PIKESVILLE, MD.—As a child, Mark Helman knew he had to escape the clutches of poverty and make a better life for himself. His father was a butcher during the Great Depression and Helman was determined to control his destiny by being in his own business. His entrepreneurial skills were instinctive and he used them to become one of the most successful flooring retailers on the Eastern Seaboard. He was diagnosed with acute leukemia in May but continued to be active in business until he succumbed to the disease July 12. He was 80.
Born Morris Helman on Feb. 16, 1930, in Philadelphia, he married in 1950, and the young couple moved to Baltimore in 1952 seeking opportunity. He became a salesman for AirTite aluminum windows, doors and siding, and though he did well, he saw no future in that industry and decided to start his own business.
In 1959, Helman opened Carpet Fair in Baltimore and then another in Glen Burnie, Md., and never looked back. He was eminently successful and the business flourished. In 1971, he opened Bill’s Carpet Warehouse in Owing Mills, Md., and continued adding units in the Baltimore-Washington-Virginia area until there were 30 stores.
Helman had a remarkable sense of humor, was outrageous and caring, sensitive and a risk-taker. For his 40th wedding anniversary, he purchased a billboard on a busy roadway with the message, “Betty, I still love you.”
He was a major contributor, often anonymously, to local and national charities. His son Jeffrey, said, “Dad taught us to live a life to be proud of, not just by his word but by his deeds.
“He came from a humble background and exemplified the ‘self-made’ man. Hard work, tenacity and smarts helped him build a very successful business that became a leader in both the community and the floor covering industry. While that in itself is impressive, he did it while being a devoted husband. My dad was larger than life, a real character. He had a zest for living and put his all into his family, business and charitable activities.” Helman was very creative and found ways of combining promotions with charity. When the Baltimore Colts failed to sell out a game in the 1970s and the National Football League refused to televise the game, he bought all the unsold seats and distributed them to needy children and their families. Now, sold out, the game was televised and he bought the television advertising rights to the game.
He made friends easily and he cherished his relationships. He enjoyed a special bond with Arnold Cohen, CEO of Elias Wilf, with whom he had dinner every Monday night for 20 years. With their wives—Betty Helman and Reba Cohen—they kept the ritual alive for two decades. “Mark was a brother for almost 55 years,” Cohen said. “That was a relation- ship that will never be duplicated. He had an innate ability to size up a situation, see what could be done and was never afraid to make it happen. He never forgot where he came from and always, without notice, helped many who were in need.”
Survivors include his wife, Betty, of 60 years; sons Jeffrey and William; daughters Francine Grady, Anne Holstein and Sherry Silverberg; six grandchildren, and a sister, Ruth Freiberg.