Dayton company that built tents for Wright Brothers still going strong

141-year-old Glawe Awnings and Tents provides over 120 tents to Dayton Air Show.


When June rolls around each year, it is time for Glawe Awning and Tent Co. to shine. The entire month is spent preparing for one big event: the Vectren Dayton Air Show.

It is no easy task. Six people set up over 120 tents across Dayton International Airport and work up to 1,500 hours during the entire month, according to owner Katharine Schaefer.

The 141-year-old family business has had lots of practice, however. Glawe has been involved with the Vectren Dayton Air Show ever since 1975, CEO Vernon Schaefer said.

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“That show is really getting bigger, which is great. It is great for Dayton, great for us, great for everybody,” Katharine, Vernon’s daughter, said.

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.

Family legacy

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.

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.

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.

Custom work

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.”

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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.

Unique ties

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 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.



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