Portland Report|Retail & Food service

Family-owned businesses nab kudos

Six family-owned businesses received awards last night at the Institute for Family Owned Business' 13th annual awards dinner in South Portland. Among those honored were car dealer Morong Falmouth, chocolatier Dean's Sweets of Portland and D. Cole Jewelers, also of Portland.

The institute honored its awards finalists at a dinner that attracted nearly 300 attendees. Morong Falmouth owners and brothers Bill and Peter Sowles took home the Leon Gorman Award for a company with 25 or more employees. Judges highlighted its corporate culture and succession planning, which includes a requirement that members of the younger generation spend at least a year working at another auto dealer outside the state before joining Morong. When he accepted the award, Bill Sowles said his two sons have both gained experience selling cars working at dealerships in Seattle and Atlanta.

The company was founded in 1945 as a body shop in South Portland. Five years later, the Sowles brothers' father, Horace "Ken," joined the company and added foreign car sales and service.

Eastport-based S.L. Wadsworth & Son received the Maddy Corson award, for companies with fewer than 25 employees. Founded 195 years ago as a ship chandlery (a wholesale ship supplier), the seventh-generation company has restructured itself to serve as a general merchandise, hardware and gift store. Judges said the store is like a time warp to the 1950s, a positive accolade, and that it not only draws tourists, but functions as a town meeting place. Co-owner Scott Edward Brown thanked his late mother and credited her with keeping the store going through tough times.

D. Cole Jewelers was named an honorable mention for the Maddy Corson award for treating its customers like family, a nod to the seven family members involved in the business.

Portland chocolatier Dean's Sweets received the Shep Lee award for community service for its commitment to Portland's Buy Local movement and its donation of products or time to 30 organizations. Co-owner Dean Bingham said the company's business model is "giving it away," and that while it's a "terrible way to make profits," he and his wife feel their support for the community will also benefit their own company. He handed out free truffles to institute staff and host Gregg Lagerquist before leaving the stage.

IRC, an industrial roofing company in Lewiston, received the customer service award for pointing customers to the best product or service for them, even if it doesn't make the company as much of a profit, and for helping customers become more environmentally friendly. Company owner Rick St. Hilaire attributed the success of the third-generation company in part to its balance of family and non-family employees.

Hurley Travel Experts of Portland received the first-generation award, honored for the company's bounceback from competition from online travel sites. Owner Pam Hurley-Moser said business at the company is up 100%.

The institute received a total of 85 nominations. Other finalists for the awards were:

Maddy Corson Award (under 25 employees)

  • Central Street Farmhouse, Bangor
  • Yankee Marina & Boatyard, Yarmouth

Leon Gorman Award (25 employees or more)

  • Cote Crane & Rigging, Auburn
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