Energetic, driven, sharp, and resolutely honest – these are the traits that characterized young Melvin Berman when he left his home of Defuniak Springs Florida at age 17 during the Great Depression.
Hitchhiking to Baltimore to work for an Uncle that owned a local dairy store, Melvin quickly learned the business and then ventured out to start his own regional dairy company, partnering with a local distributor, Arthur Robinson, and calling for his younger brother Wolford to join him. Wolford’s kind, patient, and warm personality complemented Mel’s aggressiveness and together they built a large successful dairy manufacture and distribution company servicing the Baltimore Washington Corridor and owning a large plant and significant land holdings in the Laurel, MD area.
In the early 1950’s, as a result of their experiences in both land ownership and sales, the brothers became interested in retail development and built their first shopping center in Ingelside, MD. Several others soon followed and having found their passion, they divested themselves of their dairy business and focused entirely on development by 1962.
Their real estate achievements include several of the first major shopping centers in the region including Ingleside Shopping Center, the Laurel Shopping Center and Laurel Mall. Additionally, Mel became a founding board member of the Rouse Company, for which he served 27 years – during which time he is credited for one of the most successful planned communities in the United States – Columbia, MD which sits on 15,000 acres of prime real estate outside of Washington, DC.
Throughout their business and personal lives, the qualities that defined the Berman’s were uncompromising honesty, under promising and over delivering, and a strong work ethic. Whatever needed to be done they did – be it sales or lease negotiations to physically attending to manufacturing, delivery or maintenance. Every customer and tenant received their personal attention and they became advisors to many of them in growing their businesses. Through their diligent management and unprecedented marketing efforts, their shopping centers became major successes, the spawning grounds for several regional retail chains and the lifelong homes for many upstart tenants, some of whom remain with the company today. Melvin and Wolford are remembered for their quality developments and active support and participation in community, civic and charitable causes throughout their lives.
In 1972 Gary, Wolford’s eldest, and in 1973, Dennis, Mel’s second, joined Berman Enterprises. Their first jobs included property management of the family’s shopping centers – which meant everything from dealing with Tenant issues to answering maintenance calls and picking up trash.
Training their sons in their business practices was paramount to Melvin and Wolford – the importance of honesty, attention to detail and maintaining strong connections to each tenant and keeping a first class physical plant. Tasked next with supervising the renovations of their father’s assets, they heeded their advice on the importance of being on time, on budget and the significance of treating others as they wanted to be treated. Contractors in particular were to be paid instantaneously once the job was done and this built tremendous loyalty.
Construction proved to be their niche and soon thereafter they escalated their development activities; building and owning/managing racquetball clubs in Laurel and Silver Spring MD, purchasing and renovating warehouses in Columbia, MD, building a ten story office building on family land for only $30PSF and acquiring surplus schools from Prince George’s county and converting them into office parks in Laurel and Beltsville, MD. Their projects were very profitable because they were meticulously on time and budget and they themselves performed the tasks of four trades – general contracting, supervising, managing, and leasing. They operated a lean organization, and were extremely fiscally conservative as they had learned to be from their fathers who were now ambling towards retirement.
The business grew steadily until the late 1980’s when the Washington DC metro area was hit hard by the S&L scandals and the ensuing real estate crash. Having operated under the same conservative principles as their fathers, Dennis & Gary recognized the opportunity to buy large amounts of real estate at depressed prices. Partnering with close friend Jeffrey Cohen and Dennis’ brother in law, Michael Epstein, Berman affiliate BECO Management (www.beconet.com) was born. Today, BECO owns & manages more than 7,000,000 square feet of commercial property throughout Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina & Illinois.
Today the Company is run by Gary’s sons Kevin (2001), Adam (2008) and Casey (2007) and Dennis’ sons Brian (2002), Jeffrey (2004) and Benjamin (2009) who have expanded the Company’s retail, commercial office and residential operations & developments.