Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Faithful former Maas employees to hold reunion


Carol Gaynor cried when she watched the demolition of the old downtown Maas Brothers store in 2006.

"It was the best place I ever worked,'' she said.

Fellow former Maas employee Lisa Lichtenberg was upset, too. "Our building is now a parking lot,'' she said, adding the line from Joni Mitchell: "They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.''

Though the store at Zack and Tampa streets had closed in 1991, its shell remained a reminder of a happy era to hundreds of former employees. For most of the 20th century, Maas Brothers was regarded as the premier department store in the Tampa Bay area. It generated loyalty from both customers and employees.

Those who worked the sales floors hold periodic reunions. On Saturday, the office workers will hold their first. About 200 of the former merchandise buyers, marketers and other behind-the-scenes workers are expected to converge on the Tampa Bay History Center to reminisce and look over memorabilia like Maas shopping bags, a 1948 employee handbook, a "charge-a-plate'' — a forerunner of credit cards — and the huge porcelain glazed concrete sign that faced Zack Street.

"Even though it was a very large corporation, it still felt like a family business,'' said Lichtenberg, who organized the reunion with Gaynor and Ruthie Rorebeck.

They hope to get a lot of store memorabilia to donate to the Maas collection at the history center. Lichtenberg, who worked as director of the merchandise information office, searched for but couldn't find an autographed picture of Jim Palmer, the former Baltimore Orioles pitcher and chiseled Jockey underwear model. He once stood in his Jockeys as a live advertisement in the picture window of the Maas store, creating a sensation.

"Every girl in town stood around that window,'' Gaynor said.

• • •

Abe Maas, a retailer from Georgia, founded the business as the Dry Goods Palace in 1886. The next year, his brother Isaac joined him and the store was renamed Maas Brothers. It operated as an independent family store until 1929, when it was sold to Hahn Stores, which changed its named to Allied Stores in 1935.

Under Allied, Maas Brothers expanded eventually to 39 stores throughout Florida, the downtown Tampa store remaining the home office. (Part of the office staff later moved to a building on Gandy Boulevard.) Pictures from the days before suburban malls show sales floors teeming with people who dressed up to shop downtown — ladies wearing dresses and hats and men in coats and ties. Its Suncoast Restaurant was a popular dining spot for downtown workers. Half a dozen or more judges from the nearby Hillsborough County courthouse gathered for lunch at a large table there every weekday.

"We grew up with the brand, grew up with the store,'' said Rorebeck. "It was a special place to shop.''

Rorebeck started working at Maas on the sales floors, was recruited for executive development, and joined the office staff as a buyer of lamps, rugs and furniture accessories.

"It was lot more fun in the buying office,'' she said. "We were a close group of people. We traveled together, partied together.''

Gaynor, who was administrative assistant to the vice president for home fashions and special events, enjoyed meeting the celebrities who came through for store promotions. In addition to Jim Palmer, she met Eva Gábor and Suzanne Pleshette, and she once took Lord Wedgewood to lunch. She and Wedgewood, a seventh-generation descendant of the famous chinamakers, dined at the old Selena's Restaurant in Hyde Park. "I learned an awful lot about Great Britain,'' Gaynor said.

• • •

Lichtenberg recalled the fabulous party the company threw for its employees for the 100th anniversary celebration in 1986. More than 850 people gathered for the black-tie event at the Hyatt in downtown Tampa. They were served a seven-course feast; Skitch Henderson led the orchestra; and the comic Alan King performed.

"We didn't know it, but while we were celebrating, this crazy Canadian, Robert Campeau, was plotting to buy Allied department stores,'' Lichtenberg said. "So that year, 1986, while we celebrated our 100th year, was the beginning of the end of Maas.''

In 1991, all the Maas Brothers stores merged with Burdines and were renamed for that Miami-based chain. (Now they are Macy's stores.)

"We did have a pink slip party,'' Rorebeck said. "We got together at Davis Islands Yacht Club, wore pink and danced and had liquid libations.''

Gaynor was out of town and couldn't go, but she knows it wasn't the happiest of parties.

"I was depressed,'' said Gaynor. "I was losing the best job I ever had and all my friends.''

Philip Morgan can be reached at or (813) 226-3435.

The reunion

For information about the reunion, contact Lisa Lichtenberg at (813) 988-2225 or

Faithful former Maas employees to hold reunion 04/25/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 24, 2013 2:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Iraq's Kurds vote on independence, raising regional fears


    IRBIL, Iraq — Iraqi Kurds voted Monday in a landmark referendum on supporting independence, a move billed by the Kurdish leadership as an exercise in self-determination but viewed as a hostile act by Iraq's central government. Neighboring Turkey even threatened a military response.

    People celebrate Monday after voting closed in a referendum on independence in Irbil, Iraq.
  2. North Korean diplomat says Trump has 'declared war'


    UNITED NATIONS — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump's weekend tweet was a "declaration of war" and North Korea has the right to retaliate by shooting down U.S. bombers, even in international airspace.

    North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, center, speaks outside the U.N. Plaza Hotel in New York on Monday.
  3. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals


    TAMPA — Express lanes may not be coming to downtown Tampa after all. Or at least not to the stretch of Interstate 275 that goes north through Bearss Avenue.

    Seminole Heights resident Kimberly Overman discusses the new interstate options with V.M. Ybor resident Chris Vela (left), Hillsborough County Commissioner Pat Kemp and HNTB consultant Chloe Coney during a Tampa Bay Express meeting Monday night at the Barrymore Hotel. [CAITLIN JOHNSTON  |  Times]
  4. Pinellas grants St. Pete's request to add millions to pier budget

    Local Government

    Times Staff Writer

    The Pinellas County Commission has granted St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman's request to dedicate millions more toward the city's new pier.

    The St. Petersburg City Council on Thursday  voted 7-1 to appropriate $17.6 million for the over-water portion of the Pier District. This is a rendering of what the new Pier District could look like. [Courtesy of St. Petersburg]
  5. Man injured when small helicopter crashes into Odessa home


    ODESSA — A small manned helicopter crashed into the roof of a house in northwest Hillsborough County on Monday, injuring a pilot, officials said.

    Rescuers respond to a crash of a small helicopter on the roof of a home in the Odessa area on Monday. [Hillsborough County Fire Rescue]