BOSTON-Max Katz's life exemplified the classic pursuit of the American Dream-a young immigrant who worked his way through school and opened his own business, eventually becoming a ``giant'' in his field. Mr. Katz died July 3 in Boston at the age of 101. The founder of Avon, Mass.-based Merchants Tire Co. was noted for his tenacity and unwavering principles. His business, which he started in 1922 and nurtured into the early 1990s, was his passion, according to associates. He became well respected in the New England tire market and received national tire industry awards.
A longtime resident of Brookline, Mass., Mr. Katz was born in Kovna, Lithuania, and immigrated to Boston at the age of 9. He began his tire career in 1913, working for Central Tire Co. in Boston, while attending night school at Northeastern University.
In 1922, he left his job to establish Merchants Tire Co. and spent the rest of his long life developing the business until, at its peak, the dealership included more than a dozen outlets involved in retail, commercial and wholesale operations, as well as retreading, which the company entered in 1938.
``He was passionate for his business. He could eat, breathe and sleep business all the time. It was his favorite topic. He always wanted to improve it,'' said Ed Bikofsky, a 43-year Merchants veteran.
In 1933, Mr. Katz established the ``K-Service Stores''-a buying group by today's definition-that included independent automotive and tire dealerships which bought their tires, batteries and some automotive accessories through Merchants. The concept lasted until World War II.
In 1960, the dealership opened its first branch store in Lawrence, Mass., and by the early 1970s had added eight more outlets.
The company continued to grow until in 1992 its operations included six retail outlets, eight truck tire centers and two retread plants in Massachusetts, Maine and Rhode Island.
But then the dealership began selling off outlets, and by the end of last year, the company was liquidated completely.
According to his son, Sidney, who had served as company president since 1980, Mr. Katz never did retire and maintained his presence at the dealership right up until its closing.
One of his creeds was: ``Honest tires at honest prices.'' He believed in hard work and taking care of customers, Mr. Katz's son said.
Max Katz was a familiar face at the annual National Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association conventions, and in 1982, the association honored him for attending every NTDRA convention since 1924.
Mr. Katz received the AMF Retread Industry Award in 1984 and was inducted into the Tire Industry Hall of Fame in 1987.
He also was active in the Boston community, helping organize Brandeis University and serving as a member of the school's President's Council. He also was a director of the National Council of Northeastern University, his alma mater.
On Merchants' 50th anniversary, the dealership established a scholarship for Northeastern University in honor of Mr. Katz.
Besides his son, Sidney, Mr. Katz is survived by his daughter, Risha Stone, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.