Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Epilogue | Abe Katz

His loyalty to neighborhood stood in the way of Tropicana Field

Grocery store owner Abe Katz, center, cashed customers’ checks and helped them decipher legal documents. The store was razed in 1987 to make way for Tropicana Field.

Times (1976)

Grocery store owner Abe Katz, center, cashed customers’ checks and helped them decipher legal documents. The store was razed in 1987 to make way for Tropicana Field.

ST. PETERSBURG — In the early 1980s, city planners drew a Magic Marker around an enormous swath of land they hoped would improve downtown, maybe even save it. They had cleared every hurdle and cleared out every piece of land on property earmarked for what they were calling the Florida Suncoast Dome.

Soon they could build it, and a baseball team would surely follow.

Only Abe Katz, an independent grocer, stood in their way.

The city's lawyers ratcheted up pressure on Katz Grocery for two years, but its owner refused to budge.

"I remember going there when it was the only building left," said his son-in-law, Marc Horowitz. "Everything else had been razed."

Though he didn't like the price, Mr. Katz had another reason for standing firm: his customers. Mr. Katz cashed their welfare and payroll checks, deciphered their legal documents and sometimes even taught their children to drive. He felt like an important part of a neighborhood that was rapidly being displaced.

They needed each other.

Mr. Katz, the last holdout before the domed stadium went up, died Wednesday. He was 87.

"We remember a man who was humble, innocent, sweet, happy and genuine," Rabbi Jacob Luski on Friday told a packed Congregation B'nai Israel, where Mr. Katz had been a member for more than 50 years.

He moved to St. Petersburg from Maine in the mid 1930s. His parents, Isaac and Viola Katz, had been urged by friends in St. Petersburg to relocate and set up a store. "In those days, the Jewish community was small," said Sandy Brasch, Mr. Katz's daughter. "Most of them owned grocery and sundry stores."

Those friends, the Roth­blatts, had a 5-year-old daughter named Bunnie — who, shortly after meeting Abe Katz, six years her senior, declared she would one day marry him.

Abraham Katz dropped out of school in the eighth grade to help run the store at 1056 Third Ave. S. He took over the store after his father's death in 1945. He married Bunnie six years later.

He sold meat and dry goods, engaging customers with innate curiosity.

"He was incredible," said Horowitz, 52. "He'd shake your hand and say hello. He'd ask you a question and really want to know the answer. And he'd remember it the next time he saw you."

He trusted customers and asked for trust in return.

"Don't steal," the rabbi remembered him saying. "You need diapers? I'll give you diapers. You need a loaf of bread? I'll give you a loaf of bread. But don't steal."

Mr. Katz worked at the store from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., and broke up the day with an afternoon nap. He took multiple showers each day, always with a fresh towel.

"On the first of the month he would go to the bank and bring back gobs of cash," said Horowitz. "Everybody knew he had that cash, and he was never touched. He took care of the community."

The neighborhood repaid him with loyalty.

"In the 1970s we had disturbances going on," said his daughter, Sandy Brasch. "His customers literally stood in front of his store all night with guns, protecting it. There was such a respect."

Sunday mornings, he collected rents on property he owned. His daughter waited in the car.

"If they owed 50 bucks in rent, he'd come out and have loaned them 100 bucks," she recalled.

Mr. Katz took a harder line with the city. In 1985, the city seized property south of Central Avenue for the stadium under eminent domain laws. Officials offered Mr. Katz $70,000, the appraised value. No deal.

"They offered him a beggar's pittance and thought he would just go away," said son-in-law Horowitz. "He was an older man. I don't think they expected him to continue."

In 1986, city attorneys advised the City Council to fork over $220,000 —$200,000 to Mr. Katz, and $20,000 for attorney's fees. The council rejected the deal, calling the price too steep.

The pressure wore on Mr. Katz.

"He couldn't imagine his life without being in a position to help people," said Brasch, 54. "He wondered what they would do."

In 1987, fearing a negative outcome in court, the city agreed to pay Mr. Katz $200,000 plus attorney's fees —nearly three times their original offer. Four weeks later, Abe and Bunnie Katz watched as bulldozers knocked down their store.

Mr. Katz, then 65, devoted more time after that to his rental properties and to Congregation B'nai Israel, where he greeted incoming parishioners.

Ten years ago, the synagogue honored Mr. Katz as a Ha tam Torah, or "husband of the Torah."

Benjamin Towers, near the synagogue, named its cafe Katz' Korner after him.

As Alzheimer's disease sapped his memory, Bunnie Katz visited him daily at Menorah Manor, bringing cookies and coffee.

The grocery store's location is now part of Tropicana Field's parking lot.

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

>>Biography

Abraham Katz

Born: Oct. 20, 1921.

Died: Aug. 12, 2009.

Survivors: wife, Bernice "Bunnie" Katz; daughters Sandy Brasch and her husband, Herb, Ilene Horowitz and her husband, Marc; and four grandchildren.

His loyalty to neighborhood stood in the way of Tropicana Field 08/14/09 [Last modified: Friday, August 14, 2009 9:48pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. No toll lanes north of downtown Tampa in three of four interstate proposals

    Transportation

    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]
  2. No lack of issues facing St. Petersburg's six council candidates

    Elections

    ST. PETERSBURG — The six candidates for City Council gathered Monday evening in the very chamber to which they aspire to serve.

    St. Petersburg City Council candidates (from left)  Brandi Gabbard and Barclay Harless in District 2; Jerick Johnston and incumbent council member Darden Rice in District 4; and Justin Bean and Gina Driscoll of District 6. All six candidates appeared at Monday night's forum at City Hall sponsored by the League of Women Voters. [CHERIE DIEZ   |   Times]

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

    World

    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.
  4. North Korean diplomat says Trump has 'declared war'

    War

    UNITED NATIONS — North Korea's top diplomat said Monday that 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.
  5. 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]