TAMPA — At its peak, his family's clothing store brought generations of well-groomed customers to more than half a dozen locations throughout the state, starting with a landmark location on Franklin Street.
Fred Wolf, whose grandfather and great-uncle founded Wolf Brothers in 1898, ran the men's clothing store through the 1950s until its closing in 1996. While styles changed, the dress and demeanor of the quiet businessman who led Wolf Brothers did not.
In some ways, the rise and fall of Wolf Brothers reflected broader changes over a century. Suburban malls packed with other chain clothing stores, and a reduced demand for tailored suits accounted for some of the losses.
But while it lasted, Wolf Brothers worked meticulously to hold on to its reputation as a standard setter. Now Fred Wolf, the last of a family of clothiers that once operated at four locations in Tampa, with stores in St. Petersburg and Clearwater and others around the state, has died.
Mr. Wolf, a native Floridian who was proud to have anchored an iconic store for decades, died July 18, of kidney failure. He was 88.
His family roots are steeped in history. In 1898, Mr. Wolf's great-uncle, Morris C. Wolf, quit his job at his in-laws' store, Maas Brothers, and founded a Franklin Street store with $200 in capital.
Legend has it he sold red and blue bandanas to Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders, who were headed to Cuba for the Spanish-American War. Fred W. Wolf, Morris' brother, joined him in 1899.
A 1900 Tampa Tribune edition described Wolf Brothers as an "unrivaled gents' furnishing store in beauty … a remarkably handsome store." The location doubled in size.
Harold Wolf, Fred W. Wolf's son, took over the store 1931.
Fred Leserman Wolf, Harold's son, was born in 1925 in Tampa. He grew up spearfishing, and later became one of the first people in Florida to own a scuba tank, his family said. He served in the Army Air Forces, graduated from Georgia Tech and eventually joined Wolf Brothers in Tampa. He married Delores Sunday and started a family. Delores Wolf died in the late 1970s.
In 1964, Wolf Brothers was sold to Hart, Schaffner and Marx, the store's Chicago supplier. The chain retained the family name, however, and Mr. Wolf stayed on as president.
Into the late 1960s, the store, which had expanded to women's clothes since the early days, sold furs and ball gowns for Gasparilla parties.
"There was no such thing as women bank managers," said Eleanor Wolf, who married Mr. Wolf after his first wife's death. "The women they sold to were society women."
He retained his love of the outdoors, opening Windsurfing Florida Suncoast stores in the 1970s with two partners. A series of small dogs, especially a Yorkie named Rowdy, loved to ride on the surfboard as Mr. Wolf cut through the bay on his windsurfer, his family said.
Wolf Brothers locations continued to prosper in downtown Tampa, University Square Mall, WestShore Plaza and the former Tampa Bay Mall. But overall, malls did more to hurt the business than help. Among other things, they drew business away from downtown.
"At 6 o'clock, you could almost shoot a cannon up the street and nobody's there," Mr. Wolf told the Times in 1987.
Mr. Wolf retired in 1992. The Wolf Brothers in WestShore Plaza, the chain's last location, closed in 1996.
Mr. Wolf also volunteered at Sarasota's Selby Botanical Gardens, bringing back baby bromeliads by the carload. He planted hundreds along the entrance to the residential community where he and his wife lived. They are still there, surrounding an oak tree, their golden yellow spears standing 5 feet and higher.
Contact Andrew Meacham at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248. Follow @torch437.