By Jeanne Gartner
It was 100 years ago in October 1915 – less than one year after the first Dodge automobile rolled off the assembly line – that Rockville auto pioneer Lewis Reed, founder of Reed Brothers Dodge, signed a franchise agreement with Horace and John Dodge in Detroit. Since then, the business grew and transformed into the oldest Dodge dealership under same family ownership in Maryland 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.
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 onits 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. Regretably, 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.
In recognition, the state of Maryland named the connector street behind the original location, “Dodge Street,” commemorating Reed Brothers’ presence from 1914-1970. When the state widened the roads in 1970, the dealership relocated to Route 355 at the Shady Grove Metro. Now, 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.