Workers with Glawe Awnings and Tents install a 20,000 sq. ft. pavilion tent that housed the Birth of Aviation Centerpiece Exhibit at a previous Vectren Dayton Air Show.
Credit: Shiloh Crawford III
Credit: Shiloh Crawford III
While it is their biggest event, Glawe stays busy throughout the year—and not just with awnings and tents.
"We do so many diverse things," Katharine said. "The way we made it through the first depression was making horse blankets, of all things."
It’s that flexibility—and willingness to help customers and communities — that explains why they are still around today.
Glawe has had just four owners since opening in 1877, Vernon said. Their first office was located at 111 N. Main Street in Dayton where the Schuster Center is located.
Glawe Awnings and Tents original location in the 100 block of North Main Street. SUBMITTED
Today, Glawe operates at 851 Zapata Drive in Fairborn within a custom building designed for them – the first of its kind the company has had.
As a teen, Vernon began working at Glawe in 1947 after accepting an offer from his great-great uncle. The company was still in Dayton.
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He has remained there ever since, only away when he served in the Army during the Korean War.
"It's in my blood," he said with a laugh. It's just something I like to do. If you're going to work, you might as well like what you're doing."
He installed tents and awnings before becoming CEO. Now 87 years old and “semi-retired”, he visits the office about once a week. He handed daily operations over to his daughter, Katharine.
“If they have a problem, they will call me, and I’ll go in,” he said.
Katharine started working with Glawe after graduating college. She was helping her father, Vernon, when he was sick.
Glawe Awnings and Tents CEO Vernon Schaefer with his daughter and company owner Katharine Schaefer. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
What began as a nice gesture turned into a lifelong career. “I came in, started helping, and I never left. I never looked back,” she said.
Now, she does everything from managing finances to attending events.
Looking for niches
Glawe does not stop at just supplying awnings and tents. The business has made everything from blood cart covers to forklift covers, and Katharine says that kind of flexibility has allowed them to see continued success.
“We are very flexible and very skilled at doing things that aren’t normal,” Katharine said. “We’ve done a lot of weird stuff.”
Among the “weird stuff:” Horse stalls, bar enclosures, and decorative drapes for patios.
"It's almost like if they see it on HGTV, people want it, and we can do it, generally," Katharine said.
Glawe not only creates most awnings in-house, but they also customize them.
Not every business that sells awnings makes them, Vernon said.
“Anybody who has a screw driver and a pair of pliers are selling those,” he said of many businesses selling awnings. “But it’s the quality that counts and that’s where we win out.”
Shaun Fridley, grandson of Glawe’s CEO Vernon Schaefer, operates a digital fabric cutter that saves hours of manual cutting time for custom awnings and tents. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
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Homeowners and business owners can choose from hundreds of different types of fabric and colors. But it didn’t used to be that way.
Years ago, the business offered a few awning colors in plain cotton. Improved technology has led to durable fabric and more efficient equipment, Vernon said.
“In the old days, it was a tape measure, a ruler, and a pair of scissors,” he said.
Working production takes tremendous skill, Katharine said.
"It is every bit of hard because you're looking at a piece of paper with all this stuff on it and you have to make sense of it in terms of fabric and how you would cut it," she said.
Glawe is also involved in the tent business. In 1903, they manufactured two tents for the Wright Brothers to take to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, to attempt powered flight.
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Glawe also played a part in welcoming U.S. presidents to Dayton. Katharine recalled meeting President Bill Clinton in October of 1996.
The company provided tents for Clinton during his visit to downtown Dayton. The tents shielded the president from the public upon getting out of his vehicle.
“It’s never the same thing twice,” she said of working at Glawe. Added Vernon: “We do some pretty weird things,” as he laughed.
If there is a big festival in town, chances are Glawe is there. They’ve helped set up tents for the Beavercreek Popcorn Festival, Dayton Greek Festival, Winter Guard International, and many others.
Glawe Awnings and Tents owner Katharine Schaefer inspects recovered awnings that will be reinstalled at the Dayton VA. TY GREENLEES / STAFF
Glawe has also been involved with the Fairborn Area Chamber of Commerce for numerous years. The business provides tents for the annual Fairborn Halloween Festival.
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Owen said he is very appreciative of Glawe’s contributions to the chamber and the Dayton-area economy. He said any long-running business is very important to a community.
“Those businesses are the foundation of a community. It’s so vital to our economy to have those long-standing businesses in your community stay,” he said.
Glawe joins Foy's and Shwartz Jewelry Store as other long-established businesses currently in Fairborn, he said.
Celebrating 120 years
The Dayton Daily News is celebrating 120 years of service to the community. In 1898, James Middleton Cox bought the Dayton Evening Herald at age 28. Soon after, he changed the name to the Dayton Daily News and created the foundation for a media company that has been part of this region ever since. We will continue to profile area companies in the next year hat have been in business more than 100 years. Know of one? Email firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about your company