Fond memories of Sun Cab Co., Herbie Glassman

JACQUES KELLY

November 02, 1993|By JACQUES KELLY

The country was slipping into the Depression in April 1930, the same month a young graduate of Western High School answered a help-wanted ad.

"Jobs were hard to come by in 1930," says Frieda Greiver, 84, who spent 44 years as bookkeeper at the Sun Cab Co., a Baltimore institution that is to be taken over by its longtime rival, Yellow Cab .

"I went for the job and found there was a room full of women waiting to be interviewed. I walked into an office ahead of all the others and I walked out with the job, at $17.50 a week, a lot of money for a girl who had very little work experience," says Greiver, who possesses total recall of her career in Sun Cab's front office.

The man who interviewed her and gave her that job was Herbert Glassman, known to all as Herbie, who dominated Sun Cab for its first 36 years. He was founder and president, a man who cut quite a figure in his plaid suits and camel-hair topcoat. He wore a flashy diamond pinky ring.

"He carried a huge roll of money tied with a rubber band. He had the habit of going into the garage and talking for hours with the mechanics, the chauffeurs and the shop foreman. If anyone asked for a loan, he had a five or a ten ready. He handed out money like Chiclets. I don't think he ever got a penny of it back," she says.

Glassman was a shrewd businessman who had a fleet of about 200 Chevrolets. In 1930, he had a fixed price fare of 35 cents for any destination within the city limits. Shoppers could hire a cab for $1.50 an hour.

The first Sun Cab office was at 1011 W. North Ave. In 1930, the company's telephone exchange was Madison 10000, an important number because radios were not used to dispatch cabs. People either hailed one on the street or called for one. Sun Cab also maintained telephones in drugstores or other popular meeting places so that patrons could summon taxis and drivers could call into headquarters to find out where fares were waiting.

A few years later, Glassman bought the old Neill Buick agency garage in the 2600 block of Sisson St. in the Remington neighborhood and moved the company there, where it remains to this day. Yet, for all the years Glassman owned the company, he lived in Washington, where he had real estate investments. While in Baltimore, he took rooms at the Hotel Belvedere.

"Other places failed in the Depression of the 1930s but we prospered," Greiver says. "The zone fare system took you a long way for 35 cents. I started work in April and by July 4th we had gotten a small bonus for all the extra work we did over the holiday."

In those days, Sun Cab drivers wore shirts, ties and caps. They were expected to come to work neat and clean. The company maintained a barber shop on the property where the garage was situated.

Greiver went on to become the company's office manager and corporate secretary. She ran an efficient operation, she says.

"Things went well until World War II. Then came the shortages of labor, gasoline and tires," she says. "I think we made it through the war as well as we did because of the excellent preventative maintenance on the cabs. They may have run 24 hours a day but they were kept in excellent repair. The garage people saw to that."

Greiver saw her boss as a model employer. He gave bonuses of $1,000 savings bonds to people who worked there 20 years. She got a new Chevy as a gift for 20 years of employment.

There were other examples of the company's generosity. Any driver who worked there less than a year got a carton of cigarettes at Christmas.

"One year, the only year, Mr. Glassman decided to give away turkeys, live ones," Greiver says. "The whole garage was filled with squawking birds. It was bedlam. We had 600 chauffeurs on the payroll. Everybody -- full and part time -- got a live turkey. The next year he gave out Navy blue pea coats."

The company changed hands on Jan. 1, 1967. Greiver remained at her ledger books until she was 65. She retired in 1974. There are still plenty of Sun Chevrolets on the streets of Baltimore today, but pending state Public Service Commission approval, they should start going out under the Yellow Cab banner.

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