Betty Hoffman Tannenbaum, who led a life of kindness, calm and grace for more than 50 years in her beloved Lake City, passed away from complications of a massive stroke. She was two months from her 89th birthday.
"Mrs. T," as she was widely and affectionately known, was one of Columbia County's most
respected citizens and business leaders. She personified fashion, civic responsibility and had a deep love for her children, her family and her community.
Betty, the youngest of nine children of David and Devorah Hoffman, was born in Buffalo, New York, where she was a
Regent Scholar in chemistry and received the DAR award for Good Citizenship.
She determined early that she wanted a life in fashion, design and business. In 1947 she married Melvin Tannenbaum, who shared those interests. They moved first to Richmond, Virginia, and then Charleston, South Carolina, where Mel pursued a career in retailing. While living in Charleston they saw an ad in "Women's Wear Daily" about a store for sale in North Florida. Betty and Mel bought the Lovely Shop and moved to Lake City in 1950.
Over the years they successfully built a high-end women's clothing business, turning it into a vibrant downtown asset. The Tannenbaums were a vital part of Columbia County's growth, and, in addition to its reputation in fashion, the Lovely Shop was revered for its inclusiveness and concern for customers from all walks of life and economic means.
Mrs. T's respect for her customer was legendary; she always saw the best in people. She often said, "In a small town you become part of your customers' lives. You become friends. Their happiness is yours. Their heartache is yours."
Betty Tannenbaum had impeccable taste and felt that the women of Lake City deserved to have the same choices in fashion as women in big cities. To that end, she made frequent buying trips to New York City and, in 1963 with her husband, an extended buying trip to Europe, and she sponsored the first fashion shows in Columbia County at the Women's Club and Lake City Country Club.
Mrs. T brought major national name brands to Lake City. When she introduced Estee Lauder cosmetics to the Lovely Shop she delighted in the knowledge that hers was the smallest store in the nation to carry the line.
The 1960s were pivotal in her business and personal life.
The Tannenbaums remodeled the downtown Lovely Shop into a spacious modern department store for women. It was known for its pink brick exterior and innovative interior design -- its high ceilings and its sunken-floored octagon-shaped coat, dress, suit and wedding gown department. Meanwhile, the Plaza Lovely Shop opened as a branch in Lake City's first shopping center.
Then in 1966, her much-loved and admired husband, Mel, died suddenly at age 45. Betty Tannenbaum, then 43, began her next journey: keeping the two stores going and growing, while rearing and educating three children all on her own. At a time when few women held multiple roles as business-owner, breadwinner and mother, she did all that and flourished.
In July 1981 tragedy struck a second time. The Lovely Shop burned to the ground. Once again, Betty Tannenbaum faced adversity squarely and moved forward with determination. The Lovely Shop moved to its entire business to its second location in Southtown Square and eventually to Gleason Corner Mall.
After hearing repeatedly from customers and friends that the Lovely Shop belonged back downtown, Mrs. T decided to
return the store to Marion Street, not far from its original location, where it remained for the next decade.
In 2002, after 63 years in business, the Lovely Shop closed. Betty Tannenbaum was 78. She had owned the business for 52 years. It was the end of an era.
Over the years Betty was a member of the Garden Club, Business and Professional Women, the Women's Club, the Lake City Country Club, Congregation Ahaveth Chesed in Jacksonville, and she was a key contributor to the early growth of the Lake City Chamber of Commerce. In honor of her steady vision for Lake City, February 4, 2002, was named "Betty Tannenbaum Day."
Betty is survived by son, Douglas Tannenbaum, and wife, Donita, of Lake City; daughters, Susan Tannenbaum and
husband, Wick Rowland, of Boulder, Colorado, and Barbara Tannenbaum and husband, Henry David Epstein of Chevy Chase, Maryland. She is survived too by her beloved grandchildren, David Hoffman Tannenbaum and his wife, Mary, and Deborah Alford Tannenbaum and Lola Melaine Tannenbaum Epstein, as well as great grandchildren, Aliyah, Zachary and Alexander Tannenbaum. Other survivors include her brother, Paul, and wife, Deana Hoffman in Evanston, Illinois, and many nieces and nephews.
In keeping with her wishes, Betty Tannenbaum's internment in Lake City will be attended by her family Wednesday morning, August 22.
A reception to honor her legacy of warmth, kindness and leadership will follow from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Women's Club of Lake City. Doug, Susan and Barbara invite all to attend. They are asking friends and customers to write recollections of their mother, her Lovely Shop and Lake City for a memory book.
Published in Lake City Reporter on Aug. 17, 2012