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Sheldon Klein | 1927-2010

Sheldon Klein, businessman and father of seven, dies

DAVIS ISLANDS — Sheldon Klein had three passions in life.

"He loved his family, he loved gambling, and he loved food," his son Matt said.

He never shied away from indulging those passions. He had seven children, and built a furniture business largely by taking calculated risks.

"He was a good businessman, and he was the kind of businessman who liked to take a gamble," his son Marc said. "That's the kind of guy who sometimes hits it big."

Mr. Klein passed away Feb. 25 at age 83, after several years of declining health.

"He loved food, and he was overweight and he developed diabetes because of it," Marc Klein said. "He gave himself injections three times a day, but he never went on a diet like he should have. I guess he thought he could beat the odds."

It was a bet he couldn't win, but since he lived a long life and lived it his way, it's hard to say he lost.

"He was larger than life," Marc Klein said. "He lived his life to the fullest."

Mr. Klein was born in Brooklyn, N.Y. His first career was in the carnival business. He never spoke much about those years, but he was apparently one of the guys who ran a game of chance and cajoled passersby into trying to win a kewpie doll.

His travels brought him to Florida, and he settled in Tampa in the 1950s.

It wasn't too big a stretch from his carnival work to his next venture. He opened Dale Mabry Auction at the corner of Hillsborough Avenue and Dale Mabry Highway, where he sold furniture and antiques.

He eventually sold the property to a car dealership. He then started buying stock at discounted prices from stores that were going out of business and reselling the stock to other businesses.

One such store was Payless Furniture on Nebraska Avenue.

This time, though, instead of buying the stock, he decided to buy the business. He ran Payless for the rest of his career and opened a second store on Hillsborough Avenue. Two of his sons still run those stores.

When he wasn't working or taking a chance on some new business deal, Mr. Klein was often at the horse track.

"He was kind of a man from another time, like a Frank Sinatra kind of guy," Marc Klein said. "His grandchildren, when they were little, thought he was in the Mafia, but of course he wasn't."

His son Matt remembered Mr. Klein taking trips to Las Vegas or other gambling meccas whenever he had a chance. But he also remembered familial times at home on Davis Islands.

"He had seven kids, and every Sunday night he'd go out and buy a big bag of candy bars and we'd all sit on his bed together and watch Ed Sullivan," he said.

Mr. Klein counted many of Tampa's business leaders among his friends, and seven kids made his home a gathering spot for their friends. As large as the family was, the dinner table almost always had a few extra guests.

"A little bit of Tampa died with my father," his son Matt said. "Everybody knew Sheldon Klein."

Mr. Klein is survived by his wife of 36 years, Virginia, his sons Marc, Matt, Mitchell, Morgan and Martin, his daughters Mica Rywant and Melissa Gerhardt, his brother Seymour, his sister Faith Nadler and 14 grandchildren.

Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at

Sheldon Klein, businessman and father of seven, dies 03/04/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 3, 2010 5:36pm]
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