Former employee seeks ol' Mass Brothers magic
By JESSICA BRADY
Published April 20, 2007
Pat Gonzalez looked like a princess. Her hair, pinned in an up-do, was adorned with a tiara. She wore a strapless white evening gown sprinkled with rhinestones.
As she climbed aboard the Maas Brothers float with her long white gloves, she felt like royalty. It was the store's 75th reunion, and she was one of six young ladies selected to ride the float in the Gasparilla Parade.
That was 47 years ago when Gonzalez was 19. Yet now, at 66, she remembers it like it was yesterday.
Saturday, she and others from the Tampa Bay area will reminisce about their days at Maas Brothers.
For the past two months, Gonzalez has been organizing a reunion for store workers at Valencia Garden. Former employees will play a trivia game with prize giveaways and watch a presentation about store history. They will bring nostalgic items to create a remembrance table.
The reunion, originally intended to be a small gathering, has grown to 120 former employees - so many that the restaurant has reached capacity and no more reservations can be accepted.
"There was history in Tampa represented by Maas Brothers," Gonzalez said. "It seemed everything was always upgrading and they were an innovative store willing to make changes."
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Maas Brothers opened in downtown Tampa in 1886, and as Gonzalez recalls, it was pure luxury.
She started her career there in 1958, making $1 an hour in the charge authorization department. After a year and some training, Gonzalez moved into the addressograph department where she checked customers' credit and approved them for purchases. It was there that she received her first 5-cent raise.
"I was so thrilled, I couldn't wait to go home and tell my mother," she said. "After that, I got a 5-cent raise every year. I went from making $40 a week to $52 a week when I left."
At Maas, she met Dawn Swartz. The two worked together from 1959 to 1961 and have remained friends. Swartz recalls Gonzalez's generosity from the moment they met.
"I was really, really poor then, and I had about two outfits," Swartz said. "Pat had all of these beautiful clothes and she gave me quite a few."
When she was 20, Gonzalez was promoted to assistant supervisor. A year later she married and left Maas Brothers when she was six months pregnant with her first child.
After her children started school, Gonzalez went back to work for the store's Northgate Mall location on the corner of Florida Avenue and Busch Boulevard. She was a sales associate, and her store manager, Don Barag, remembers Gonzalez as a young "gal" with a passion for her job.
"She has such a great personality and was well liked by co-workers and clients," Barag said.
After Barag saw her potential, he promoted Gonzalez to administrative assistant and placed her in charge of the seasonal toy store from September to December.
She stayed at Northgate for four years until she received an offer to work for a consulting company. She took the opportunity and became a licensed claims adjustor. She later went to work for Allstate Insurance, where she retired after 25 years in 1998. That same year, Gonzalez opened her own company, Gonzalez Consulting.
Today, she said, "I don't like to work more than five to six days a month. I like to travel and be able to visit my kids whenever I want."
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Gonzalez, who lives in Carrollwood, has become an avid traveler who, for instance, has visited Spain 14 times.
The last time she visited the store was in 1991, the year it closed. Gonzalez knew the day would come when the old building would be torn down, but was sad because she felt a part of Tampa's history was lost. It was demolished in February 2006.
Two months ago Gonzalez received Barag's phone number through a friend and decided to call him. She discovered he was coming to Tampa from Philadelphia and thought it would be nice to have a small reunion.
"I hadn't talked to Pat since I left Northgate in 1966, but when we spoke, it was as if it were yesterday," Barag said.
Gonzalez said she couldn't believe how the reunion mushroomed. "There's just magic in Maas Brothers," Gonzalez said. "Everyone wants to come to the reunion because they all share a part of that history."
Jessica Brady can be reached at email@example.com or 226-3302.
Maiden name: Pat Ford
Family: Husband Fred; sons Mark and Jeff; daughter, Donna; five grandchildren including 2-year-old twins.
Beauty queen: She was homecoming queen at Brewster Vocational High School in 1958; on the Maas Brothers' May Queen Court in 1960; in the Miss Tampa finals, also in 1960.
Hobbies: Loves to travel. Has been to Spain 14 times; went to Argentina last October; going to Hawaii next month.