Looking around my shop, it’s hard to believe
there was ever a time D.E.L.S. wasn’t around. This place has been the heart of
my family for three generations, but as a new generation grows into leadership
and management, I feel compelled to tell the story of how D.E.L.S. came to be,
and that story begins with my father, Louis Edward Brown.
My dad was born in 1935. He would be 85 this
year. Dad started out as a fish cutter in New Bedford, but he knew he wouldn’t
stay there forever. I think he was drawn to New Bedford Coastal Fisheries
because of his love of the ocean. Growing up on the coast, dad was raised on
New Bedford’s rich, nautical traditions - from the food to the stories and,
importantly, the handicrafts.
While he was working at the fishery, dad met
Louie Correia, a local artist and photographer who was obsessed with the
stories and crafts surrounding New Bedford’s famous whaling industry. Mr.
Correia introduced my dad to scrimshaw, “the art of etching,” which is a
time-honored Yankee tradition that was historically practiced by whalers as a
pass-time. However, with the death of the whaling industry, very few artisans
continued to practice their heirloom handicrafts. Still, my dad was a clever
guy, and he knew that tourists and other collectors were still looking for
scrimshaw, even though it was growing harder and harder to find.
But dad saw an opportunity - Moby Dick Marine
in Downtown New Bedford sold raw, unpolished whale teeth. With a little work,
those cheap souvenirs could be transformed into something beautiful and
precious. So dad loaded up on whale teeth and purchased a few tools - a
bandsaw, sanders and polishing wheels, and got to work. He figured that the
market for smaller, scrimshawed trinkets would be much more lucrative and less
competitive than full-size whale teeth, so he started cutting the raw material
down into smaller shapes to turn into jewelry. That’s how our first scrimshaw
pendant was created, and it was a hit. Not bad for a little project in the
cellar of my childhood home on Middleboro Road.
It wasn’t long before dad realized he needed
more room for his business - that and mom was getting real sick of all the dust
coming up from the cellar, so dad moved his scrimshaw operation to the small
boat shed on the property. As I got older, I grew more and more interested in
dad’s business. I went from sitting on the sidelines to sanding cross cuts by
hand and preparing them for polish, and by age 11, I was hooked. I was part of
the team, helping dad cut down and prepare the teeth for etching. We made
earrings, tie tacks, cufflinks and other small jewelry items, all decorated
with traditional motifs like lighthouses and whaling ships.
Dad was right about the market demand. After
only a few years, he realized he had to fully commit to his scrimshaw project.
He quit his job to become a bonafide entrepreneur at the helm of his new
company - D.E.L.S., a name that he and mom thought up from the first letters of
their kids’ names: David, Eric, Linda and Steven. It was official, he was living
the American Dream.
When it came time to grow D.E.L.S. further,
dad knew to surround himself with good, quality people - people he knew and
trusted. He hired my uncles Freddy and Ray and moved operations from the
backyard boat shed to a large retail and manufacturing building down the road.
At the new location, dad was able to expand his product offerings from just
scrimshaw jewelry to other nautical trinkets as well as brass and even coffee
tables. Business was booming, and he hired another handful of employees, but it
wasn’t long before dad started setting his eyes on new horizons.
In the same way that dad got into scrimshaw,
dad spent a lot of time looking for other industries that had high demand and
low availability. He started a parking lot line-painting business, because no
one was painting parking lot lines. He loved Chow Mein sandwiches, but no one
was selling them in Freetown, so what did he do? He opened a breakfast and
lunch counter serving up American and Chinese food right next door to D.E.L.S.
I think I ate a Chow Mein sandwich every day for a year after dad opened that
Since dad was so busy with his other work, he
started giving me more management jobs. I was a hard worker, but I was also
passionate. I took great pride in the family business that my dad built, and I
was happy to work every day with my friends and relatives like Uncle Ray,
Madelyn Mansfield, Brenda Sylvia, Cousin Charlie and my best childhood friend,
In 1975, dad finally got to
open a business just for himself. He knew the value in jewelry and scrimshaw
and parking lot lines and Chow Mein sandwiches, but they were businesses of
opportunity. He was so happy when he purchased his piano and organ store in New
Bedford, because he was deeply passionate about music. He opened a studio for
lessons inside the store, and as dad spent more time at his new shop, I had to
get more involved with D.E.L.S.
When I graduated high school in 1975, I didn’t
even pause to catch my breath. Every day I was at D.E.L.S., working and making
money for the family business. I loved it. I had a car, I had friends and
family. I had a great job. I had everything a kid could ever need.
Two years later, I got the call that my dad
had been in a car accident. I wasn’t ready to be the boss. All these years
later, I still don’t feel ready to be the boss, but you have to play the cards
you’re dealt, and that was that. I miss my dad every day, and I am so grateful
for the gift, no, the legacy that he built for our family. I wish my dad could
be here to see his grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow up at D.E.L.S.,
but I know he is watching, and I know he is proud.