|Washington Post Magazine cover 3/14/13|
The Washington Post has published an intriguing article about the business of running Luray Caverns, which is actually owned by the Graves family in Virginia. Anyone in the Mid-Atlantic area will be very familiar with the caves as an international attraction, but how many know that it's been operated as a family business for more than 130 years? The article, written by Ken Otterbourg, describes the current operations as, "'Dallas' meets the National Geographic Channel," though it's admittedly more complicated than that. I learned a number of things about Luray Caverns that I was unaware of previously. It happens to be the third most visited cave in the U.S., after Mammoth Cave in Kentucky and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico. It's also not run by the National Park Service as the top two are, but is considered a "show cave" meaning it's a commercial enterprise which turns a profit. Nothing wrong with that, since it happens to be maintained very well and draws over 400,000 visitors a year from around the country and the world. The most fascinating parts of the article concern the rancorous family relations of the current owners, who are all siblings. I won't present the details here, so that readers may peruse the article and arrive at their conclusions. It does show the pitfalls facing family-run businesses, in particular those that span generations. Some have suggested that perhaps the NPS could take over Luray under eminent domain and preserve it in the public interest. As long as the family continues to be extant - with six siblings, that likely will be case for even generations to come - it's difficult to wrest control from the owners. As long as the caves are safely maintained and people are willing to pay to ponder these wonders, why not? The only thing standing in the way is the very contentious family squabble presently playing out in the courts.