When you dial up Franklin you'll find a longstanding streak of small town independence.
If the library needs help, you wash cars to raise money. And when Kim Gates' great-grandfather wanted to contact the railroad to ship butter in 1894, he took charge.
"So we did telegraph and telephone and then it grew from there," she said.
Now, 116 years later, the Franklin Telephone Company is still a Main Street fixture; still family owned. It's the smallest phone company in New England with about 850 customers.
"I think somebody referred to us as frozen in time," Kim Gates said. "So we sort of are a little bit. We have the new technology and the old way as well."
Kim Gates is the fourth generation to run the company, taking it over from her dad, Hugh. There are five employees. Kim's husband and cousin are the line crew; longtime employee Linda Hartman handles customer service.
Reporter Kristin Carlson: How is it working with family?
Kim Gates: Um... most of the time it's fun, but there are challenges... Linda is grinning at me.
Linda Hartman: No, really have a lot of fun here.
Kim Gates: We like to joke around.
"I think my old girlfriend's number was 73 but I'm not sure," Hugh Gates said.
The business is a picture of Yankee frugality-- nothing gets thrown out.
"What's the old Vermont expression? To use it up and make do with what you got," Hugh Gates said.
It's that motto that's helped this company survive. Franklin phone has no debt. It recently paid $80,000 cash for a new bucket truck. Customers can pay bills in person and even use the fax machine if they need it.
"Give them pretty decent service at a reasonable price, responsive. I think the customers appreciate having us close by and being able to come in and beat on us if they want to," Hugh Gates said.
Customer service may have stayed but the technology has raced ahead. Franklin Telephone customers can now get high-speed internet. The company owns the lines but partners with Waitsfield Telecom on internet service support.
Reporter Kristin Carlson: Is it hard to keep up with the changes in technology?
Hugh Gates: For me it is, I can't do it, but thank goodness (Kim) can.
"In Vermont I think they are still around because they have been able to serve their customers needs," said Leslie Caldwell, the state's director of telecommunications.
Caldwell says there are nine independent phone companies in Vermont-- about 1,200 nationwide.
"Don't underestimate the potential for a small company to compete in the wider world," Caldwell said. "These companies have connections in their communities; they know the people who live there, they understand what kinds of services are needed to support the community."
Big telephone companies have made offers to buy Franklin Telephone, all are turned down.
Kristin Carlson: Why do you think you have resisted being bought?
Kim Gates: Well we are very rural so I'm not sure everybody really wanted us, that was a part of it.
Carlson: Was there ever a point when you thought is this going to continue?
Hugh Gates: Oh...
KC: More than once?
Hugh: Yeah, yeah.
Hugh Gates says switching from an operator-run switchboard to dial almost financially sunk the company. And the new challenge today is cell phones. But service is spotty here.
"They use their cell phones, but cell phone service is not as good as ours!" Hugh Gates said.
Four generations and counting... keeping small town independence alive.
"We have ten grandchildren, so amongst the ten it might go another generation or two," Hugh Gates said.
All the grandchildren have yet to go to college so it's too early to tell if they will want to run the business, but Hugh Gates is hopeful. He's mostly retired now but still works on Saturday so people can come in and pay their bills. And to give you an idea of how the company has stayed debt free-- they are still using desks that were bought from Army surplus after World War II.
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