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Lakeland’s oldest businesses

From apparel to food, Swan City has multiple family-owned businesses that have been around for half a century — or more.

A black and white photo of the first Publix store.

The first Publix Food Store in Winter Haven — 90+ years later, the super market chain has expanded all over the southern US.

Photo via Florida Memory.

Lakeland was established in January of 1885 on the 80 acres of land that we now know as downtown — which means Swan City is 139 years old.

A lot of businesses have opened + closed in the past 139 years. Ever wondered about some of the oldest businesses and how they’ve managed to stick around? Us, too. After conducting some research via our readers and other community leaders, here are some notable businesses that have been serving the Lakeland area for 50+ years.

A photo of Florida Southern college is in the background with red flowers in the foreground.

Florida Southern College is one of four colleges that call Swan City home.

Image via @floridasouthern


Florida Southern College, 111 Lake Hollingsworth Dr. | Est. 1883

Home to the world’s largest single-site collection of Frank Lloyd Wright architecture, FSC is the oldest private college in Florida and was even designated a National Historic Landmark in 2012.

The downtown Lakeland viewed from across Lake Mirror. Clouds in the sky cast shadows over the lake and the mix of high and medium-rise buildings, including the Lakeland Electric building.

The Lakeland Electric building is a staple of the downtown Lakeland skyline.

Photo by Reader Bob K. (submitted for our 2023 Picture of the Year contest)


Lakeland Electric, 501 E. Lemon St. | Est. 1904

As the third-largest public power utility in Florida, Lakeland Electric started operations in 1889 and was purchased by the City of Lakeland in 1904, making the municipal utility over a century old. Lakeland Electric was built on core values of providing affordable, dependable, and sustainable electricity for their customers — something they still continue to this day.


The Ledger, 300 W. Lime St. | Est. 1924

Originally published as The Lakeland Evening Ledger, the paper has had multiple owners and even merged with another local news outlet, the Lakeland Star-Telegram. This award-winning publication has a long history of top state awards from the Florida Society of News Editors + the South Florida chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Photo on outside corner showing the hotel sign in front of the Terrace Hotel

Did you know — guests originally entered the Terrace Hotel from Main Street, via a tropical garden that showcased Massachusetts Avenue.

Photo by LALtoday

Terrace Hotel, 329 E. Main St. | Est. 1924

The $750,000 hotel’s design was inspired by Baroque grandeur and originally had an orange exterior. After closing for 12 years, it was renovated back to a luxury hotel in 1999, joined the Hilton hotel brand in 2021, and will celebrate its official 100th anniversary this October.

Cleveland Heights Golf Course, 2900 Buckingham Ave. | Est. 1925

H.A. Stahl developed this elite country club for an exclusive golf community that opened in the Roaring 20s. It has undergone renovations and ownership changes over the years, but still remains a staple golf course in LAL.

Screen Shot 2019-10-17 at 9.59.06 PM

Stepping into the Polk Theatre is like stepping back into a time capsule to the 1920s.

Image via @fmofmpodcast

Polk Theatre, 121 S. Florida Ave. | Est. 1928

Developed by John E. Melton, the theatre began thriving in its early years + on opening day, the matinee sold out within an hour of the box office’s opening. Fun fact: The air conditioning system used so much power that it caused the lights to dim all across town when it turned on.

A large glass building.

Publix is now headquartered here in Lakeland and is one of Polk County’s largest employers.

Photo by @publix


Publix, 300 Publix Corporate Pkwy. | Est. 1930

Most longtime Lakelanders know that George Jenkins originally opened the first Publix Food Store in Winter Haven. But DYK where Mr. George got the name “Publix” from? Watch this video to learn more about the history.

Allen & Company, 1401 S. Florida Ave. | Est. 1932

Considered Florida’s oldest investment firm, Allen & Company started from J. Everett Allen’s windowless downtown office in 1932. Since then, the company has grown to 70 associates in three offices in the Central Florida region.

Reececliff diner at night

Reececliff Diner has been a Lakeland staple for 80 years and counting.

Photo via @reececliff.diner

Reececliff Family Diner, 940 S. Florida Ave. | Est. 1934

Offering 90+ years of service in the community, Reececliff stands as the longest-running restaurant in Lakeland. Their secret for success? Homemade pies from the same expert baker for the past 50 years.

Gaines Jewelers, 112 S. Tennessee Ave. | Est. 1935

Founded by George Gaines, the fine jewelry landmark was recently purchased in 2017 by Gina and Dean Saunders. Its products include accessories, fine china, skillfully crafted crystal, and custom pieces — just to name a few.


SEU is one of the fastest-growing private universities in the US.

Photo by @seuniversity


Southeastern University, 1000 Longfellow Blvd. | Est. 1946

Originally founded in New Brockton, AL, as Alabama Shield of Faith Institute, the private university made its home in Lakeland in 1946 at the former site of Lodwick School of Aeronautics.


Silver Moon Drive-In is one of the last remaining drive-in movie theaters in Florida.

Photo via @allyagolden

Silver Moon Drive-In, 4100 New Tampa Hwy. | Est. 1948

I.Q. Mize and M.G. Waring opened the first-ever drive-in movie theatre in Lakeland with an admission fee of only 35 cents per person. In 1952, the property was sold to Carl Floyd, who added the iconic flashing neon sign + marquee that visitors can still view from the highway today.


The Ruthvens, 41 Lake Morton Dr. | Est. 1957

Founder Joe P. Ruthven came from South Carolina to Florida, where he met his wife (who was from Lakeland). Ruthven moved to Lakeland to open and build his tire business. The business was carried out by his family, and they opened several other stores throughout the area. In need of his own storage for his business, he began building and leasing spec warehouse space — and thus, The Ruthvens was born.

Honorable mentions

Though these agencies are branches of the local government, we thought we’d add in a few fast facts about them here.

Lakeland Police Department, 219 N. Massachusetts Ave. | Est. 1914

LAL had no police cars until 1920, so officers had to walk, hitchhike, or hire a taxi when responding to crime scenes or disturbances.

Lakeland Public Library, 100 Lake Morton Dr. | Est. 1927

The first-ever library in LAL was maintained by the Women’s Club of Lakeland and was open to all residents. Before it was the library, it served as a camp for Spanish-American War soldiers and then became a park.

Lakeland Fire Department, 701 E. Main St. | Est. 1916

Originally built at the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Cedar Street, the fire department expanded to multiple locations over the years and currently has its administrative offices in downtown Lakeland.

Did we miss a business staple in our research? Drop us a line and let us know.

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