomaly. While only about one in 10 U.S. small businesses stay in business 25 years or more [source], Penny Murphy’s family has kept their entrepreneurial legacy alive for a staggering 111 years.

One reason for the store’s longevity is the family itself. While the latest generations of the Pioneer Linens family didn’t plan to join the business, they’ve found opportunities to step up over the years.

“Every single day we eat, breathe, and sleep Pioneer Linens. It’s who we are. It’s what we know,” said Marissa Murphy-Adriaanse, a fourth-generation employee who handles operations and sales. “Everybody has their [story] of how they’re established, and this establishment is our family.”

They share a connection forged over Sunday night dinners with grandpa, George Greenberg, who led Pioneer Linens for well over five decades.

“We used to joke that [the store] was like our imaginary friend of the family,” said Camille Murphy-Kubicek, who picked up her grandfather’s marketing work. “That was one of the reasons I studied advertising in school, because we would lay out print ads together.”

To the left of an image of the Pioneer Linens store sign and awning are the words 3 business lessons from Pioneer Linens’ long history
1. Don’t be afraid to start over. Pioneer Linens has had several critical junctures in its 111-year history, including when founder George Greenberg moved the store following a major hurricane in 1928.
2. Take calculated risks. Penny Murphy credits decisions she considered risky at the time for keeping Pioneer Linens afloat, such as becoming a very early entrant in online sales and launching a signature collection.
3. Build community. Finding a community that appreciates your wares doesn’t just make good business sense. It means your products will shine. Pioneer Linens collaborates with interior designers, architects, and the yachting industry to find clients.

What’s the secret to surviving over a century?

Serving customers is in the store’s DNA. Max Greenberg, an Austrian who immigrated through Ellis Island, founded the store in 1912 to meet the needs of the pioneers coming to Palm Beach when the city was incorporated. Back then, Pioneer Linens was a hardware store because locals needed nails to build homes. When they needed to furnish them, Greenberg sold furniture. It took another generation, under Penny’s father George’s watch, for the business to become the luxury bed, bath, and kitchen linen specialist it is today.

Greenberg’s spirit of service lives on, which means Pioneer Linens has continued to evolve. For example, over the past few decades, Palm Beach has become a major tourism and yachting hub, so Alan Murphy, another Murphy sibling, developed a yachting division to outfit customers’ luxury vessels. The store carries well-known luxury brands and even a signature collection developed in Italy by Murphy-Kubicek, which it can then customize, a popular choice among Palm Beach’s affluent residents.

“Everybody knows [Pioneer Linens] because they’ve been around for so long,” said Susan Hancock, a Wells Fargo small business banking relationship management manager. “They come to [customers’] minds because they’ve done a great job staying on top of their products.”

Pioneer Linens also stays on top of its relationship with Wells Fargo. The longtime customer continues to take advantage of new products, such as Treasury management services, said Kevin Rosales, a Wells Fargo small business banking relationship manager who’s worked with Pioneer Linens for the past three years. As the Bank of Doing, Wells Fargo supports small businesses as the backbone of their communities.

“They’re changing as time changes. I’m very impressed with that,” he said.

Making lifelong customer memories

For many customers, the right linens make a world of difference. Murphy remembers one customer who was decorating for a New Year’s Eve party later that day. Thanks to a last-minute addition to the guest list, she wanted to redo her tableware. Not just the tablecloth, but every piece down to the placemats and napkin rings.

“We had all the stuff in stock, and she walked out with it so she could completely redo that table that evening,” Murphy said. “I was like, ‘Oh, wow, what a hostess.’”

These close customer relationships earned through service are what set Pioneer Linens apart from a department store, Penny Murphy said. You can see these relationships at work in the store today.

Despite tying the knot two states away, Betty “BG” Brooks registered at Pioneer Linens when she got married. As a kid, she remembers her mom’s frequent visits to the store, which left Brooks with an appreciation of fine linens.

“My mom wouldn’t have thought to get a wedding gift anywhere else,” Brooks said. “I honestly think you enjoy something more if your whole experience of getting it brings back memories like that.”

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