Crowell Brothers Incorporated in Hoquiam is not only the oldest independent auto repair shop in town, it is still run by the founding family, the Crowells. The automotive repair business has changed a lot since the shop was founded in 1957. What has not changed is the quality of the work and the closeness of the Crowell clan, which extends to the non-family employees, office manager Lisa Turpin and automotive technician Dary Phin.
The crowded showroom on the northwest corner of the Simpson Avenue and Myrtle Street intersection houses automotive sound systems and tire displays as well as many personal items. The walls display newspaper clippings and family photos together with knick-knacks bestowed by happy customers. Perry Crowell Jr. who founded the business 60 years ago together with his father, Perry Crowell Sr., and his uncle, Roscoe Crowell Sr., presides over a slice of Grays Harbor history. Aged 85, Perry still spends his days at the shop. “I have always been around cars,” he says. “Automobiles are my life.”
Perry’s reminiscences read like the typical Grays Harbor pioneer story. In 1903, the Crowells had come to Tumwater from Indiana with Margaret’s son Roscoe. There, Perry Delmar Crowell Sr. was born. In 1904, his grandfather SAI Crowell began homesteading in Matlock. He ran cattle on his land and ran a steam donkey for Simpson Lumber. As a “donkey puncher” he preceded his son in working with engines. His wife Margaret Ella, maiden name Little, from Kentucky, worked as a logging camp “flunkie.” She took care of the loggers cleaning bunk houses and cooking their food.
H.H. Pennel, Perry’s maternal grandfather, came to Montesano from North Carolina in 1900 to work for the Schafer Brothers Logging Company. In the 1920s, he went into the insurance business and founded Atlas Insurance in Montesano. He became a wealthy man who tragically died young in a car accident.
In 1921, Roscoe and Perry Sr. graduated from automotive school in Seattle. Their mother had moved to Seattle to look after her sons while their father stayed behind on the homestead. In 1922/3, the brothers opened their first auto repair shop in Matlock. They also logged on the homestead in the early 1930s.
Perry Delmar Crowell Jr. was born in Matlock in 1932 to Ethel and Perry Delmar Crowell Sr. He attended Mary M. Knight School in Matlock. In 1952, after 14 months of service in Korea, Perry Jr. returned home to Matlock to help his father and uncle in the woods. At the time, Perry was also hauling logs for contractors. On a hauling trip to Hoquiam, he found that the Richfield Service Station located on Simpson Avenue at the foot of the bridge over the Hoquiam River stood empty. In 1957, Perry Sr. and Roscoe bought the station and Roscoe began a service station there, the Crowell Brothers Richfield Service Station. His father and brother kept logging for another six to eight month before they joined him. “A service station was a gas station that also did car maintenance. Most also did repairs, “Perry explains. “ There was one at every corner, just like taverns.”
In 1964, Perry Sr., Perry Jr. and Roscoe bought the current property for $10,000. They built the original auto repair shop and added two tire franchises, B.F. Goodrich and OK Tires. Crowell Brothers Inc. Auto Repair was taking off. In 1972, Perry Jr. had an addition built on the front. When Les Schwab and other tire chains moved in and took over the tire business, Crowell Brothers began to sell four-track car stereos which are still their specialty today. They are still selling tires via overnight order.
The business was successful and fed a large part of the Crowell clan. Up to eight staff were employed in those days. Perry Jr.’s first wife Marilyn who passed away in 2012, used to keep the books. Their sons, Perry III, Roscoe and Keith, all began to work in the shop right out of high school. Perry III worked there for many years before purchasing the Hoquiam Bowling Alley. Roscoe is still working at the shop and Keith has taken over management.
Running an auto repair shop today presents many challenges. Keith remembers that their shop rate in the 1980s was $25.00 per hour. Today, the rate has risen to $95.00 which is still below industry average. The reasons for this enormous increase are manifold. They include rising utility and insurance rates. Very significant are the costs for new equipment to service the ever evolving automobile technology and for training staff to use it.
Perry Jr. spends his days surrounded by his family, those who work in the shop and those whose photographs line the walls. They include his ten grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Among them is Perry III’s son Perry IV. It’s a good name.