ST. PETERSBURG — From the front yard, the aqua blue home on 25th Street S looks like others on the block, cozy and well-kept. A huge living room window afforded Jesse Abrams the view he needed from a cloth recliner with electric controls, which he worked like the captain's chair on the Starship Enterprise.
With papers for his salvage yard and an amplified phone in his lap he could conduct business and watch the street.
To the right of the window flickered two television screens, one feeding several simultaneous images from a security camera to cover a fenced-in back yard that stretches a city block.
Mr. Abrams had founded several successful businesses. He owned a body shop, a fuel company, a barbecue restaurant and other ventures. He helped form the ownership group for Blue Star Cab, a survival lifeline in the 1950s and 1960s that ferried working mothers to jobs, the grocery store and day care centers for a flat rate.
Mr. Abrams, a well-known entrepreneur in St. Petersburg's black community, died Friday at Bay Pines VA Medical Center as a result of diabetes, his family said. He was 89.
Goliath Davis, the former St. Petersburg police chief and deputy mayor in charge of Midtown development, called Mr. Abrams "truly a trailblazer and a very early entrepreneur."
"I would say that he, like many other entrepreneurs early on, basically were shining examples of what we were trying to emulate with the Midtown initiative," Davis said.
Mr. Abrams was quiet, reserved and forceful, his friends and family members say. "I can't remember a time when his mind wasn't focused on what he wanted to do, how he wanted to change things and how he wanted things to go," said Virginia Abrams, a retired teacher and his wife since 1960.
The South Side Cab Co. he co-founded in 1950 met urgent transportation needs for working mothers. "It was one of the major sources of transportation for black folks in this area for a long time," said the Rev. Willie Miller, 69, a longtime friend. The company later changed its name to Blue Star.
"They went so far as to pick your child up," Miller said. "And if you weren't home, they'd hang onto your child until you got home."
Jesse Abrams was born in St. Petersburg. He graduated from Gibbs High, then served in the Navy for five years, the first three in the Pacific during World War II. The 2nd class petty officer participated in the Mariana Islands invasion and was awarded a Bronze Star.
After the war, the certified machinist and welder began to branch out. He founded Abrams New Deal at 1700 18th Ave. S. Over time, his businesses eventually included a fuel oil company; another cab company; a salvage yard; Steve's Bar-B-Que Pit; a carwash; and convenience stores.
He also tried to help other young men find work.
"He had apartments he put them in, let them stay," said Miller. "Then bring them over (to his home), and let them do some work and still pay them while they're living in an apartment free."
For years he allowed a group of men to congregate at Central Avenue and 11th Street in the hopes of finding day labor jobs. When the men began stealing his tools and littering "break corner" with empty bottles, Mr. Abrams posted no-trespassing signs and ran them off.
In recent years, Mr. Abrams had zipped his motorized scooter around a backyard welding shop, where several massive grills he designed still sit.
In recent months, he was planning a barbecue and pool party for his church's youth program.
Then his health declined. Ever the realist, Mr. Abrams even penned his own obituary.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2248.