With 10-plus years of successful growth under their belts, Zayre began to look at opportunities to bring some new retail formats under its corporate umbrella. Pictured above in a set of individual photos is the expanded “Zayre empire” as of late 1971. These additional banners each shared key attributes with the main Zayre operation, in product offering (fashions, fabrics, toys, general merchandise) and/or in geography (sharing Zayre’s primary New England trade area).
The first photo, of course, is of the “mother ship” itself. After an impressive five-year run, Zayre was coming off of a disappointing profit year, despite record revenues for 1970 of just under $600 million. At this time, Zayre had over 150 stores, covering nearly every major market east of the Mississippi River. The competitive onslaught of the behemoth Kmart chain was by now beginning to take its toll on the competition, though Zayre would prosper through it longer than most.
The second photo depicts a Shoppers City, one of four Minnesota stores that Zayre acquired in the winter of 1966/67 from Northern Enterprises Inc., of Duluth. Northern Enterprises’ primary business was (of all things) a bus company – the Duluth-Superior Transit Line, to be specific. A couple of years earlier, Northern had bought the retailer in a diversification move as its transit business flagged. The chain’s founders, Melvin Roth and Seymour Rothstein, were kept on to run Shoppers City, an arrangement that Zayre stayed with after their purchase of the chain. Zayre set the company up as a wholly-owned subsidiary called SC Trading Corp. For the first several years, Zayre operated these four stores under their original name, later co-branding them “Zayre Shoppers City” in the early 1970’s. A unique aspect (for Zayre) of these stores was their “family center” arrangement – general merchandise and a full supermarket under one roof.
The third photo shows what is probably the most familiar Zayre-owned nameplate behind Zayre itself and the still-to-come TJ Maxx. Hit or Miss was a chain of discount specialty stores aimed at the young womens’ apparel market. Hit or Miss was a division of Dedham, Massachusetts-based Commonwealth Trading Company, and their first store opened in 1965 in Natick, Zayre’s home base at the time. When Zayre bought Commonwealth in late 1970, there were only 10 Hit or Miss stores. In the ensuing decades, the Hit or Miss chain would become a familiar fixture in shopping centers all over America, reaching a most impressive tally of nearly 600 stores by 1991. There were perennial problems, however, and an unfortunate number of management shakeups and new strategies were tried along the way. Hit or Miss ultimately outlasted Zayre as a retail brand, but not by long - spun off to its management in 1995, the last Hit or Miss stores sadly closed in 2001.
Photos four and five show the Bell Shops and Nugents womens' specialty stores, the Feldberg family’s original retail business. Reaching a peak of nearly 80 units in the 1950’s, the Bell Shops/Nugents operation was trimmed back through attrition as the stores’ leases expired. Settling on some 40-odd locations in the late 60’s, the stores were still struggling until a new strategy was put in place. Up to that point, the stores apparel offering was far too similar to that carried in the Zayre stores. A decision was made to establish a separate buying group charged with upgrading the Bell Shops/Nugents image with a higher grade of merchandise, sold at correspondingly higher prices. This would lead to the opening of some new Bell Shops/Nugents stores right next door to new Zayre units, which did surprisingly well.
The sixth photo shows a Beaconway Fabrics store. Boston-based Beaconway had been the fabric/sewing notions licensee for the Zayre stores, and also operated five stores under their own name in the Massachusetts region. In July 1968, Zayre bought out the Beaconway firm, keeping the individual fabric stores open.
Pictured in the seventh photo is Warwick Shoppers World, a discount chain based in Pawtucket, Rhode Island that Zayre acquired in June 1970. This company was founded by Edward Zwetchkenbaum and had 10 stores at the time of the Zayre buyout, operating under the names Warwick Shoppers World (Warren and Middletown, RI and Worcester and Bellingham, Mass, among others) and Coats Field Shoppers World (Pawtucket, RI and Brockton, Mass). There was also an apparel unit called the New York Lace Store. The stores were advertised as Warwick/Zayre stores. An interesting footnote in Warwick’s history was the tiny chain’s fight against the “Fair Trade Laws” (now-repealed laws that allowed manufacturers to set retail prices) in the late fifties and early sixties. The company made national headlines at the time as they were sued by such big names as General Electric and U.S. Time (Timex), among others, joining the fair trade battle alongside much larger retailers such as E.J. Korvette.
The last photo shows a Spree! store from one of Zayre’s most interesting ventures, a chain of discount toy stores launched in September 1970. The chain reached 13 units by October of the following year, when a 36,000 square foot Spree! store was opened in Enfield, Connecticut. The timing proved to be unfortunate as the Spree! rollout coincided with the meteoric rise of Toys “R” Us and stiff competition from Child World, among others. By 1976, there were only six Spree! units, and those would be gone by year’s end.
But in 1971, things looked different, of course. As the old saying goes, “Nice looking family!”