It’s been 46 years since the last pieces of clothing — wholesale or retail — were sold at the A. Tross store “across from the courthouse.” It’s been 58 years since the man whose name was on the store for a good part of the 20th century died.
Funny thing is that the store and the man have endured and have remained part of the cityscape. It’s all because of some large letters in raised type — “A. Tross Wholesale Retail” — that have remained over the storefront of the building at 227 Washington St.
The building hasn’t been a clothing store for almost a half century. Over the past couple of decades it has served a totally different role. It’s the home of Reams Asset Management, an investment advisory firm.
The building is currently undergoing a major face-lift, and as part of that process the “A. Tross Wholesale Retail” sign has been removed.
It will be back when the work is finished. Actually, a new version of the letters will take its place. The lettering was in such bad shape that a decision was made to replace it with a more durable material. The message will still be the same.
While it might seem odd that an investment firm would want something on its “storefront” from an old clothing store, the gesture of retaining this particular piece of history is a thoughtful acknowledgment of the building’s history and its meaning to a lot of local residents who either shopped or worked there.
It also is a reminder of a remarkable man, Aaron Tross. He came to this country early in the 20th century. He had a ways to travel. His starting point was Russia, where he served in the Sino-Russian War of 1905.
Shortly after arriving in Columbus, he started the business in the Washington Street building in 1909. He sold a wide variety of goods — from molders’ shoes and moleskin britches to First Communion suits and back-to-school clothes.
He was successful from the start and was able to invest in a number of local businesses. He was one of the first shareholders in a start-up company that was then called Cummins Engine Co.
He also invested in people, those who shopped at his store and those who worked for him. The late Cleo Hook, a Protestant minister, recalled how he had paid for his ministry training by working for Tross.
“I wasn’t worth a third of what he paid me,” Hook would later recall. “When someone questioned him why he employed another preacher, Mr. Tross simply said, ‘So maybe he’ll tell somebody about God.’”
He also outfitted countless Columbus families through the Great Depression of the 1930s, even though few of them could pay for his services.
The late Charles Wells Sr., a longtime Columbus attorney who earned his college tuition working at A. Tross (“I could only work two days a week, but he paid me more for those two days than a lot of people were getting for a full week”), remembered a box filled with unpaid bills.
“”He gave it to me and suggested I contact some of the people to see if they could make a payment, but it became obvious pretty quickly that we weren’t going to have much luck. We didn’t spend a lot of time trying to collect.”
Even though Tross has been dead for 58 years, the impressions he made among his customers and employees is still strong.
They don’t sell moleskin britches in the building anymore, but there’s good reason to keep alive the memory of A. Tross and his store across from the courthouse.
Harry McCawley is associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached by phone at 379-5620 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.