After sitting at the same oak rolltop desk as his father and grandfather and running the same specialty hardware distributor of lighting products that has been in the family for more than a century, Newton Gold knew the business landscape had changed.
Many of his customers, mostly hardware retailers, have shuttered their stores and Gold, 88, said he didn't want to hustle to find new ones. He saw his children pursuing different careers. Even a former customer talked of how the economy had changed to rely more on mass merchants than local business owners.
So after discussing it with his wife and three children, the family decided to close Austrian Lamp Co. and sell the building, which sits diagonally from the nation's oldest residential street, Elfreth's Alley. Gold is in the process of closing out the store's inventory.
"I'm an anachronism. I shouldn't be existing," Gold said, referring to his lot as a hardware distributor amid the condos, coffee shops and boutiques that dot the neighborhood. "I figured it's time to retire and enjoy the rest of my life."
Gold said he wasn't feeling pushed out of Old City, like business owners in other parts of Philadelphia. He knows he will miss the "excitement" of Second Street, which features a clay studio pop-up across the street and a United by Blue, an outdoor fashion brand, nearby. His largely computer-free business couldn't exist much longer.
"I'm going to miss being important to people by having my knowledge used," he said, "but overall … it's been a good run."
Gold's business spans a lot of history. Four decades ago, he recalled competing with half a dozen companies or more. Now, he said, his family business is the last one.
Most family businesses don't make it past the third-generation owners, said Brian Brogan, director of the Initiative for Family Business & Entrepreneurship at Saint Joseph's University. More than 30 percent of family businesses transition to the second generation, 12 percent into the third and 3 percent successfully enter the fourth generation and onward, according to the Family Business Alliance.
None of Gold's three children wanted to take over the business, but when he had a heart attack in 1990, they stepped up and filled his orders. Recalling this, Gold had tears in his eyes.
"I'm a rich man," he said. "I've got a wonderful wife … I've got great kids … I have reasonably good health. What more could I want?"
The Gold family business started with his grandfather, an Austrian immigrant, selling gas mantels. He purchased the building in March 1909, according to city archives. Over the decades, it evolved from incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent to electric fans, halogen and a complete line of LED lighting.
Forty years ago, the company's best sellers were Christmas lights and electrical supplies. Most recently, the demand was for decorative bulbs and lighting accessories.
The interior has remained more or less the same since the building was built in 1845. Arthur, who works part-time for his father, can point out throughout the 3,405-square-foot building where his great grandparents would have worked, slept and eaten. The ceiling paint is peeling and there's a cash register from the early 1900s.
"There is a connection to the past when we're there," Gold said. "My father, my grandfather, there is a connection to generations."
Gold is often at his corner desk with classical music playing from a clock radio. He makes calls from a landline phone, uses a fax machine, jots down orders in a notebook among the scattered papers and mail, but there is no computer.
Outside, the neighborhood had grown to more than 4,000 residents by 2016, a jump from 2,073 in 1990 and just 267 in 1970, according to population estimates.
That growth reflects the changing neighborhood from a port and colonial area to manufacturing and warehouses to artist galleries. More recently, the area became an "eclectic mix" of art, design-oriented businesses, tech companies, restaurants and apartments, said Job Itzkowitz, the executive director of Old City District.
The construction of a mixed-use development, which will have almost 200 apartments, is visible from Austrian Lamp's second-floor window. "Just at that intersection," Itzkowitz said, "you have all those stories being told."
Meanwhile, hardware retailers that ordered from Gold have been pushed out of business by the likes of Amazon and such big-box stores as Home Depot and Lowe's.
Every Thursday, Gold would visit Ricklin's Hardware in Narberth, noting what he thought the store needed, catching up with owner Jed Riddell, 67, and delivering the goods Friday.
In April, Riddell closed Ricklin's Hardware, a store that had been operating since 1913 and in his family since 1960.
In recent years, Riddell noticed customers coming in, displaying an item from Amazon on their phones and asking "can you match this price?" Others would come in with an item they ordered online and asked for help assembling it or to replace missing screws. "It was just headed in the wrong direction," Riddell said.
It's easy to miss Austrian Lamp's storefront. Its weathered sign sits in a dusty window display. The family never felt the need to invest in sprucing up the building, though there was a time when they hung Christmas lights in the window. A wholesale business doesn't need aesthetics to attract customers.
Sometimes Arthur brings in an iPad so they can virtually track shipping orders and search online about specific products.
Gold has never ordered from Amazon.