In Crisfield, MD the Tawes Brothers, Inc. ex-Crosley dealership is still operating. Maurice Dana Tawes, whom everyone calls Dana, and his younger brother Robert opened their new car business in 1939. The district manager for Pontiac Motor Division asked Egbert L. Quinn, the owner and editor of the Crisfield Times if there was someone in town who might want to open a car dealership. Bert sent him directly to Dana. According to Bob, he told them "Take one car, sell it, and I'll give you another one." "We bought it," he said. "I was 17. Dana was eight years older so he signed the GM contract as the legal dealer." The Tawes brothers opened their first showroom on Broadway. In 1940, they moved the business to the corner of Main and Eighth Streets. They sold new cars and trucks and any used vehicles they got as trade-ins. They say they weren't happy with Crosley. Bob said they were "the worst cars we ever had. The best were always the Pontiacs. Dana found a 1941 Pontiac Streamliner at a showroom in Philadelphia. It was so attractive he bought it for himself, figuring he could always sell it used."
They had two mechanics, a helper and a salesman, plus Bob. Bob estimates that they moved 28 new vehicles the first year. Dana helped sell cars in the evenings. During the day he (and a couple of cats to take care of the mice and rats) worked at the J.P. Tawes & Bros. marine hardware store and ships' chandlery at 11th Street and Main, built by the brothers' grandfather, John P. Tawes Sr. The business remained there until it closed in February of 2007.
On Feb. 3, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt called the 29th Division of the Maryland-Virginia National Guard into service. Dana and Bob were both members of the Guard. Their mother Leila Dana Tawes (Mrs. John Maurice Tawes), was able to sell the few remaining cars after Bob and Dana left.
On June 6, 1944, the 29th Division fought in the invasion of Normandy. Dana was a captain and a battalion operations officer on that morning and he stayed with the men all the way to Germany.
Bob entered the war as an enlisted man with the rank of corporal. He became part of a new 98th Division, together with troops from the New York State Army Reserve. The 98th was activated to invade Japan. "That ended with President Harry Truman and the atomic bomb," Bob said. Bob left the 98th Division with the rank of captain.
After the war, the 29th re-formed under different leadership. Dana remained with it for 38 years. When his cousin, J. Millard Tawes, was Governor (and therefore commander-in-chief of the Maryland National Guard) he appointed Dana a general. Crisfield's armory building is named for Dana. A portrait of him in full uniform hangs in the car dealership showroom.
In 1945, Bob married Elsie McMurry. Dana's wife was the former Lois Dize. Their brother, John P. Tawes II, now also a partner in the auto business, was rising in state politics. His wife Margaret Lee and Miss Elsie taught in Crisfield schools.
The Tawes brothers' dealership re-opened downtown. Bob and Dana ran the business out of the hardware store until they could build a new showroom to house the dealership. In 1947, it opened at 907 West Main Street. They began selling GMCs, and in 1952, Buicks. Bob's granddaughter Jenny now runs the Blue Crab Junction shop in the Main Street building vacated by the car dealership in 1995. The dealership is now at the corner of Route 413 and Burton Avenues. The business, however, no longer sells Bob's Pontiacs. General Motors declared bankruptcy in 2009 and was bailed out by the US governmen. As part of the bail-out, the federal government directed General Motors to close some of its smaller showrooms. Bob received a letter of intent noting that the Tawes car business was one of them.
"Our customers came to the rescue," Bob said. "They wrote letters to our representatives in Washington. Our former Congressman Frank Kratovil, backed by the national and Maryland auto dealers associations, sponsored legislation to allow dealers who were making a profit to continue in business. The legislation passed in an overwhelming vote. The Tawes brothers' contract with General Motors was renewed. Today there's a staff of 14 who sell and service vehicles at the Tawes car dealership, the only new car dealer to have survived the economic slow-down in Somerset County. Asked how Tawes Brothers survives, Bob answers "Some days it's a struggle to stay open. But as long as we have loyal customers and we work hard at satisfying them as best we can, we'll stay in business in Crisfield."
Update on the USS Iowa tour soon ...