Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas at Macy's Herald Square, 1962

Hope that everyone is having a great Christmas Eve! Today was unusual (read: awesome) for me in that I didn’t have to do any last-minute Christmas shopping, save for a few items from the grocery store.

One thing’s for sure, though – if I could shop in a store like the one pictured above, I wouldn’t have minded a bit!

This, of course, is the renowned R.H. Macy & Co. flagship store in New York’s Herald Square, as it appeared during the 1962 Christmas season, depicted in a set of original 3D slides (sure wish I knew how to show you that effect on the web!) I bought a while back.

The “World’s Largest Store”, a Big Apple fixture since 1907, remains a must-see attraction for anyone visiting New York City, and certainly there’s no better time to see it than during its “full holiday regalia” mode. Over the last year it has undergone a controversial revamping, with years of neglect now swept away by renovations that, in the opinion of some, have gone too far. At least the famous fluted columns are still in evidence, even if their golden crowns are no longer visible. As I’ve said before, I’m always grateful that pictures like these exist.

And I’m very grateful for you, Pleasant Family Shopping readers. My best to you and yours this season!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Jewel of a Thanksgiving

Picture this:  you’re seven years old, and living in an apartment complex with indoor corridors. One fine November morning as you step outside to leave for school, you notice a newspaper with your Mom’s picture on the front page, sitting on every doorstep. Well, that’s exactly what happened to me in November of 1970.

It wasn’t a newspaper in this case, of course, but rather a weekly advertising paper for Jewel Food Stores, the leading Chicago-area supermarket chain. My mother was working as a freelance advertising model at the time, and unbeknownst to me she’d just completed this shoot for “The Jewel”.

Excited about her newfound fame, I bolted back into the apartment, screaming “Mom, you’re in the paper!!” or something along that line. Mom was excited too, but in a different way. She proceeded to run down the hall in her bathrobe (letting out a small shriek, if I remember correctly) and picked up every single one of those ads from the doorsteps, lest the neighbors see them and recognize her. (My apologies to our ex-neighbors for having missed out on Jewel’s outstanding 1970 Thanksgiving deals. I hope you enjoyed the holiday nonetheless.)

Now you’re probably wondering how they prepared that beautiful, incredibly appetizing turkey Mom is holding in the picture, aren’t you?  That’s simple – they took a nice, big, raw turkey hen and varnished it.  You know, there’s nothing like a coat of Minwax to bring out a rich, festive glow in the ‘ol holiday bird. (Delicious-looking turkey simulated by professionals in a faux dining room. Please don’t try this at home.) The aroma left something to be desired, however: “I had to stand there and smile and hold that platter for an hour. I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I thought I was gonna die!” she says.

She must not have let the strain show, though, because Jewel apparently liked her work enough to hire her for some ads for Turn-Style, their discount store division, a few months later. 

Another photo from this shoot appeared in a full-page ad in the Chicago Tribune. Amazingly, Jewel used this photo in the Trib for three successive Thanksgiving seasons, 1970, ’71 and ’72 – the latter appearing more than a year after my mother ceased modeling work altogether. (At least one of those years, the photo was in color. Of course we wouldn’t save one of those now, would we? ) The November 20, 1972 version is pictured below, courtesy of ProQuest. I dig it, not only for Mom’s presence, obviously, but also because it’s the most complete listing of Jewel-Osco stores from that era I’ve ever seen. Those of us who are retail history fans (and isn’t everyone, at heart?), can appreciate that. 

Below, the rest of the pages from the advertising flyer.

And let me extend to you my “unvarnished” wishes for a very happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Dominick's on TV in the 70's

“And if you’re looking for squid…”

I thought these would make nice companion pieces to the Dominick’s post from last week. Three early 70’s-vintage TV commercials for Dominick’s, shown here courtesy of Rick Klein’s incredible Museum of Classic Chicago Television ("Fuzzy Memories")website. Believe me, anyone who grew up in Chicago in the late 20th century could while away days there, and even if you didn’t, there's lots to enjoy.

I love these commercials for several reasons – first, obviously, because they’re from the golden era of Dominick’s - a chain my family patronized with ridiculous frequency in my childhood. Beyond that, they’re some of the most interesting and fun commercials of their kind – giving an overview of the shopping experience as opposed to “this week’s specials”.

Most importantly, though, they provide a textbook example of a true “Chicawgo” accent, courtesy of spokeswoman Elaine Mulqueen. These commercials were produced for Dominick’s by Elaine and her husband Jack. The Mulqueens had been well-known Chicago TV personalities in the 1960’s, hosting a children’s program entitled “Kiddie-a-Go-Go”, a sort of American Bandstand for the grade-school set. (A film clip of the show appears below.)

Elaine played “Pandora”, the happy harlequin in charge of the proceedings. The show was one of the very first rock-and –roll programs to originate from Chicago, and it gave key exposure to 60’s Chicago rockers such the Buckinghams and the New Colony Six, who would go on have a few national hits. The Mulqueens took no small amount of flak for the show, usually criticisms of “the effect of rock-and-roll and dancing on young minds” and that kind of thing. Mrs. Mulqueen passed away last year at age 80.   

Originally airing on the ABC affiliate, WLS Channel 7, the show later moved to WGN Channel 9, then ultimately to WCIU Channel 26. In our house, we got a good signal from Channel 26 - as long as the winds were blowing from the east, there was aluminum foil on the antennas, and you kept your left hand on top of the TV set at all times. Ah, the joys of UHF!

Back to Chicago accents, despite growing up in the Chicago area, I didn’t hear that accent around the house in my early years except on TV. My Mom is from Georgia, and any trace of a southern accent she had was lost to years of dramatic training in high school and college. My Dad is from Rhode Island, and his accent, though softened through the decades, is still recognizable as such. People who meet me generally don’t think I have a Chicago accent. (Except when dining at Portillo's.)

But when I hear Mrs. Mulqueen’s accent, it transports me back to those days of visiting friends’ houses after school. Straightforward, but calming and sincere. Interested in what was going on in my life. A few years older than my folks. Smiling, and ready with a plate of milk and cookies for us to devour. Heinemann’s cookies and Heritage House milk from Dominick’s, of course.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The Dynamic Dominick's

Last Thursday, a couple of longtime PFS friends clued me in on some important breaking retail news from Chicago, before I noticed it in the business headlines myself. Dominick’s Finer Foods, the number two traditional supermarket chain in Chicago, is being put up for sale by its owner of the last fifteen years, Safeway. 

That night, I put up a few comments on Facebook about it, ending with “This will be interesting to watch.” By the next morning, however, having read some more articles about it, I realized what was really going on - and my heart sank. The “interesting to watch” comment seemed regrettable, almost flip now, as it became clear that the possibility of the Dominick’s name going away for good is very real. 

In a way, I find this almost as hard to swallow as the demise of the great Marshall Field & Company name. I’m certainly not intending to compare the stature of the two (a fairly ridiculous idea), but am strictly speaking from personal feelings. Growing up, I set foot in a Field’s store maybe two or three times a year, whereas we shopped at Dominick’s all the time. Every week. For years. 

Dominick’s, founded in 1918 by Dominick DiMatteo with a single, small market at 3832 W. Ohio Street, grew very slowly in the first 40 or so years of its existence. Things started to accelerate in 1950 with the opening of a full size (for the time, that is – 14,000 square feet) supermarket on North Avenue. By 1963, there were still less than 10 stores, but by decade’s end they were rapidly growing through acquisition, picking up three stores from E.J. Korvette in 1965 and 18 more from Kroger when they excused themselves from the Chicago area in 1970. 

One of the greatest things about Chicago is its tremendous ethnic diversity, which of course extends to food. Dominick’s stock-in-trade was its vast offering of ethnic foods – certainly Italian cuisine (owing to the founder’s Sicilian heritage) from the start, and a particular emphasis on Jewish foods, but it soon encompassed culinary offerings from all over Europe, Asia, and Latin America – a true point of differentiation, in the early years, from its competitors.

In 1968, Dominick’s became a division of Cleveland-based Fisher Foods, operators of the Fazio’s supermarkets. From that point forward, newly built Dominick’s units popped up seemingly everywhere across Chicagoland. The Fisher-Fazio “Heritage House” brand became a staple of area households, including ours. 

By the mid-1970’s, the Chicago grocery market centered around two key players - #1 Jewel and #2 Dominick’s. Once-upon-a-time market leaders National Tea Company and the fast-fading A&P were all but vanquished (both were gone from the area by 1978), and everyone else was pushed to the margins. 

In 1981, the DiMatteo family bought the company back from Fisher Foods, and would continue to operate it for the next decade and a half. The second DiMatteo era saw explosive growth for Dominick’s, gaining ground on Jewel nearly every year, ultimately surpassing them in terms of sales and profitability per store. 

But in 1993, Dominick DiMatteo Jr. passed away (Dominick Sr. had died in 1981), and it soon became clear that the family had interest in selling the business. In 1995, Dominick’s was acquired by The Yucaipa Group, the Los Angeles-based investment firm headed by Ron Burkle, who singlehandedly reshaped the West Coast grocery industry in the 1990’s, buying and later reselling such venerable banners as Ralphs and Alpha Beta, among others. (Ron’s still at it in a big way - purchasing a large stake in A&P from their bankruptcy in 2012, and buying the Fresh and Easy chain from the British retail firm Tesco just recently.)

In 1998, Burkle sold Dominick’s to Safeway, the Pleasanton, California-based supermarket titan. As is often the case, the match looked great on paper – for Dominick’s it meant joining a highly respected, deep-pocketed company, ready to add rocket fuel to their already impressive growth. For Safeway, it meant an instant leadership position in one of the country’s most important markets - and a new frontier. 

Almost from the start, though, it was a calamity. The shift of decision-making power from Chicago to the parent company led to a disastrous misread of Chicagoans’ innate buying characteristics – a strong preference for local brands, and a tendency to be underwhelmed by trends emerging from either coast. There was little affection for the Safeway house brands that now filled Dominick’s shelves, despite their storied histories and acceptance in Safeway’s core West and East Coast markets. 

By the time substantial steps were taken to remedy the problems, Dominick’s was in steep decline. Now, they were a very distant #2 in the market compared to Jewel (itself no stranger to struggles in recent years). On the top of that, the door was now open for smaller locally-owned chains to grow nice footholds in the market, including Caputo’s and Tony’s, for example, who have placed a strong emphasis on local and ethnic foods, swiping pages right and left from Dominick’s discarded playbook. Added to the mix are the more recent competitive forces affecting traditional grocers in many areas – Whole Foods from the prestige end of the market, and Walmart and Aldi from the price end.

Within a few years, rumors began to fly of a possible selloff of Dominick’s (including a potential re-sale to Burkle in 2003 among them), but until now Safeway held on, the store count dwindling from a peak of 130 units to the current 72. 

Now Dominick’s truly is up for sale, and in all likelihood it will be split up among several buyers. Jewel will be taking over four locations, two in Chicago, one each in Homer Glen and Glenview. Kroger is reportedly looking at several locations for their Food4Less banner – their successful, if low-key, reentry into the market. (Dominick’s alumnus-operated) Mariano’s Fresh Markets, a division of Wisconsin-based Roundy’s, is interested in some locations, according to news reports. Other units might sit vacant when all is said and done. 

With this in view, I thought it might be a good time to look back at the glory days of Dominick’s, via a photo-tour of what was arguably their most architecturally interesting store. Opened in 1964 in near-north suburban Evanston, at 3333 W. Central Avenue, the store had many striking features. Chief among them were a 26-foot high cylindrical tower (finished in red-orange tile on the exterior and walnut strip-paneling inside, housing an exquisite Customer Service area), and a Japanese-style rock garden. There was also an unusual walkway awning, and the whimsical feature of stylized “cutout” figures mounted to the brick wall, forming a “line” of sorts leading into the store. 

Designed by the Chicago architectural firm Teutsch-Lucas Associates, the store design was conceived in part to take best advantage of the odd dimensions and slope of the corner lot it was situated on, and to present an attractive image to a high traffic, a high income area. The rest of the interior was typical of Dominick’s very high design standards. Those familiar with the Dominick’s of old will notice the lack of “Heritage House” branded goods, as these photographs were taken a couple of years before the Fisher Foods buyout. You might also notice, however, the “Country’s Delight” dairy products, a product of Certified Grocers. Certified was also the licensee for “Raggedy Ann” brand canned goods, another popular brand at Dominick’s in the pre-Fisher Foods days. 

This store was featured by Progressive Grocer twice – in the May 1965 issue and again a few years later in their book “Progressive Grocer’s Outstanding New Super Markets”, from which these pictures came. I first saw a picture of this store on the “Bright Lights, Dim Beauty of Chicago” blog from Didi, another longtime friend of PFS. On a 2009 trip to Chicago, I was able to swing by the store, which has been a CVS for years now. The interior, as you might expect, has drastically changed, but some of the charming exterior features remain.

Reflecting one more time on Dominick’s plight - I guess the best thing at this point would be for a local, family-owned concern to pick up a few of the stores and continue to operate them under the Dominick’s name. With the right combination of passion and commitment to the local customer, you never know what great things might grow from that. It could happen. It’s been done before.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Turn-Style, Mom and Me

Store sale flyers. Every week, tons of these things show up – crammed in the mailbox, stuffed in the Sunday paper, sliding out onto the living room floor. Do people ever save these things? I certainly don’t.   

Well, except for this one, that is, and not for the reasons you’d think. Mod 70’s styles at crazy 70’s prices. A long gone classic discount chain, Turn-Style, and a great multicolored version of their last, and best, logo.
No, the reason I’ve hung onto these is because one of the young women featured is none other than my very own Mom, Linda. 

For a year a half in my early grade school years (1970-71) she modeled for ads for a number of companies including Turn-Style, their sister division Jewel Food Stores, and Lytton’s, a famed old-line Chicago clothing retailer. These ads are from May and June 1971. Her modeling career was brief – the hours were long, the pay wasn’t great and the better jobs, like this one, were few and far between. Later that year she entered nursing school, from which she graduated two years afterward. Model or not, I’ve always been so proud of her, and she’s always encouraged me at every step of the way in life.
Mom is on the far left in the photo. On the far right is Brenda Broce, a very popular Chicago model. Unfortunately I don’t recall the name of the woman in the sailor’s hat, but she was also a familiar face in those years. Best known of all was the young woman “talking” to my mom, second from left. She was Janet Langhart, an extremely popular model in town who by this time was also working as a news feature reporter for the local CBS TV affiliate, WBBM. In the mid 70’s she moved to Boston where she hosted the highly-rated “Good Day” morning show. Eventually she married William Cohen, a U.S. Senator from Maine and later Defense Secretary under President Clinton.
Here they are again, with Mom second from the left in a “stylish” wig this time. Thankfully, she spared me years of night terrors by not wearing it at home.

She had nothing to do with these three pages, but I thought you’d like to see ‘em anyway. I like the little guy flying the plane with the “Turn-Style propeller”. Better keep the nose up on that thing, guy! 
In polka dots this time, in the only photo that shows her real-life hairstyle at the time. One of these days I need to ask her how many hours it took to put those shoes on.
One Saturday afternoon, my Dad, brother and I were out running errands, keeping occupied while a photographer did test shots of Mom in our kitchen. (3,000 photos of her holding a box of “Pillsbury Extra Lights” pancake mix, as I remember.) When we returned, he said "Let's take some shots with the kids." That’s 7-year old me on the right, and my 3-year old brother, who’s been taller than me since 1983, on the left.

The funny thing is, we had been out shopping at some discount store – Zayre, Kmart, Community Discount, maybe even Turn-Style – of course I don’t remember which. As I told my friend Adrienne a while back, I had no idea that decades later this would be useful information.

In any event, Happy Mother’s Day! 

Friday, May 3, 2013

The Modern Side of J.C. Penney

“Picked at random, a single J.C. Penney Co. store can be a remarkably unimpressive establishment.” So went the opening line of a long and generally laudatory September 1950 Fortune magazine article about the then nearly 50-year old retailer. The statement was true enough of the majority of J.C. Penney stores of the day. While certainly not unpleasant, a “low-key handsomeness” was about the most one could credit to the typical Penney store design.

But scattered among their 1,600-plus stores at the time were a number of bonafide architectural gems –fine examples of deco and moderne styling that undoubtedly stood out from their respective city blocks at the time. A fortunate few of these buildings, including the two pictured above, survive today – though neither one has housed a J.C. Penney for years. One thrives as part of a major specialty retail chain, while the future of the other is less assured. In the first photo, the rented searchlight (note the name of the company, “Film Ad Co.” – with all the movie premieres in town, these were probably fairly easy to come by in the L.A. area) is on site and ready to go for the grand opening of the new Penney store at the corner of 3rd Street and Wilshire Boulevard in Santa Monica, California, which opened in 1949.

This store was designed by Milton L. Anderson, a little-known Los Angeles-based architect, who also designed fine-looking Penney stores in San Bernardino and Burbank around the same time. Like his more renowned counterpart, Stiles Clements (the store directly faced a Clements-designed Ralphs grocery store across the street), Anderson designed in the Spanish Colonial Revival style in the late 1920’s, a popular Southern California architectural motif in the era just prior to the advent of art deco/streamline moderne, which he later embraced.

The specific style of this building, according to a 2006 City of Santa Monica Landmark Assessment and Evaluation report, is classified as Late Moderne, a school that “borrowed the horizontality, curved canopies, and curved corners from the Streamline Moderne style, and the flat roof, window bands, and boxy form of the International Style… Broad cantilevered rectilinear or curved canopies were also a character-defining feature… (as were) soaring sign pylons that dominated (a) building’s facade.” The report underscores the store’s most notable design feature, the “cylindrical fluted tower on the building’s northeast corner that rises above the roofline to form a prominent anchor to the retail store building as seen from Wilshire Boulevard and 3rd Street.”

The store (which replaced J.C. Penney’s original 1930’s-vintage Santa Monica unit at 1328 3rd Street, just up the block) both predated and survived Penney’s “full-line era”, roughly the early 1960’s through the early 1980’s, when the company sold large appliances, sporting goods, automotive and other assorted hard goods in addition to the Penney staples of clothing, linens, towels and the like. In all likelihood, the Santa Monica store, due to its location and relatively small size, never ventured far beyond the company’s traditional soft goods offerings.

In 1965 a three-block area of 3rd Street, encompassing the Penney store and other retailers, was closed off for conversion to a pedestrian mall. Known since then as the “3rd Street Promenade”, it remains successful today, no doubt owing to its limited scope, successfully avoiding the pitfalls of overreach that have doomed conversions like it in other cities.

The store survived under the Penney flag into the mid-1990’s, a point when the vast majority of these had long since been supplanted by large, regional mall-based stores. (Amazingly, a similar store hung in there all the way until last summer.) Since 1998, the store has been a prominent location for Banana Republic, the upscale banner of Gap Inc. The famous façade has been preserved (sans the Penney signage, of course), and $7 million worth of interior renovations were carried out. As of this writing, it looks like The Gap is putting this one up for sublease. Perhaps another supplier of high-end khakis will show some interest in this beautiful building.

Even more striking, perhaps, is the second store pictured, which opened the same year at 5930 Easton Avenue (later renamed Dr. Martin Luther King Drive) in St. Louis, Missouri, in an area of town known as the Wellston Loop. Once again, Penney engaged the services of a local architect, William P. McMahon & Sons, and once again a stunningly-designed building resulted.

McMahon, a St. Louis native, had already enjoyed a long career at that point, having designed homes, churches and various commercial buildings around town beginning in 1907. By the 1930’s he was working in partnership with his son, Bernard, a recent architectural school graduate who favored Modernism and would spend time in California, where streamlined design reigned supreme. By the time the Penney project rolled around, Bernard had long since mastered the form. Not to be outdone, the elder McMahon brought his own Modernist sensibilities to the job, honed through aerodynamic design work he did for a military aircraft manufacturer during World War II, when building design commissions were slow in coming.

The Wellston J.C. Penney store is considered a prime example of the International Style of Modernism, according to a 2006 report submitted to the National Register of Historic Places. It “typifies (the International style) through its rejection of ornamentation, incorporation of horizontal ribbon windows with cantilevered surrounds and dependence on regularity to organize the primary façade rather than axial symmetry.” (The difference between ‘regularity’ and ‘symmetry’ being “lots of windows or other structural features placed at regular intervals” as opposed to “the strict symmetry of a Greek temple”, the historical precept upon which much architecture was, and is, based. This excellent series of articles explains the concept better than I could ever hope to.) The building’s crowning feature, literally and figuratively, is its floating partial canopy, with cutouts that “frame views of the sky.”

Penney had opened their first St. Louis store two decades earlier, in 1928, at 2604 North 14th Street, and two others quickly followed – at the corner of Morganford and Gravois in 1929, then at 5976 Easton Avenue (doors away from the featured store) in 1930. This gave the company locations “north, south and west of downtown” respectively, according to the NHRP report.

Interestingly, “Unlike St. Louis’s three largest department stores, Stix Baer & Fuller, Scruggs-Vandervoort Barney and Famous Barr, J.C. Penney chose not to build a central store downtown. Instead, Penney’s focused on a decentralized model of retailing along the lines of Woolworth’s and other national chains by locating multiple in neighborhoods where its customers lived”, the report says. (This wasn’t necessarily true of Woolworth’s or Penney’s in other large cities, though, as both chains had a number of major downtown flagship stores by this time. But St. Louis was an exception.)

The Wellston store’s location enabled it to capitalize on the migration of St. Louisans to the suburbs while continuing to draw a fair amount of business from city dwellers. (Penney opened a second very successful neighborhood location the following year, 1950, at the Hampton Village Shopping Center, with the polar opposite architectural theme – a “Colonial Williamsburg” motif. That store remains open today.)

As late as 1967, the Wellston store still qualified as a key link in the Penney chain, and as such it was approved for an extensive “New Image” makeover that year, putting it in league with their new mall-based showplaces at Northwest Plaza and South County Center. By 1976, however, things had changed. In the report’s words, “the trends that enabled the Wellston store to be successful through the 1950s and 60s propelled shoppers even further westward; changing neighborhood demographics hastened the company’s departure.” That year, the Wellston J.C. Penney store closed. For the last 37 years it has stood vacant.

The building has been the subject of controversy in recent years, and nearly met its demise a few years ago when the local alderman withdrew his previous support for its preservation. Fortunately, St. Louis is blessed with a preservation community that’s second to none, and with a disproportionate number of great mid-century architectural blogs that tend to put the word out about such things. The best of the bunch, in my opinion, is B.E.L.T. – “The Built Environment in Layman’s Terms”, written by Toby Weiss (who also sings in a band called The Remodels – how great is that?). She recently informed me that the building has indeed been added to the National Register of Historic Places, and that the referenced alderman “has backed off on wanting to tear it down.” Other than that, all is quiet.

Of course, the key to survival of any historic retail building is a viable tenant. Maybe someone offering mid-priced khakis will give it a go.

As always, my special thanks to the J.C. Penney Archives at Southern Methodist University’s DeGolyer Library for the use of these great photos.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Remembering Korvette's Eugene Ferkauf

Last year saw the passing of one of the most influential figures in retailing history, one who deserves more recognition than he receives today, I’m afraid. Eugene Ferkauf, founder of the legendary E.J. Korvette chain of promotional department stores, passed away on June 5, 2012 in New York City at the age of 91.

In the early sixties, Ferkauf found himself the subject of a fair amount of media attention as his company ascended. By all appearances, E. J. Korvette looked to be on the verge of breaking out into a national chain. As the decade rolled on, however, things changed drastically – the company ran into trouble, the dreams were scaled back, and with Ferkauf’s departure in 1968, “Korvettes” (as it was then officially known) began to wane rapidly. His influence continued, but more on the discount industry as a whole rather than on the company he founded.

The origins of E.J. Korvette, which have been discussed to some extent here before, fall squarely within the realm of the bootstrapping American dreamers of the mid-20th Century:  Eugene Ferkauf, a young man from Brooklyn, seeks a career in retail upon his discharge from the Army. Offered a slot in R.H. Macy & Co.’s training program, he turns it down and instead follows in the footsteps of his father, opening in 1948 a luggage store in an East 46th Street  second floor walk-up (for you non-New Yorkers, that means “building with no elevator”).  Breaking away from his father’s approach, he sells at reduced markups and starts to move large volumes of product, selling everything from a simple “traveling case” for a college-bound son or daughter to 20-piece top-grade leather luggage outfits for U.N. diplomats.

Along the way, he decides to stock some small electric appliances - virtual red meat to ravenous postwar consumers eager to upgrade their lifestyles now that The War was over. (Not that the words “upgrade” and “lifestyle” were common to the American vocabulary in those days. They weren’t. Mostly, folks were just eager to toss Grandma’s old wind-up clock in favor of a nice, self-starting electric Telechron.) The appliances are marked well below “manufacturer’s suggested prices”, and sales go through the roof. Ferkauf begins to open to open more stores in the city – in first floor locations.

His employees are his friends – high school pals from Brooklyn, with a few Army buddies peppered in - the people Ferkauf feels most comfortable with, and whom he trusts above all others.  They start as sales clerks and shelf stockers in the early stores, and many move into executive positions as Korvette rapidly grows into a full-blown corporate entity. Even then, they continue to call each other by their adolescent nicknames – “Doodie” and “Schmultzie” being two examples cited in Time Magazine’s 1962 profile of Ferkauf.  Within a few years, many of these guys acquire another nickname - “millionaire”, as a result of their association with Korvette.

The roots of the company name itself extend to Ferkauf’s Brooklyn boyhood. “E.J.” stands for Eugene (Ferkauf) and Joe Zwillenberg, friend and Korvette employee from the very beginning, and “Korvette” is inspired by the Corvette, a class of World War II warships operated by the Royal Canadian Navy. A popular, and false, story behind the name’s origin soon arises - that E.J. Korvette stands for “Eight Jewish Korean War Veterans.”  (Where the myth started remains a mystery, but it endures to this day. Evidence of that turned up in NBC Nightly News’ report on Ferkauf’s passing, where Brian Williams made mention of it and briefly outlined the name’s true origin. Personally, I was just delighted to see the story covered on network news.)

By 1953, five years on, Ferkauf has four more stores – on Third Avenue and 42nd Street in NYC, in White Plains, at Rockefeller Center, and in Hempstead, Long Island.  These stores share common characteristics with the first (sans the “second floor walk-up” aspect) in that they’re “noisy, cluttered, and so pressed for space that they have lapped over into annexes next door or down the block”, as Fortune magazine would put it in November 1956. The next store, however, Korvette’s first suburban “shopping center” location near Westbury, Long Island, would be markedly different.

And that’s where the legend of E.J. Korvette and its founder, Eugene Ferkauf, really began.

The late author David Halberstam, in his masterwork The Fifties, an essential read for anyone interested in that decade’s massive effect on late 20th century American culture – consumer, popular and otherwise, devotes an entire chapter to the rise of E.J. Korvette.  Halberstam sets up a memorable scene: “As Ferkauf looked at the potato fields of Westbury, he experienced a vision of the new suburbia: a sparkling, huge new store with vast parking facilities.” (Surely you’ve heard of “Westbury potatoes”, just like Idaho or Maine potatoes, right? Well, no one else has either; that’s why they built a shopping center on top of the place.)
More of Halberstam’s vivid picture painting: “There would be no more taking whatever real estate agents gave him and adapting buildings that could never be made to fit his needs. In fact, he had always wanted a store that was not merely successful, but also beautiful – like Lord & Taylor, a showplace the customer would also admire. Westbury would be the site for that store; there was plenty of space, easy access to the highways that connected Long Island to New York City, and best of all, it was only ten minutes from Levittown.”

Korvette’s “Westbury store” (actually located in Carle Place, L.I., on the corner of Westbury Avenue and Glen Cove Road), constructed on an insanely short schedule and opened just in time for the Christmas 1954 selling season, soon validated Ferkauf’s line of thinking, grossing $2 million in the month of December alone, and $28 million the following year. Ferkauf was “one of the big boys now”, as Halberstam put it.

The Westbury store was the first of what would become known as “Korvette Cities”, integrated shopping complexes comprising a general merchandise discount store, a supermarket, and (eventually) carpet and furniture centers. The supermarkets were only marginally profitable, but they drew customers in. And Ferkauf had no desire to go into the carpet or furniture business himself – the turnover was “too slow”, and these items “require(d) too much after-sale service” according to the 1956 Fortune article, so he franchised the Korvette name to two outside firms.

A popular feature was the beloved pretzel vendor, stationed just outside the main entrance at Westbury at $800 a month rent. These would soon become a fixture at Korvette stores and other discounters throughout the region. (800 bucks a month in the 50’s. That was a bunch of pretzels.)

In the ensuing years large, beautiful Korvette stores popped up regularly in major suburban areas all over the Northeast: West Islip, Long Island in 1956, followed by Springfield, Pennsylvania and North Brunswick, New Jersey in 1957, Scarsdale, NY in 1958, Camp Hill and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1959, Audubon and Trenton, New Jersey and Huntington, L.I. in 1961. As Ferkauf’s fame reached a new peak in 1962, new suburban Korvette stores were opened in Nanuet, New York, West Orange, New Jersey, the Baltimore suburbs Towson and Glen Burnie, Maryland and at the massive new King of Prussia Mall in suburban Philadelphia. And of course, the famous Fifth Avenue store, covered numerous times here, opened in June of that year.    

The timing for Ferkauf’s push into the suburbs couldn’t have been better, and it put his company in a rarefied position to capitalize on the sweeping changes taking place in American life.  One trend was fairly obvious, of course – the hordes of families actually relocating to the suburbs from the cities and naturally desiring convenient places to shop, but there were other factors at work.

A brilliant 1962 Fortune magazine article about the discounters, “The Revolutionists of Retailing” by Charles E. Silberman, touches on several of these reasons. For one thing, the suburbs were “changing character”, and not all of the new suburbanites were high or middle income families. Through the 1950’s, many of the country’s best known main line department stores began to open branch stores in the suburbs. As often as not, these branches were stunning from an architectural and design standpoint, but many were missing a key component of their downtown flagships’ success – the “basement store”, where bargains and discontinued items sold in volumes.  “During the flush years of the early postwar period, however, (department) store managers became infatuated with the explosive growth of the middle income group and the consequent possibilities for “trading up”…(but) they failed to see that their basement customers were moving to the suburbs, too. As a result, they left unsatisfied a substantial demand for low-priced staples and semi-staples – children’s clothing, sheets, towels, women’s lingerie, men’s sport shirts, etc.” said Silberman. In doing so, they created a huge opening for Ferkauf and his fellow discounters.

As far as “trading up” is concerned, the article goes on to note an interesting countertrend that also benefited the discounters. While many middle income consumers were indeed trading up, equally significant, maintained Silberman, were those consumers who were “trading down.”  The consumer culture was now running at full tilt, the article noted, and “Far from being sated with goods and services…Americans are finding it difficult to accommodate all their desires even with their rising incomes, so they stint where stinting is possible. Consumers who want a new car, a boat, a trip to Paris, and a college education for their children are likely to go out of their way to save 10 to 20 percent on the children’s underwear.”  So the discount store was finding its place even among the well-to-do, and those who felt they were.

But the discount stores’ appeal went beyond price: “strange as the notion may seem to devotees of Marshall Field’s or Neiman-Marcus, a good many Americans actually enjoy shopping in discount houses.” In a survey cited in the Silberman article, “Convenient location, good parking, self-service, and the opportunity to browse without being browbeaten by a clerk” all ranked above price concerns. (Funny how the notion of “being browbeaten by a clerk” seems almost quaint today, even in full-service department stores. “Spending less than 20 minutes searching for a clerk” might be more applicable now.)

And at the forefront of all this, according to Silberman, was Eugene Ferkauf, “due to the chain reaction he helped set off.” Undoubtedly the most prestigious endorsement, cited in this article and numerous others, came from Malcolm McNair, professor of retailing at the Harvard Business School, who in 1962 declared Ferkauf among the six greatest merchants in history, alongside Frank W. Woolworth, John Wanamaker, James Cash Penney, General Robert E. Wood of Sears and Michael Cullen, founder of King Kullen, widely credited as the first supermarket. Three of the group had long since passed on and two others, Penney and Wood, were in the “Chairman Emeritus” stage of life, leaving Ferkauf as the greatest contemporary retailer. And you know you’ve made it when you’re profiled in a children’s book, as Ferkauf was in “Famous Merchants for Young People”, a 1965 title by Sigmund Lavine.  (Rumors that the book is being re-released as “Famous Hedge Fund Managers for Young People” are unconfirmed at this point.)

Arguably it was the opening of Korvette’s Fifth Avenue store in New York City, on March 15, 1962, that prompted the brightest spotlight on Ferkauf and his company. Though untypical in many ways – a stately, seven-story Roman columned building in the heart of Manhattan’s toniest shopping district as compared to Korvette’s standard sleek, sprawling suburban shopping cities (need more “s” words, there, don’t you think?) – the sheer boldness of the move caught the media’s fancy.  

There was a Business Week cover story on February 10 - “Korvette’s Eugene Ferkauf pits his brand of discount selling against the carriage-trade tradition of Fifth Avenue”, featuring a cover photo of Ferkauf, looking natty in a trench coat on a dark, rainy New York day. In April, Ferkauf and Korvette figured prominently in “Rise of the Superstores”, a Dun’s Review piece about the tidal wave of discounting and its effect on manufacturers –“few indeed can match Ferkauf’s performance in retailing –a field where only a new concept, carefully nurtured, can bring in the millions.”  

But probably the most coveted media prize in those days, long before the decline of print sales and the rise of the “Google Doodle”, was the cover of Time Magazine. Each week the Time cover featured a top national or international personality from the area of government, science, sports, the arts or business, and on July 6, 1962, it was Ferkauf on center stage in a painted portrait, (as most Time covers were then) amid a downdraft of discounted-price tags and a lamppost bearing the address of his new flagship store.

The Time article itself is a fascinating account of Korvette’s history up to that point, and it offered considerable insight into Ferkauf’s thoughts on his company and its place in the retail world. On Korvette’s role in the marketplace:  “If Macy’s, Gimbels and Carson’s are selling at lower prices, it’s because we’ve inspired this competitive situation. We have done more to stretch that buck than anyone in American distribution. I don’t know by what percentage we’ve increased the purchasing power of the American dollar, but I know it’s significant.” On Korvette’s lack of stockholder dividends:  “As long as I have anything to do with this company…all the profits will go to expansion. The hell with the stockholders. (and, grinning) …don’t forget I’m the biggest one.” On the future: (and “not wholly kidding”, as Time put it) “All we hope for this company is that it should do all the merchandising business in the U.S.”

It also afforded an interesting glimpse into his unconventional working style: “He has no office, no secretary, no personal files. He has never dictated a business letter or made a speech…He shuns credit cards; he regards them as a temptation to spend company money. He never goes to cocktail parties or conventions; they cost time.” And into his family life as well: “No matter how far he must travel to inspect one of his stores, whether to Hartford or Harrisburg, he is always home before the children bed down. Only six nights during the past 14 years (since Korvette’s founding) has Ferkauf spent away from home, and four of them were on a recent business jaunt to Italy.” Not a lot of us can say that.

For the next several years, Korvette’s growth continued on the trajectory the magazines had raved about. New stores were opened in 1963 in Paramus, New Jersey next to Bergen Mall (and a stone’s throw from Garden State Plaza) and in Trumbull, Connecticut. Then came the company’s first stores to be built outside the “Northeast Megalopolis” (Boston to Washington, DC, or in Korvette’s case, Hartford to DC) – by the end of 1964, Korvette had four stores in the Chicago area – in Oak Lawn, Elmhurst, Morton Grove and Matteson (a fifth area unit would open in North Riverside in late 1965), three in suburban Detroit – Southgate, Roseville and Redford Township, and two in greater St. Louis – Sunset Hills and Cool Valley. Back in the megalopolis, two D.C. area stores - Rockville, Maryland and Baileys Crossroads, Virginia opened around this time as well.

But as the mid-60’s approached, problems began to surface. Some of these were rooted in the company’s increasingly upscale approach to the market (read: fancier stores), a progression that started with the first suburban Korvette locations in the mid-50’s and accelerated after the overwhelmingly positive reception to the opulent Fifth Avenue store. Business Week succinctly described the concerns of retail observers: “How, they ask, can you operate a palace on a discount base?” Despite the prettier (and more costly) stores, the additional services offered, and a newly expressed preference for the phrase “promotional department store” over “discount store”, Korvette president William Willensky took pains to reassure them: “…when it comes to pricing, we are a discount house, no ifs, and(s) or buts about it.” Eventually, however, these moves began to take a toll on Korvette’s profits. As long as volume grew it wasn’t a huge concern, but they stood vulnerable in the event of a sales downturn. Also, they were now closer than ever to direct competition with Macy’s and other full-line department stores at the same time these firms were finally grasping the new rules of the price game.

Another issue concerned the company’s “Western” stores in the expansion markets of Chicago, Detroit and St. Louis. On the whole these stores (all massive “Korvette Cities”) did reasonably well, but the results fell short of those Korvette enjoyed a few years earlier upon entering Philadelphia, where they virtually crushed the competition, or of their very strong showings in Baltimore and Washington, DC. Things were particularly contentious in Chicago, a land rife with discount stores as it was, but also the home turf of Sears, a name that rhymed with “unassailable retail powerhouse” in those years. They “met Korvette’s incursion head on”, as Fortune magazine put it in February 1966. But Ferkauf, quoted in the same article, had no regrets: “I’m glad we went in when we did. Today we’re enjoying the fruits of the move.”

A major hassle occurred when Korvette’s longtime furniture lessee, the H.L. Klion Company, imploded. Lacking the infrastructure to cope with Korvette’s continuous expansion and crippled by two labor disputes, Klion’s furniture deliveries became hit-and-miss, resulting in a whopping $2 million in customer order cancellations in 1964, many of those with custom-ordered upholstery. The crux of the matter, of course, was that the signs all over the department read “E.J. Korvette”, (the customers most likely never even heard of Klion), so Ferkauf and company were compelled to act in order to preserve Korvette’s good name and to attempt to ameliorate the damage.  In August 1965, Korvette took over the Klion operation, and around the same time bought out their carpet lessee, the Federal Carpet Company, as well.

But the most vexing problems stemmed from the Korvette supermarkets. For all of their mastery at selling appliances and other products for the home, and despite their growing experience in affordable fashion and other relatively new areas, when it came to running supermarkets Korvette was light on expertise. By the mid-60’s that part of the operation was raining red ink. For one thing, there was no central warehousing capability, “(so) close day-to-day control over the inflow of goods was impossible – a fatal flaw in the low-margined food business”, said Fortune in 1966. Especially affected were the supermarkets “in the unfamiliar land of Detroit and Chicago, to which Korvette could not profitably ship staples from the East, and where it had no experience in the local purchase of meat and produce.” They soon leased off the Detroit and Chicago supermarkets to other operators, with several in the latter market going to Dominick’s. The issue continued to plague their core Eastern markets, however, and food store competition there continued to intensify, complicating the matter.  Ultimately these problems led to a merger that, in sad hindsight, would mark the beginning of the end for Korvette.     

According to former Korvette vice president Eve Nelson, Ferkauf was prone to “crushes” on companies, an assertion well supported in his 1977 autobiography “Going Into Business : How To Do It, By The Man Who Did It”. (Half Korvette history, half tutorial for aspiring retailers, it’s a fun and informative read.) From the moment Korvette hit the big time in the early 50’s, it seems he was constantly involved in merger talks with one firm or another, often multiple companies at once.

For the most part, Ferkauf pursued the talks with a singular goal in mind: to bolster Korvette in areas where it was weak, creating a combination where both parties brought complementary strengths to the table. In the early years, when Korvette was strong in appliances and other hard goods but lacking in soft goods experience, he focused on department stores with an emphasis on fashion at discount prices.

Three of these were based in New York – J.W. Mays, Ohrbach’s and Alexander’s. Ferkauf had great respect for the merchandising acumen of Joe Weinstein, head of J.W. Mays, a Brooklyn-based retailer with a few suburban branches, despite obvious reservations about Weinstein’s personal manner. (He relates a story where during one meeting, Weinstein sneezed into Ferkauf’s lasagna, “…and I was hungry.” Thus ended the merger discussions for that day.) J.W. Mays’ arch rival, the Bronx-based Alexander’s, had some years back moved into suburban White Plains. When George Farkas, who controlled Alexander’s, opened the company’s huge, attractive Rego Park, Queens branch, it set off “an undeclared war” with Mays.  Nathan Ohrbach, who took a fatherly liking to Ferkauf, opened his flagship store in NYC’s Union Square in the early 20’s (later moving it to 34th Street) and in subsequent years opened several branches in area suburbs. Ohrbach’s eventually flew its flag in California as well, with a very elegant location on Wilshire Boulevard opening in 1948. For a while, Ferkauf held out hopes a four-way merger with the above named firms, and went to great effort to orchestrate negotiations (seating Weinstein and Farkas on opposite ends of the table, of course) towards that end, but a Mays-Korvette-Orhbach’s-Alexander’s combination never materialized. In 1955, Ferkauf did acquire a 43 percent stake in Alexander’s for just under $10 million, but was never was allowed to buy the additional shares needed to wrest majority control from the Farkas family. In 1968, the Alexander’s interest was sold for more than double what Korvette paid for it.

Others entered the picture, including City Stores, who owned the department stores Lit Brothers (Philadelphia) and Maison Blanche (New Orleans), the variety store chain McCrory, and New York specialty stores Oppenheim Collins and Franklin Simon. When City Stores’ financier, Albert M. Greenfield (“who reminded me of Sydney Greenstreet”, said Ferkauf), made the magnanimous offer to buy out Korvette for half of the going stock price, the prospects there came to a swift end.

Later, there was even a brief flirtation with Montgomery Ward, following Korvette’s move into Chicago in 1963-4. Wards were several years into a major expansion drive by then, opening large, modern stores in malls and shopping centers across the country, but they had alarmingly little presence in their home base of Chicago. There, they were saddled with The Fair, a staid department store operation and perennial fourth or fifth-fiddle to Marshall Field’s, Carson Pirie Scott, Wieboldt’s and erstwhile others. Eager to open mainline Montgomery Ward stores (direct competitors with Sears and Penneys) in Chicagoland, they saw the (then four) area Korvette stores – brand new, attractive, well-located and the right size, as an ideal way to accomplish that. But Ferkauf considered Montgomery Ward’s consistently sluggish profit performance, despite years of investment in exciting new stores, to be “far from satisfactory”, and while the possibilities discussed ranged from a merger to simply selling off the Chicago area Korvette units to Wards, nothing ever came of it. Wards ended up converting The Fair units to standard Montgomery Ward stores, and would go on to anchor a number of Chicago-area malls in the ensuing decades.

And finally (in many ways), Ferkauf’s quest to merge with a supermarket chain, an endeavor that also began early on. First up was Penn Fruit, a very successful Philadelphia-based company that Ferkauf considered “one of the finest food supermarket chains in the United States”. (And that I consider to have had “some of the best-looking stores in history”.) Ferkauf was keenly interested in them and some talks were held, but Penn Fruit’s banker ultimately nixed the idea. Then came years of exasperating, often humiliating talks with Food Fair, another Philly-based food titan, which mercifully came to an end with Food Fair’s 1961 purchase of the Boston-based J.M. Fields discount chain. Ironically, it was Ferkauf they would turn to for advice (much more humbly this time ‘round) when J.M. Fields started to incur serious losses, and he was glad to oblige. 

The “one that got away”, according to Ferkauf, was New Jersey-based Supermarkets General, a member of the Shop-Rite cooperative and later the operator of Pathmark supermarkets. In his book, he professes great admiration for SG and Pathmark (ironic in light of Pathmark’s reputation of recent years but completely valid at the time), and describes the missed opportunity in failing to pursue a merger with them in very emotional terms. The failure, it turns out, was all based on a misunderstanding. As it happened, SG executive Herb Brody had told Ferkauf in an early 60’s meeting that “Shop-Rite will never merge with anybody”. But he meant the cooperative, not Supermarkets General itself, Brody clarified - a good decade later.

As mentioned, by the mid-60’s Korvette’s “supermarket problem” had reached a critical point, but at the end of 1964 it seemed the solution lay right in Korvette’s backyard.   Hills Supermarkets, a Long Island-based operator of 40-plus stores (mostly located on the Island) was growing fast. Best of all, they had recently opened a state-of-the-art distribution center smack dab in the middle of Korvette’s core territory. The song of synergy, complete with harps and celesta, was in the air, and in February 1965 a merger between the two companies was consummated.  Nelson Riddle couldn’t have arranged things better, it seemed.

But it proved to be a disaster from the start, with zero personal compatibility between Ferkauf and Hilliard Coan, Hills’ former chairman, and their respective teams. With Coan installed as chairman and Ferkauf as president and CEO of the combined organization (still under the name E.J. Korvette, Inc.), things bumped along uncomfortably for just over a year. It all came to a head in May 1966, when Coan tried to force Ferkauf out of the company.

Ferkauf, still Korvette’s largest stockholder by a wide margin, hastily put together a meeting with his friend Charles Bassine, the chairman of Spartans Industries, Inc., with the goal of merging the two companies. The net effect, of course, would mean a shift in the balance of power at Korvette. Spartans operated two discount department store chains, Spartan and Atlantic Mills. They also owned a huge garment manufacturing operation in Tennessee (Bassine’s original business), which annually churned out zillions of men’s sport shirts (connoisseurs’ items for today’s thrift-shopping hipsters) and other clothing items for their own discount stores and just about everyone else’s.  In just about a month, the deal was done. Korvette was now a division of Spartans Industries, and Coan and his deputies were shown the door. The Hills/Korvette food stores would soon be sold off altogether, most to Pueblo Supermarkets.

Ferkauf, who sold his Korvette stock at the time of the transaction, stayed on briefly in a largely advisory role, but by 1968 he’d had enough and decided to retire. A historic chapter was now closed. Sadly, in the midst of the tumult of Korvette’s previous few years, Harvard’s Malcolm McNair had removed Ferkauf from his “greatest merchants” list. But I submit that he still belongs there, for several important reasons:

He played a large part in defeating the “Fair Trade” laws. These were basically a form of legal price fixing, in which retailers were obligated not to sell products below the manufacturer’s set price. The very idea of not being able to shop for a bargain price has been unthinkable for eons, but through the 1950’s, Korvette was sued by company after company for daring to breach their sacrosanct list prices . When this happened, Ferkauf either brought in another product line or just defied them. One by one, the manufacturers rescinded these policies, and when General Electric finally caved in 1958, it was over.  The laws were repealed. Public sentiment had won, and discounting was now legal.  

He was early to see the potential in the suburbs. I know. You can read this site and innumerable other sources dealing with retail history, and after a while you get the sense that everyone and their Aunt Martha led the charge into the suburbs. But Korvette’s Westbury store opened in 1954, and that was early.

His management style was ahead of its time in many ways. In 1982, the book In Search of Excellence, by Peters and Waterman, was published to wide acclaim, and it’s still regarded as one of the most important business books ever written. One of the core principles of the book was described as “management by walking around”, which meant exactly that  - spending time on the floor, listening, interacting with employees , seeking their opinions and inspiring the troops where needed, as opposed to  hiding out in a corner office waiting for status reports and issuing directives. This is de rigueur among well-run companies now, but Ferkauf excelled at it decades before it was standard practice.

Also, Korvette arguably had the most powerful female executive in retail in the 1950’s and 60’s, with Ferkauf’s hiring of Eve Amigone Nelson. She was the company’s director of advertising and promotion during the halcyon years, and was given free rein to shape their marketing program, with magnificent results. There was little discussion of a “glass ceiling” back then, in an era when women were rarely even allowed on the floor. Ferkauf played a part in helping to change that.

He keyed in on the entertainment culture like no one else.  It was reported that one of the eulogists at Ferkauf’s funeral related the story of buying his first Beatle record at E.J. Korvette.  No doubt this story rings true for legions of record-buying fans (of the Beatles and every other artist imaginable) in those years. He hired a record producer, David Rothfeld, to run the operation, and throughout the 1960’s and beyond, Korvette easily had the top-selling record departments of any mass-marketer in the country.  Rothfeld’s group also developed a hugely successful electronics line under the house brand “XAM”. (If you’re curious as to what that stood for, it was “Max” spelled backwards. Max was Korvette’s audio equipment buyer’s cat. Now you know.)

Well, Professor McNair passed away in 1985. Maybe someone will create a new list at some point.

In any event, the pioneers tend to move on. They spend more time looking forward than looking back, and with the exception of writing the “history” portion of his book, that’s exactly what Ferkauf did in the years following his departure from Korvette. There would be other retail ventures – Bazar (not to be confused with “Baza’r”, the West Coast-based discounter), a Pier 1-style import store, Clubmart, a New York-area membership discount operation, and Sunbelt Department Stores among them. In 1976 he set up his own retail consulting practice, Penfield Retail Services, where he worked with a number of high-profile clients including The Southland Corporation (7-Eleven), Playboy and Citibank. The legendary New York Times retail writer Isadore Barmash dubbed him a “doctor for companies” in a 1981 article.

Better known than any of his post-Korvette retail endeavors, however, was his philanthropy. In addition to their charitable organization, the Eugene and Estelle Ferkauf Foundation, in the mid-1960’s, Ferkauf and his wife became the founding benefactors of the highly acclaimed Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology, part of New York’s Yeshiva University.

In the fall of 2008, I wrote a series of short posts on the history of E.J. Korvette. I’ve received many responses via site comments and emails from folks who worked at Korvette since the posts first appeared, and over the years they’ve continued to come in. For quite a few of them, it was one of their first jobs, where they worked in high school or college. Some worked there for just a year or two, yet looking back now from their late fifties or sixties, virtually all consider their tenure at Korvette to be among their happiest experiences. If their stories are any indication, it’s safe to say that Ferkauf was very well-liked and respected by his employees.

And the Ferkaufs’ generosity even extended to me, in an unexpected, personal way. About a year after I’d done the series of Korvette posts, I heard from Mr. Ferkauf’s wife, Estelle, saying how much she and her husband enjoyed them. Not long afterward, I received a warm email from their daughter, Bobby, as well. Even the most successful business stories fade with time, but people tend to remember how they were treated along the way, and these acts of kindness underscored everything I’d read and heard about them.

Now, a few words about the photos that appear a couple of miles above this paragraph. They’re vintage Korvette publicity shots of early suburban stores, all of them sporting red signage, whereas on later stores it was typically blue. (Note my steadfast avoidance of dropping any Prince song titles here. Sheer willpower.)  The first, circa 1961, shows the historic Westbury store, the original “Korvette City” prototype, packing ‘em in some seven years after its opening. The second, also from that year, is an unknown location to me. Third up, from 1958, is the Springfield, Pennsylvania store, the first in Korvette’s very successful launch into the Philly area. Last, also from ’58, is what Korvette officially called their “Westchester store”, which bore a Scarsdale address but was actually located in an unincorporated area of Greenburgh at the Midway Shopping Center. This store has the rarer block letter signage in lieu of the well-known script.  In a fun side note, one of these signs was uncovered in 2010 when the former Korvette building in nearby Pelham was redeveloped.