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Encyclopedia Of Arkansas Minute: Gus Blass

A Jewish immigrant with a flair for the dramatic became one of Little Rock’s most successful merchants. Gustave Blass was born in Obornik, Germany, in 1849, traveling to the U.S. at age 16 and ending up in Little Rock where he founded the Gus Blass Dry Goods Company in 1871.

By the late 1800s he was known as the “Merchant Prince” and he would host a grand-opening party at his store each year featuring dramatic lighting and early mannequins dressed in lace and silk. More than five thousand people attended in 1882 and in 1898 a two-day extravaganza featuring Kuttner’s Orchestra attracted 25,000 people.

Blass would travel to New York for three weeks each year to procure the latest fashions for his department store. When his store burned down Blass commissioned architect George R. Mann to design a seven-story replacement; this early skyscraper still stands at Fourth and Main in Little Rock.

Blass died on Jan. 15, 1919, and is buried in Oakland and Fraternal Cemetery.

You can read the entire Encyclopedia of Arkansas entry at