Friday, June 19, 2015
TO DREAM THE AMERICAN DREAM
As Abraham Maas wandered about his home land in the Rhineland Valley of Germany he dreamed of his future. What was beyond the mountains of Belgium and Luxembourg? What was beyond the Atlantic Ocean? He had heard of the American Civil War, but he also read about the economic expansion there following the war. Thousands of Eastern European Jewish men were leaving their homes to engage in the mercantile business in the United States. Abe wondered, what would life hold for him in America?
So in his 20th year, Abraham Maas, who was born in Dolgsheim, Germany on May 22, 1855,emigrated to the United States in 1875. Maas joined his brothers, Solomon, Isaac and Jacob, who were just beginning in the mercantile business in Georgia.
The Maas brothers established a store in Cochran, then in Pulaski County, Georgia. At that time, Dublin was without a railroad. Cochran, on the Macon & Brunswick Railroad, was a booming railroad village. In 1879, the brothers Maas constructed the first brick store building in Cochran,
which had not existed at the end of the Civil War.
In an 1878 advertisement in the Dublin Post, the brothers proclaimed that their motto was to “please and suit everybody” by guaranteeing that all of their goods were as represented and that they were the largest stock and best stock ever brought to this section of Georgia from New York and the markets of Europe. In praising their goods, the Maas Brothers guaranteed that their prices would astonish everyone.
In the late 1879 or early 1880s, Solomon Maas sent brother Abe, a single man, to Dublin, where he rented a store building and went into business. So confident as to the quality of his merchandise, Maas guaranteed a $500.00 reward to any man or woman who was not completely satisfied with their purchase.
When the 1880 census was taken, Abe Maas was living in the home of wealthy farmer, David Ware, Sr., in his home in Dublin. Also boarding with the Wares were grocer Blanton Nance, farmer J. Freeman Moore and his family, and Dublin Times printers William Brown and J.H. Etheridge.
Abe Maas’ store, most likely located in the 200 block of West Jackson Street, burned to the ground in two hours on the evening of January 28, 1882. The fire caused a total loss to his goods, but the young Maas wisely carried full insurance. As a tenant, he suffered no direct loss of the building, which he rented from LC. Perry & Co..
Abe Maas remained in Dublin for another year or so. Soon his thoughts turned to a beautiful young woman from his homeland. Eight years his junior, Bena Wolf emigrated to Cincinnati, Ohio along with her brothers to join their uncle in hopes of a better life in the United States.
Abe traveled to Cincinnati, some say with marriage on his mind. The couple were married in September 1883 and returned to Georgia, where their first child, Solomon, was born on the 4th of July of the following year.
Dublin’s economy remained steady but without significant growth in the early 1880s. With promises of a railroad coming and going, Abe Maas made a life altering decision. He would move his family and start a new life. So Maas and his wife packed all of their belongings and moved to the waterfront village of Tampa, Florida, which wasn’t too much larger than Dublin. He would never move again.
Abe and Bena Maas (left with Sol and Jessica) opened their first store, Abraham’s Dry Goods Place, on the corner of Franklin and Twiggs Street two weeks before Christmas in 1886. The very small store, located some four blocks from the Hillsborough River, was the only brick store building in 800-person town and only one of two brick buildings below Ocala, Florida. By 1887, brother Sol moved from Ocala to join Abe and form the first Maas Brothers store in Tampa.
The brothers never looked back in regret. Nearly four decades later, Maas told the Tampa Tribune, “I have never had reason to doubt the wisdom of that decision.
At first, business was slow, but Abe, Bena and Sol persevered in provide customer service. Their hard work ethic paid off.
Near the end of the 19th Century, the Maas Brothers, riding the wave of a booming business, moved down Franklin Street to its corner with Zack Street. As the Roaring Twenties came and Florida was enjoying is first great boom, business was better than ever. The Maas Brothers Store moved in 1921 eventually taking over the entire American National Bank Building. In 1929, the store was sold to the Hahn Department Stores, a large national chain, but kept doing business under its original name as Tampa’s Greatest Store.
A public spirited citizen, Abe Maas served as President of the Schaarai Zedok Temple during the first 31 of the synagogue’s 33-year existence. Maas retired from the office in 1927. Lauded as an honored member, faithful officer, zealous worker and generous contributor to the congregation Maas’s influence was said to have been felt in every cause tending to the benefit of humanity and Judaism. The beloved founding father of the synagogue continued to serve as President Emeritus until his death.
Maas’ business interests included his own realty company. He served as a director of the Morris Plan Bank of Tampa, the Thompson Cigar Company and a member of the Board of Trade. Maas was the founding member and first Exhalted Ruler of the city’s Elk’s Lodge. Abe proudly proclaimed membership in the Masons, the Knights of Phythias and the Kiwanians. Always one sympathetic to the needs of the poor and the downtrodden. Maas helped to found the Old People's Home. During World War I, Maas worked tirelessly as the chairman of Europe relief.
Bena Wolf Maas, who also hailed from the village of Dolgsheim, worked along the side of Abe in the business. She served as president of the non-denominational Children’s Home for more than twenty-five years, a charter member of Congregation Schaarai Zedek, and a founder of the Community Chest, the predecessor of today’s United Way. She died in 1947.
The store became part of Allied Department Stores in 1935. That same year, Issac Maas died. Brother Abe took over the chairmanship of the company. After a series of mergers and expansions to new stores, the flag ship store in Tampa closed in the early 1990s. It was razed to the ground in 2006 after many years of neglect.
Abe Maas died on June 7, 1941 at the age of eighty six.
When he came to Dublin to open his own business, he was twenty five years old. Every day he opened his store, he worked toward serving the needs of his customers and providing good quality merchandise. In his first fifty years in business, Maas grew his business from a less than a thousand square foot storeroom in a primitive wooden buidling with no electricity and no indoor plumbing on a dusty dirt Jackson Street in Dublin to an 8-story, 75,000 square foot, brick and steel building on a busy avenue in the burgeoning metropolis of Tampa, Florida.