Samuel Gass as Community Banker
WHILE SAM GASS WAS STILL IN THE RAG BUSINESS, he increased his earnings by investing in stocks and real estate. He also entered the lending business as a sideline, more to help people than as a profit-making venture. Whoever needed help in Chelsea’s Jewish community came to him and he put a lot of people into business. Before Sam and Lena were married, he even lent money to her.
After the sale of Lion Shoe, Samuel Gass was still in the position to provide financial assistance to the people in his community who needed it, both Jew and Gentile. He was not in the organized money lending business but if people needed money, he loaned it to them. Sam stayed in the lending business until the end of his life.
According to Samuel’s grandson, Paul Gass:
“My grandfather had a little office in his home at 27 County Road. It contained a big roll top desk and an analyst-style couch. He would sit at his desk and people would stream into his office asking for loans or donations to worthy causes. Sam was the person you went to if you needed something. But these personal loans were just a sideline for my grandfather. After Lion Shoe closed, he invested his money mainly in stocks, bonds, and real estate.”
Sam’s daughter-in-law, Adele Gass, recalled that there were many foreclosures that Samuel could have made but didn’t because of the family standing of the borrower, or sickness in the borrower’s family.
“Samuel could have foreclosed on the owner of the Murray Street Apartments,” said Adele. There was a lot of sickness in his family and he owed a lot of money. Samuel just let it go. He also didn’t foreclose on Bill Rubenstein, who was in a mattress or foam rubber business that failed.”
Two letters from 1951 help to provide an insight into Samuel Gass’s informal banking:
“Feb. 11 1951
Dear Mr. Gass,
As I am unable to get over to see you. I’m sending Emma over with this note for me. I wonder if there was anyway possible you could loan me $700 or $800 for one year or less. The only thing that I can put up is my word and my house, which at the present I owe over $900 on.
“If you loan it to me I will give you back $200 on the first day of March 1951 and $10.00 or $12.50 [a week] according to the amount stated above, plus your interest starting Mar. 3, 1951.
I [am] hoping you will be able to help me.
I remain, Peter S.”
“Feb 14, 1951
Dear Mr. Gass,
I appreciate you sending the $200 and saying pay it back when ever I could. I will see to it that you get it back like I said in my other letter. You have been a friend of mine long enough to know my word is my bond.
I’m sending Emma back as she told me what you said, to see if you will give me $221 more. I need it very bad, by this Friday. You don’t have to worry if I pass away. I have enough insurance to take care [of] any bills I owe and you certainly will get paid.
Please don’t let me down this time. I am depending on you. I will try to get over to see you one day next week and explain everything to you. But try and help an old man out if you can.
I remain your friend, Peter S.”
Late in life Sam still remembered his boarder from the early days, Motel, who had helped take care of the Gass children when they were young and did errands and odd jobs for Sam. Motel had married and his wife and daughter developed health problems. Sam helped them out financially, even giving Motel a house. Near the end of Samuel’s life, this family went out of its way to look after him.
But not all of the people whom Sam helped were inclined to make good on their loans. Paul Gass remembered:
“My father [Sam’s son Max] told me this story. Sometimes Sam would make a personal loan and it was not paid back. He didn’t go after the people who defaulted. He said to stay away from them, they were really not good people; their word was not their bond. He didn’t want to have any more to do with people like that. Although my grandfather was a tough businessman and very hard-nosed in his formal business dealings, he didn’t foreclose on houses and properties that he had financed informally. This was a contradiction of my grandfather.”