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Laser Spine Institute joins ghosts of Tampa Bay businesses past, from Maas Bros to Webb’s City

From shopping centers to drug stores, let’s revisit some of our area’s most iconic lost destinations.
Published Mar. 6, 2019
Updated Mar. 7, 2019

After 14 years in Tampa, the Laser Spine Institute closed suddenly last week. The abrupt ending for the institute’s locations in Tampa, Ohio, Arizona and Missouri left hundreds of doctors and patients reeling.

The Laser Spine Institute joins a list of Tampa Bay businesses that have closed over the years. Some shuttered quickly, while others hung on for as long as they could.

From shopping centers to drug stores, let’s revisit some of our most iconic lost destinations.

Maas Brothers

The downtown Tampa Maas Brothers location stood on the southwest corner of Franklin Street and Zack Street. [Burgert Brothers | Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System]

As the area’s premiere department store, Maas Brothers was one of Tampa Bay’s most well-known businesses during the past century.

The chain’s history stretches back to 1886, the year Abe Maas founded the Dry Goods Palace in Tampa. The store was renamed when Abe’s brother Isaac joined the company the following year. Maas Brothers was sold to Hahn Stores (later known as Allied Stores) in 1929 and expanded across the state.

An estimated 50,000 people visited Maas Brothers during the first day of a three day blockbuster sale held in 1982. Times (1982)
Shoppers crowd Maas Brothers in downtown Tampa in 1946. Times (1946)

Maas Brothers expanded locations across the Gulf Coast, while the Tampa and St. Pete locations remained strong. Maas Brothers became synonymous with traditions big and small: Children met with Santa every year. Shoppers visited the stores’ bakeries and restaurants for a sweet roll or a slice of wedding cake. Women went there to buy wedding dresses.

Mass Brothers hosted an "April in Portugal" bridal show in 1965. Times (1965)

Maas’ downfall began on the year of its 100th anniversary after Robert Campeau purchased Allied Stores for $3.5 billion in December 1986. According to Times archives, Campeau consolidated Maas Brothers with the struggling Miami-based department store chain Jordan Marsh. This process resulted in the elimination of hundreds of jobs at both Maas Brothers and Jordan Marsh.

By 1991, the remaining Maas Brothers stores became Burdines. Later, Burdines stores became Macy’s.

Kash n’ Karry

The former Kash N' Karry store at Waters Avenue and Florida Avenue. Times (1969)

Kash n’ Karry’s story begins in 1914, when Italian immigrant Salvatore Greco started selling produce on the streets of Tampa.

According to an archived version of Kash n’ Karry’s website, Greco and his wife Giuseppina went on to open a store in front of their house in 1922. Later in 1947, the Grecos launched a store named Big Barn in Plant City.

As the store expanded into a chain across Tampa Bay, the name changed again to Tampa Wholesale in 1960. Finally, the chain became Kash n’ Karry in 1962.

As grocery stores like Publix and Walmart grew, Kash n’ Karry couldn’t keep up. In 1994, Kash n’ Karry filed for bankruptcy. In an effort to rebrand the chain, Kash n’ Karry announced that it would become Sweetbay in 2004.

The new name only lasted for about a decade. Bi-Lo Holdings, the parent company of Winn-Dixie, purchased Sweetbay in 2014 and transitioned the remaining Sweetbays into Winn-Dixies.

The Sweetbay at 2333 W. Hillsborough Ave. had signs alerting customers that it would be closing in 2013. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]

Webb’s City

Times files

James Earl “Doc” Webb came to Florida from Tennessee in the 1920s and opened “the world’s most unusual drug store” in 1926. It started out in a 17 x 28 foot space on St. Petersburg’s 9th Street, but by the time it reached its peak, the store covered roughly 10 city blocks and had over 70 departments and 1,700 employees, according to Times archives.

Doc Webb holds reins in horse balancing act during a circus at Webb's City. [Times files]

Webb’s City sold everything from steaks and bedsheets to Christmas trees and surgical equipment. But it was so much more than a store — it was also a tourist attraction. Webb’s City used every kind of gimmick imaginable in order to draw customers, from fake talking mermaids and dancing chickens to a circus in the store’s parking lot that featured a family being shot out of a cannon.

Then there were the ridiculously low prices.

“To get customers into the store, one could find Doc selling one dollar bills for 95 cents, serving a full breakfast for three cents, or selling a train-car of cantaloupes at two cents apiece," wrote Pamela D. Robbins in her dissertation, “‘Stack ‘Em High and Sell ‘Em Cheap’: James ‘Doc’ Webb and Webb’s City, St. Petersburg, Florida.”

Webb's City, billed as the World's Most Unusual Drug Store, was started in St. Petersburg in 1926 by James Earl "Doc'' Webb. [Undated photo courtesy of the St. Petersburg Museum of History]

All of the fanfare worked, at least for a while. About 60,000 people visited Webb’s City every day.

Related: Could ‘Doc’ Webb’s St. Pete house go the way of his mermaids, dancing chickens and World’s Most Unusual Drug Store?

In the early 1970s, the development of Tyrone Square Mall and other shopping locations around town pulled customers away from Webb’s. The store stopped profiting in 1973. Webb sold out to Marmid, Inc. in 1974, according to Times archives.

Not even a $1.1 million loan from the Economic Development Administration in 1977 could save Webb’s. The company filed for bankruptcy, and the stores finally closed in 1979. Doc died in 1982.

The drug store’s legacy was told in Webb’s City: The Musical.

Butch Lee and Hugh Oakes of Peninsular Sign Co. take down the mermaid at Webb's City piece by piece on January 6, 1984. [BILL SERNE | Times]

Eckerd Drugs

An Eckerd Drug Store in 1970. [Times files]

J. Milton Eckerd opened the first Eckerd drug store in 1898 in Pennsylvania. Though he was able to spread the chain to Delaware, North Carolina and Florida, Eckerd Drugs didn’t really take off until his son Jack Eckerd took over.

The expansions started after Jack acquired a handful of Florida stores. Based in Largo, the Eckerd Corporation’s stores swelled to 2,800 locations in 23 states by the time Jack resigned as chief executive in 1986.

Jack Eckerd in front of an Eckerd Drugs. [RON WAHL | Times]

Jack Eckerd made his fortune through the Eckerd Corporation. In 1975, Forbes estimated his personal wealth to be around $150 million. He donated millions of his fortune to the arts and other philanthropic endeavors. Eckerd College was renamed in his honor in 1972. Jack and his wife Ruth also founded Eckerd Connects, a youth services organization that has helped tens of thousands of vulnerable children.

Related: Who was Howard Frankland? Bruce B. Downs? Gandy? Meet the people behind the landmarks.

Eckerd was one of the biggest drug store chains in America in 2004 when its parent company, JCPenny, broke it up and sold it in a $4.52 billion deal with CVS and the Jean Coutu Group. The Jean Coutu stores went on to become Rite Aids.

Valencia Garden restaurant

Valencia Garden Restaurant at 811 Grand Central Avenue in October 1952. [Burgert Brothers | Courtesy, Tampa-Hillsborough County Public Library System]

Spanish-born Cuban immigrant Manuel Beiro founded the Valencia Garden Restaurant in 1927 and ran it with his wife Josephine. The restaurant at 811 W. Kennedy Blvd. became a landmark in downtown Tampa. Beiro used to say that it was “as Spanish as Spain itself.”

Valencia Garden burned down during the afternoon of April 18, 1966. According to the Times archives, “several diners were inside the restaurant and had to be chased out by firemen arriving on the scene.” The restaurant was rebuilt and went on to become the spot for political networking, from power lunches to campaign events. Governors, mayors, lawyers and presidential candidates all came to shake hands and down yellow rice.

Flanked on stage by her family, Tampa mayor Pam Iorio celebrates her reelection at the Valencia Gardens restaurant on March 6, 2007. [KELVIN MA | Times]

Wrote Times columnist Sue Carlton, “You might spot the mayor spooning Spanish bean soup, the sheriff ordering the trout, a high-powered lawyer like Barry Cohen sipping con leche decaf…Power brokers, party bosses, money-types and Ladies Who Lunch all ate warm Cuban bread and eyed the next table.”

After 82 years of business, Valencia’s end was sudden and startling. A padlock appeared on the doors in June 2009. Shortly after, it was revealed that the University of Tampa had purchased the entire block.

A chain and padlock is seen on the entrance to Valencia Garden restaurant Wednesday, June 3, 2009 in Tampa. [CHRIS URSO | Times]

What other iconic Tampa Bay businesses do you miss? Let us know in the comments.

This report was compiled using Times archival content.

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