George J. Greenberg, who led the nationwide expansion of the Loehmann’s apparel chain, one of the earliest discount retailers of high-end clothing, as the first head of the company from outside the founding family, has died. He was 89.
He died yesterday at Franklin Hospital in Valley Stream, New York, after a long illness, according to his son, Maury. He had resided for the last several years in Palm Beach, Florida, with his wife, Frances, who survives him.
The Loehmann’s chain traces back to a discount clothing store opened in Brooklyn in 1921 by Frieda “Momma” Loehmann, who sold overstocked designer wear she obtained from Manhattan’s Garment District. Her son, Charles, opened a second outlet in the Bronx in 1930 and incorporated the Loehmann’s name.
Greenberg joined the company in 1958, when it had four stores, and became president and chief merchandising officer in 1965, when it had seven stores, all in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, according to New York Times articles. As president he succeeded Charles Loehmann, who became chairman. The company had gone public on the American Stock Exchange in 1964.
By the time he retired as chairman and chief executive officer in early 1987, Greenberg had led the company’s expansion to 91 stories from coast to coast, “with plans to add more,” the Times reported in November 1986.
Greenberg maintained Loehmann’s famous focus on prices.
As Time magazine put it in 1983, the chain’s “rigorously no-frills outlets carry no shoes or lingerie. Credit cards are not accepted, nor are returns. Salespeople provide little service. Dressing areas are communal, mirrored rooms with harsh lighting, places of pandemonium on weekends. Women enter, check modesty at the door, and frantically try on designer fashions with no labels but with thinly disguised codes on price tags: RL is Ralph Lauren, GEB Geoffrey Beene, BLA Bill Blass.”
Loehmann’s had “a love-hate relationship” with the fashion industry, said Greenberg, according to a story in New York magazine in 1980. “We’re just tolerated by the industry and yet they need us.”
Greenberg personally became something of a fashion celebrity, helping outfit famous women including Betty Ford and Lillian Carter when they were U.S. first lady, his son said.
Loehmann’s was bought by AEA Investors Inc. in 1980 for $68 million, then in 1983 by department-store operator Associated Dry Goods Corp. for $96 million. In 1986, St. Louis-based May Department Stores Co. took over Loehmann’s as part of its acquisition of Associated Dry Goods.
Greenberg retired a few months later, proclaiming Loehmann’s “alive and well, and we’ll continue to do better under the aegis of the May Co.,” according to the 1986 Times story.
Greenberg’s successor, Allan R. Bogner, closed 13 underperforming stores and changed policy to accept credit cards and personal checks, according to the International Directory of Company Histories. An affiliate of Entrecanales y Tavora SA of Spain and a venture-capital arm of Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette Securities Corp. bought the chain in 1988 and took it private, closing more stores.
Loehmann’s filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November 2010 with a plan negotiated with owner Istithmar Retail Investments, part of Dubai World, and a noteholder, Whippoorwill Associates Inc.
As Loehmann’s underwent ownership changes and financial struggles, Greenberg watched from retirement with some dismay, his son Maury said today in an interview.
“His feeling, I believe, was that he left too soon, and he somewhat regretted that,” Maury Greenberg said. “But he left at a time there were changes taking place that I don’t feel he was comfortable with.”
As recently as the last few months, Greenberg would visit Loehmann’s stores and then privately offer his commentary to his family, his son said. Among other things, he was struck by the variety of merchandise sold by what had long been a ladies’ clothing store. “Silverware and teapots,” he remarked after one of his recent visits, his son said.
George Joseph Greenberg was born on Sept. 26, 1923, in Norfolk, Virginia, one of five boys of Jewish immigrants from Europe. His father, a barber, moved the family to Brooklyn when the children were young.
Unable to support five children during the Great Depression, Greenberg’s parents sent him and two of his four brothers to live at the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum for a few years, his son said.
Greenberg worked as a buyer in the fur department of Macy’s before joining Loehmann’s, his son said.
In addition to his wife and son Maury, Greenberg’s survivors include a daughter, Marilyn, and another son, Robert, plus nine grandchildren.
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