7 Aug 2015 – The Family Businesses

Around 1945, Melzar (my grandfather) purchased and opened the Williams Seafood business on Virginia Street in Mobile, AL.  At the time, Melzar was working full-time at the post office delivering mail.  Ervin (Melzar’s father) and Uncle Luke convinced Melzar to open the seafood business stating that they would run it while he delivered mail.

Has anyone ever worked with a family member?  Well, if you have never experienced this first hand, it can be really trying!  Job descriptions are not well-defined, income can be fuzzy, and opportunities for advancement can be slim.  It’s just not the same as working with professionals.  I do not recommend it!  Ervin and Luke quickly found out that the seafood business was more time consuming than originally thought.  In fact, within a couple of months, Ervin and Luke quit the business and turned it over to Melzar so that they could do more fishing!  This created a problem with Melzar already working full-time!

Since the Uncles were no longer interested in working, Inell Williams (my grandmother) did the lion’s share of the work. She did the accounting, expanded the services offered, and made the business so successful that it paid for the daughters’ college education.   Inell expanded the seafood business to include beer, fresh and canned vegetables, milk, bread, etc.

After leaving the seafood business, Ervin and Luke fished at least two days a week.  On one occasion, a friend (let’s call him Frank) wanted to come.  The problem was that the boat only had enough room for two people.  Frank still wanted to go.  So Ervin said to Frank, “You can go but you will have to stay in the car and turn the lights on when it gets dark so we can see how to get back to shore.”

Frank agreed, “No problem.  I got you man.  I’ll wait here.”  Frank was so excited to go fishing even if he couldn’t go out in the boat.

It was so quite and relaxing in the car.  Frank had everything he needed.  He had food and drink.  He was set.

By the time it got dark, Frank had not turned on the car lights.   Ervin and Luke started to yell, “Frank!  Frank! Man, turn on the lights!  We can’t see!”  Frank did not respond.

Ervin and Luke could not get Frank’s attention.  It was really dark at this point.  They could not see to get back to shore.  The car lights were never turned on.  Ervin and Luke had to stay in their boat all night until the sun rose in the morning.  When they returned to shore, they were pissed!  They looked in the car to find Frank fast asleep!

Ervin and Luke ran to the car and knocked as hard as they could to wake their friend.  “Frank, what the hell happened?”  asked Ervin.  “Man, you didn’t turn on the lights!”

Frank said, “Man, I’m sorry.  I must have fallen asleep.”  That was the last time Ervin and Luke took Frank fishing.

By the time my Mother graduated from high school and went to college, the Seafood business was sold.  

In addition to seafood, Melzar owned and operated two night clubs with another family member, Clarence Cook.  One of the night clubs was called the Dragon’s Club, one of the fancier clubs on Davis Avenue in Mobile, AL.   We estimated that the night clubs were open approximately four years following the war, from 1950 to 1954.  

One of the items sold at the night club was cigarettes.  Melzar discovered he could get cigarettes cheaper in Pensacola.  Problem was the cigarettes did not have the Mobile stamp indicating taxes were paid.  One day, the Mobile Police came into the night club and discovered the cigarettes did not have a stamp.  The Police temporarily closed the club, and Melzar was taken to jail.    It was a good thing that the club had a license to sell beer!  

In his spare time, Melzar also played in the Excelsior Band, became the Band Leader, and eventually served as the President of the Excelsior Band.   Melzar was a member in the local Federation of Musicians, and served as Secretary of this group.  During the Mardi Gras seasons, he played for many of the gala affairs and for other events.  He also became President of the Utopia Social Club.

History:  Davis Avenue in Mobile, AL was the business district, ironically named Jefferson Davis Avenue after the President of the Confederacy during the Civil War, Jefferson Davis.  The segregation of “Jim Crow” made this the main street for business in the African-American community.  At a high point in the 1960s, Davis Ave was lined with African-American businesses such as grocery stores, drug stores, doctors, dentists, lawyers, barbers, restaurants, clothing stores and everything needed to support the community health and survival.  Davis Ave was renamed to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue.  Source:  http://www.maaht.org/pdfs/MAAHT_Docent_Script.pdf

Between The Dashes

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