How Reed Brothers Started & Survived Almost a Century
It was 103 years ago, in October 1915, that Lewis Reed signed a franchise agreement with brothers Horace and John Dodge in Detroit. He was just 27 years old. Since then, the business grew and transformed into the oldest Dodge dealership in Maryland history and one of the oldest in the entire nation. In 1914, Lewis Reed became a partner in Rockville Garage, a business he purchased in 1918. His brother Edgar joined the business in 1919 upon his return from World War I, and the name became Reed Brothers Dodge.
A mechanical aptitude was necessary to be a dealer in the early 1900’s. When cars were shipped to the dealer from the manufacturer, they arrived partially assembled in railroad boxcars. It was the dealer’s responsibility to unpack and assemble the cars at the rail yard and drive them back to the dealership. Mechanics were often needed to repair the new cars if they broke down along the way. Lewis Reed was an expert auto mechanic. He received his automotive training at the Pierce-Arrow factory in Buffalo, New York, the Dodge Hamtramck and Hudson Motor Car factories in Detroit, Michigan and the Washington Auto College.
The Great Depression
In 1928, when Walter P. Chrysler took over after Horace and John Dodge died, Lewis Reed became an original member of the Chrysler family. By 1929, when the stock market crashed and Great Depression began, no one could afford to buy cars. Like most other businesses, the Great Depression hit hard and Reed Brothers had to rely on its Service Department to make ends meet. But, the dealership survived through these lean times.
This new car showroom above is filled with late 1920s Dodge Brothers new car models. The showroom faced the triangle at Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike (now known as Veterans Park) which gave the dealership maximum visibility to the largest volume of cross traffic. Behind the large plate glass windows and an awning above was the product — the new car.
There were no salesman’s desks in the showroom until after World War II. Lewis Reed allotted specific sales territory to his salesmen in four different directions from the dealership. The salesmen spent all day in the outlying areas of Poolesville, Rockville, Barnesville and Spencerville demonstrating cars to potential customers. At that time, Reed Brothers was selling about eight new cars a month and most sales resulted from knocking on people’s doors. It was direct person to person sales contact, relationship building and trust – all built and sealed on a handshake. Three of the four salesmen at the time were Francis O. Day, Raleigh S. Chinn and Benjamin J. Thompson.
United States Enters World War II
Reed Brothers faced another setback during World War II. All U.S. car manufacturers stopped production in order to concentrate on military equipment. Reed Brothers had no new cars to sell for three plus years. Many car dealers went bankrupt at this time. Lewis Reed converted his car showroom into a display room and sold GE washing machines and other large appliances to fill the gap. At this time, Reed Brothers had in their employ eight Veterans of World War II.
Ask anyone who has been in the car business for a while how they create lasting customer relationships. They’ll tell you it’s through conversation. In Lewis Reed’s day, a customer would come into the showroom and sit for hours and talk about local sports teams, the weather or family. But they’d never mention an automobile. Then, the customer would come back, maybe talk a second day. And on the third day, they’d get down to talking about a car. But it was all cautious, deliberate and very polite.
New car introduction was always one of the most exciting times at Reed Brothers. It was a once-a-year celebration that everyone looked forward to attending. For the salesman, it meant additional car sales. To the dealership, it was another method to reach out to hundreds of current and potential customers, not only for new car sales, but also to advertise the dealership’s other services. Many sales were made during new car introduction by those customers who had to be the first on their block to own one of the new models.
To attract drive-by motorists, large signs were placed in the showroom windows hyping the new year models: Dart, Lancer and Polara. Back in the day, there was tremendous brand loyalty. Customers who bought Dodges, usually bought them for life. In fact, many former customers traded every year and would buy a car on the spot. In the 1960s, new car introduction was a much more important part of the American automotive buying habit.
Reed Brothers Dodge successfully navigated through numerous Chrysler setbacks during the 1970’s and 80’s, including the first Chrysler Bailout, the sale of Chrysler to Daimler, and the sale to the private equity firm Cerberus. Reed Brothers met the challenges of gasoline shortages, high interest rates, severe inflation, and weakening consumer confidence which drove Chrysler into financial crisis. This survival is testimony that the dealership not only conquered setbacks, but often rebounded to reach new levels of success.
When you look back and consider what has taken place in the world in the past 100 years or so, you gain a perspective of what Lewis Reed faced. He overcame a lot of obstacles throughout his life. He steered his dealership through World War I, The Great Depression and World War II. When Reed Brothers had no new cars to sell for three and a half years and many dealers went bankrupt, he converted his car showroom into a display room and sold GE washing machines and other appliances.
Chrysler filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Chrysler terminated 789, or about 25% of its dealerships by June 9. The cuts resulted in an estimated 38,000 job losses. Whether a franchise was run by a second- or third-generation dealer, or is older than even Chrysler itself, didn’t seem to matter when Chrysler decided to cut dealerships ranks during their 2009 bankruptcy process. After almost 95 years selling Dodges, Reed Brothers was one of the 15 dealerships in Maryland and 789 dealerships nationwide notified by Chrysler that their franchise agreement would not be renewed.
During this time when many car dealers had to close their doors, Reed Brothers made behind-the-scenes tweaks to withstand the economic downturn and the loss of their franchise. The signs standing outside on Rockville Pike still said Reed Brothers Dodge, but inside, a new business was forming: Reed Brothers Automotive.
A business landmark in the Rockville area since 1915, Reed Brothers underwent a change in its structure – and its name – but still catered to the local community as it had for decades. Reed Brothers changed its name from Reed Brothers Dodge to Reed Brothers Automotive, and continued on as a used car dealer and repair shop until 2012.
Over 100 years later, the only name that remains familiar to Rockville car buyers is Lewis Reed. Reed Brothers Dodge was one of the longest running automobile dealers in Montgomery County Maryland, serving Rockville and the area for over 97 years. Along with St. Mary’s Church (1813), King Farm (1925), Red Brick Courthouse (1891), and the B&O Railroad Station (1873) — Reed Brothers Dodge (1915) — became a “Peerless Place” in 2015, the year marking its 100th Anniversary. Today, Bainbridge Shady Grove Metro Apartments pays homage to the oldest Dodge dealership in Maryland history with commemorative art on the former site of the iconic Reed Brothers dealership.
Bainbridge Shady Grove Metro lives up to its motto: “Great Stories Start Here.”
22 Then & Now Photos to Show Just How Much Has Changed
Reed Brothers Dodge and the surrounding area sure has changed a lot in its almost century-long history. I thought it would be fun to revisit some locations using some of Lewis Reed’s original photographs for “then” and Google Maps street view images from today for “now” to see what differences are visible. Google Maps time-lapse tool lets you explore an area’s evolution as far back as 2007. Some views look remarkably similar, while others are completely unrecognizable. So, in no particular order, here is a collection of Reed Brothers “then and now” photographs taken between 1915 and today. (click images to enlarge)
The black and white photograph on the left is Lewis Reed’s original 1914 Rockville Garage located at the intersection of Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike. In those days, many early car dealers grew out of existing garages. In 1914, Lewis Reed became a partner in the Rockville Garage with Robert L. and Griffith Warfield. The Warfield brothers had purchased this building in July 1915, from Lee Ricketts and Sons who had the Overland Agency. The business continued to operate under the old name until it was changed at the suggestion of the late Judge Edward Peter shortly after Edgar Reed joined his brother.
On the right, is a 1970 artist rendition of the new dealership. After 55 years at the original location at the triangle at Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike, Lee Gartner purchased 4.37 acres of land from Eugene Casey and relocated Reed Brothers Dodge to a new state-of-the-art showroom and Dodge/Chrysler/Jeep service complex on Route 355 at 15955 Frederick Road in Rockville Maryland.
The black and white photograph above taken by Lewis Reed, is the dealership close to 80 years ago … and on the right is the same location today, now known as Veterans Park. In the 1970s the site was known as the Francis Scott Key Memorial Park, and later in 1988, it was permanently rededicated as Veterans Park. In the late 1960s, the state of Maryland acquired the land to widen 355 and donated the remaining sliver to the City. The state named the connector street behind the dealership’s location “Dodge Street” because Reed Brothers Dodge dealership was located there for more than 50 years.
These photographs were taken on the corner of Route 355 at the intersection of King Farm Boulevard and Frederick Road. Reed Brothers Dodge stood at this location for more than 40 years. The photo on the left is a Google street view taken in April 2012 of Reed Brothers just before closing.
The dealership’s legacy continues to this day on the site of its former location on the right, which is now the Bainbridge Shady Grove Metro Apartments. A 20-ft sculpture that commemorates the dealership’s history sits prominently at the main entrance to the development and can be seen by thousands of daily commuters taking the Red Line from the Shady Grove Metro Station to Bethesda, Maryland and Washington, D.C. The sculpture can be seen from some distance, especially at night, and now acts as a key landmark at the entrance to the Shady Grove Metro Station.
The black and white photograph above was taken by Lewis Reed in 1915 from the location of his Rockville Garage. Their first “gas station” consisted of a single pump which can be seen in the photo. The view is looking West on Main Street of Rockville showing an early Trolley car. From 1900 – 1935, the trolley cars went past Reed Brothers Dodge as they traveled up Rockville Pike. Also in the background is the old St Mary’s Cemetery. And on the right is the same view today, fondly known as “the mixing bowl.”
The “then” photo above was taken by Lewis Reed in 1953 at the corner of East Montgomery Ave and Dodge Street. It shows the new building for Reed Brothers Showroom, Parts and Service Departments. When the state of Maryland widened the roads in 1970, they named the connector street behind the dealership’s original location, “Dodge Street” because Reed Brothers Dodge was located there for so may years (1914-1970). The “now” photo on the right is a google maps image of the same location captured in 2016 … 64 years later.
Both of the “then & now” images above are Google Maps Street views taken 10 years apart. Reed Brothers Dodge in 2007 on the left and on the site of its former location, now the Bainbridge Shady Grove Metro Apartments.
The 1917 photo on the left is the original Rockville Garage located at the intersection of Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike, 100 years ago. Note the unpaved dirt road on Rockville Pike and trolley tracks running past the Rockville Garage. Both photographs were taken by Lewis Reed on the Rockville Pike side of the dealership.
On the right, is the same location 50 years later of the Reed Brothers Dodge Gulf Gasoline station. Due to changes in the highway, Reed Brothers began an extensive remodeling and rebuilding program. Two-thirds of the original location at the junction of then Route 240 and Veirs Mill Road was razed and a modern Gulf Service Station was erected.
On the left is a mid-1960s view from the corner of Veirs Mill Road and Dodge Street showing the new building for Reed Brothers Service Department. On the right is a Google street view image of the same location today, 50 years later.
The photo on the left is a side view of the Rockville Garage two story addition to the original shop taken .. close to 100 years ago. The first floor housed the Service Department and upper floor was used for parts storage. The chimney was probably to a coal furnace that was used to heat the building. The many windows allowed natural light for working on cars. Signage for Firestone Tires replaced the Fisk brand that was sold at Rockville Garage earlier in 1915.
The photo on the right is a 1968 photo taken at the same location, some 50 years later. Due to changes in the highway, two-thirds of the original location at the junction of then Route 240 and Veirs Mill Road was razed and a modern Gulf Service Station was erected.
The “beginning and the end” at 15955 Frederick Road: 1970 and 2013. The photo on the left is the new building in 1970 after the move from its original location at the triangle at Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike. The new building marked the dealership’s 55th year of selling Dodge’s.
On the right, is a photo that I took on May 16, 2013 of the vacant building on the day that demolition began.
The photograph on the left is a line of beige and baby blue cars all lined up in rows on the side lot. Across the road is King Farm with the big barn that said, “MILK FOR THOMPSON’S DAIRY” before it was transformed into a large-scale mixed use community. Lawson King’s dairy cows used to graze in the fields just a few feet from the roadway right across the road. At its peak, King Farm was the largest milk producer in the area and had been in agricultural use for nearly 75 years before it was approved for development in 1996.
On the right is a view from the same perspective taken in 2009… 30 some years later. In the background is the same big barn on the field that is now the new urban development known as King Farm.
October 1915: The Beginning of a Legacy
Woodrow Wilson was President of the United States; the Green Bay Packers did not yet exist; the United States was two years away from joining World War I; the cost of a stamp was two cents, and Reed Brothers Dodge in Rockville, Maryland was founded.
This is when it all began. It was 101 years ago in October 1915 that Rockville automobile pioneer Lewis Reed, founder of Reed Brothers Dodge, signed a franchise agreement with Horace and John Dodge in Detroit; less than one year after the first Dodge automobile rolled off the assembly line. Since then, the business grew and transformed from a small-scale garage and dealership into one of the largest and most recognized commercial enterprises on Rockville Pike.
In 1914, Lewis Reed became a partner in Rockville Garage, a business he purchased in 1918. His brother Edgar joined the business in 1919 upon his return from World War I, and the name became Reed Brothers Dodge. Initially, Reed Brothers sold Oldsmobile and Hudson along with Dodge. The first Plymouth was built in 1928 and Plymouths were sold at Reed Brothers from 1930 until 1969, when the Plymouth car was given to the Chrysler dealers. In 1928, when Walter P. Chrysler took over after Horace and John Dodge died, Lewis Reed became an original member of the Chrysler family. By 1929, when the stock market crashed and Great Depression began, nobody could afford to buy cars. Like most other businesses, the Great Depression hit hard and Reed Brothers had to rely on its Service Department to make ends meet.
Reed Brothers faced another setback during World War II. All U.S. car manufacturers stopped production in order to concentrate on military equipment. Reed Brothers had no new cars to sell for three plus years. Many car dealers went bankrupt at this time. Lewis Reed converted his car showroom into a display room and sold GE washing machines and other large appliances. The brothers operated their own full service Gulf gasoline and service station. In fact, the company was the first Gulf gas dealer in the Washington, D.C. area, selling gas at its original location in Old Rockville at the triangle at Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike.
The dealership survived two World Wars, the Great Depression, the first Chrysler Bailout, the sale of Chrysler to Daimler and the later sale to the private equity firm Cerberus. Reed Brothers has, in fact, survived everything but Chrysler itself. Regrettably, loyalty was not enough to keep the dealership open when Chrysler cut dealership ranks during their 2009 bankruptcy process. After almost 95 years selling Dodges, Reed Brothers was notified by Chrysler that their franchise agreement would not be renewed. Reed Brothers Dodge occupied two locations, the original at the Veirs Mill Road and Rockville Pike intersection and the second on 355 near Shady Grove Metro.
Today, Bainbridge Shady Grove Metro Apartments pays homage to this history by celebrating the golden era of the automobile with commemorative art on the former site of the iconic Reed Brothers dealership.
Rockville Nights: Sculpture commemorates Rockville’s legendary Reed Brothers Dodge (Photos)
I would like to take this opportunity to offer a special thank you to Rockville Nights blogger Robert Dyer, for sending new visitors our way via a link on his blog post: http://www.rockvillenights.com/2015/12/sculpture-commemorates-rockvilles.html.
Source: Rockville Nights: Sculpture commemorates Rockville’s legendary Reed Brothers Dodge (Photos)
Light Dodger: More Photos
Light Dodger – more photographs of a remarkable, newly installed outdoor sculpture created by artist, Tj Aitken.
The new Bainbridge Shady Grove Metro development blends elements of history into both the interior and exterior. Titled “Light Dodger,” the monumental sculpture stands 20+ feet high and has stained glass lens components over 6 feet in diameter. The sculpture melds the design of two classic Dodge lamp and fender designs (1939 Dodge Car and 1957 Dodge Pickup) into one three dimensional work of art. Along with the sculpture, a set of Hemi Piston street lamps grace the curving walkway. These functional lamps are based on the famous Dodge Hemi piston engines. They are flanked by Dodge head gasket graphics along the walkway that winds along the building promenade towards the metro station. It will be seen by thousands of commuters taking the Red Line from the Shady Grove Metro Station to Bethesda, Maryland and Washington, DC. Light Dodger is part of a project that will commemorate the dealership’s history to turn the brunt of the complex into a prominent residential landmark in Rockville.