Department store chairman Al Boscov dies at age 87

Department store chairman Al Boscov opened the Dover location of Boscov’s in August 1982. Photo courtesy of Boscov’s.

READING, Pa.  — The chairman of a century-old department store chain has died. Albert Boscov was 87.

Boscov’s CEO and vice chairman Jim Boscov said in a statement that his uncle died Friday of cancer at his home in Reading, Pennsylvania, “surrounded by his loving wife and three daughters.”

Albert Boscov was credited with driving the growth of the business established by his father in 1914 to sales in excess of $1 billion and employing more than 7,500 people.

The Reading-based chain’s website lists stores in Pennsylvania and six other states: Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio.

Albert Boscov announced Feb. 1 that he had terminal pancreatic cancer. He said he wanted 2017 to be “our best possible year” and wished co-workers good luck, saying “I love you all.”

Boscov’s opened its Dover location in August 1982.

The opening at the Dover Mall featured an appearance by Dorothy Lamour, an actress who co-starred in movies with such stars as Henry Fonda and Bob Hope in the 1930s and 1940s. She was set to cut the ribbon, but Zippy the chimp snuck in and snipped the ribbon, stealing the show.

Al Boscov with Zippy.

Zippy was a big star, having performed on “The Tonight Show” and “The Ed Sullivan Show.” He entertained the masses with his bike-riding talent and tricks. Henny Youngman, king of the one-liners, was also in attendance at the Dover opening.

But the real and lasting star was Albert Boscov.

Now 85, he remains the charismatic leader and CEO of the family-owned retail chain his father started.

Our readers have said they are truly enjoying the Boscov’s 100th anniversary items on the front of the store’s weekly circulars. The series continues until the end of this year.

“We’re just a family-owned business and we’re very personable with our customers,” said Stephanie Gibson, manager of the Dover store. “I think they’re just thrilled to hear anything to do with Mr. Boscov. He’s just an incredible man.”

In 2014, Boscov’s ran a series of ads on the family’s retail history to celebrate its 100th anniversary.

Mr. Boscov’s father, Solomon, came to the United States from Russia in 1914 at age 23. He couldn’t speak English, but an acquaintance at a boarding house told him his Yiddish would serve him well in Reading, Pennsylvania. It turns out that the locals were Pennsylvania Dutch (German) and the language was close enough.

He bought $20 worth of merchandise and headed out across Pennsylvania, sleeping in the barns of his customers and thanking them by cleaning stables, combing horses and presenting the farmers’ wives with packs of sewing needles.

Albert was one of four children born to Solomon. At age 6, he got his first assignment in the store — catching 10 flies before noon one Saturday morning. He got six and earned a dime to take the movies. The next week, he got the same task. He had saved the six dead ones from the previous week so he would have a head start. “By noon, he had 11 very dead flies,” said the Sept. 14 story in the circular. “But someone had tipped off Solomon and instead of 10 cents for the movies, he received a lecture on integrity.”

Solomon Boscov died at the age of 80 in 1969. He had grown Boscov’s to three stores in the Reading area and $75 million in annual sales. Albert Boscov and his sister Alma’s husband, Ed Lakin, became co-presidents and continued to build the company.

A tribute to Mr. Boscov was posted on the retailer’s website Saturday.

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