Herman Katkow, a retired clothing store owner who became the voice of Baltimore's small retail entrepreneur in City Hall, Annapolis and Congress, died of kidney failure Thursday at Vantage House in Columbia. The Mount Washington resident was 95.
As the longtime director of the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Small Business, he served under Mayors Theodore R. McKeldin, J. Harold Grady, Phillip Goodman, Thomas J. D'Alesandro III, William Donald Schaefer, Clarence H. Du Burns and Kurt L. Schmoke.
Born in Baltimore and raised on East Fairmount Avenue, he was the son of Louis Katkow, a Russian immigrant tailor, and his wife, Fannie. A 1935 City College graduate, he attended night school at the University of Baltimore and the Johns Hopkins University.
In a autobiographical sketch, Mr. Katkow said he enlisted in the Army Air Corps in 1941. He was later assigned to Officers' Candidate School, where film star Clark Gable and Detroit Tigers first baseman Hank Greenberg were classmates. He was later sent to a statistical course at the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. He was assigned to moving his unit into the Pentagon, which was then being built. He left military service as a captain.
Mr. Katkow married the former Ethel Bakal, and they operated a dress store, Beverly Shop, at 1721 Pennsylvania Ave. for 27 years.
In a talk he gave in 2010 at a Morgan State University forum, he reminisced about selling clothing in an African-American neighborhood. He said he was color-blind to race and enjoyed his experience. He said he hired his salespeople and managers from the neighborhood and when he and his wife traveled overseas, he left the store in their hands. He acted as a confidant to his customers and helped them get better jobs and schooling.
As the founding president of the Pennsylvania Avenue Lafayette Market Association, he promoted events such as a popular Easter Parade along the street and voter registration drives. He lobbied city registration officials to keep Saturday hours to accommodate working people.
In 1960, at a Kennedy for President storefront district office in that neighborhood, he introduced and presented a corsage to former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt.
"In all my years of business on Pennsylvania Avenue, I never witnessed such an outpouring of genuine affectation for any white person," he said of her visit.
"That same evening," he wrote in his autobiographical sketch, "watching on television about a meeting of the United Nations, one of the segments showed Mrs. Roosevelt at dinner with Prime Minister Nehru of India. She was still wearing the corsage I had given her that morning."
In the 1960s, Mr. Katkow became an advocate for other neighborhood shopping districts, then beginning to experience competition from suburban shopping centers. In 1964, he won city approval to purchase public parking lots adjacent to the Cross Street, North East and Lafayette markets.
In 1970, according to a Baltimore Sun account, he accompanied Mayor D'Alesandro to a congressional hearing about proposed federal crime insurance in high-risk areas after 105 neighborhood merchants closed their businesses. Mr. Katkow said that when crime increased after the 1968 riot, insurance rates had spiked and were becoming "nails in the coffin" for small shops and restaurants.
In 1970, he received a federal Housing and Urban Development grant to conduct a study and make recommendations for older urban business districts.
"He was a friend of Donald Schaefer and he wasn't afraid to argue with him, the way others were," said Bernard L. Berkowitz, a former Schaefer economic adviser. "Herman was a progressive, a liberal politically and was an early supporter of civil rights. He was a man of high integrity, common sense and business knowledge."
Mr. Berkowitz recalled a time in the 1960s when then-City Council member Schaefer became aware of the needs of small shopkeepers and asked to accompany Mr. Katkow on a buying trip to New York to observe how his business operated.
Friends said Mr. Katkow became increasingly aware of the dangers that small shopkeepers faced. As a deterrent, he became active in Business United to Stop Trouble, and later was president of its successor, Metro Crime Stoppers.
He was unsuccessful in getting Sunday blue laws upheld. He argued that small businesses could not easily compete against chains that were open seven days a week.
Civil rights leader Juanita Jackson Mitchell presented Mr. Katkow with the 1960 Afro-American Honor Roll Plaque "for superior public service without thought of gain." Among his many honors was the 1994 annual Service Award from the Maryland Retail Merchants Association.
In his free time, Mr. Katkow played Scrabble. He finished second in a citywide Scrabble contest in 1974. He played tennis three times a week until he was 90.
Services were held Sunday at Sol Levinson and Bros.
His wife of nearly 71 years died in May.
Survivors include a son, Dr. Eric Katkow of Columbia; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. A daughter, Janet Katkow, died nearly 10 years ago.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun