“Zayre was a chain of discount stores that operated in the eastern half of the United States from 1956 to 1990. The store’s origins go back to 1919 when brothers Max and Morris Feldberg founded the New England Trading Company in Boston,Massachusetts. An underwear and hosiery wholesaler, the company began as a supplier to full-line department stores and specialty shops.
By the early 1950s, cousins Stanley and Sumner Feldberg took over the company. As sales leveled off, and it became clear to the Feldbergs that drastic changes were needed for their business to remain viable.
After shifting their focus into discounting and a careful period of initial growth through the end of the 1950s, Zayre began to expand. By 1962, there were 27 Zayre stores open, with ten to twenty new ones added annually for many years afterward. That same year, Zayre Corp. became a public company and began trading on the New York Stock Exchange.
As the sixties progressed, Zayre’s product offerings resembled that of a typical discount store, with toys, sporting goods, records, books, health and beauty products, and much more. Zayre stores also featured frequent flashing light 15-minute specials aka blue light specials with live/recorded PSA’s meant to build excitement and drive traffic to specific departments.
By the end of the 1960s, Zayre Corp. diversified into specialty retailing and their timing could not have been better. During the recession of the 1970s, results climbed so rapidly that Zayre Corp. considered expanding its off-price upscale apparel merchandising. By the mid-1980s, off-price specialty retailing had become important to Zayre Corp.
Then in 1985, Zayre Corp. purchased the former Gaylord’s store chain. However, many of the new Zayre stores opened during the 1980s suffered from cluttered aisles and messy appearances. Zayre began to feature appearances from celebrities such as Sherman Hemsley and Robert Guillaume in “”Grand Re-openings”” of their major stores, but even these events failed to improve their market share.
Then in the first half of 1988, Zayre stores had operating losses of $69 million on sales of $1.4 billion. Observers blamed technological inferiority, poor maintenance, inappropriate pricing, and inventory pileups, and Zayre appeared ripe for takeover.
In October 1988, Zayre Corp. decided to focus its energies on its subsidiaries and it sold the entire chain of nearly 400 Zayre stores to Ames Department Stores, Inc. By 1990, all Zayre stores had been closed or converted into Ames stores, and what had once been America’s fifth largest retailer was no more.
Did You Know…
- Zayre is Yiddish for “very Good”
- Longtime New York Times retail writer Isadore Barmash explained the origin of the chain’s name in a 1985 article: One day the Feldbergs and Bert Stern, an advertising consultant, were casting around for possible names for the new operation when Max broke off to take a call. He ended his phone conversation with a typical Jewish phrase: “”Zehr gut,”” or “”very good.”” Stern repeated, “”Zehr, where, we need a nice-sounding name.”” The men stared at one another. Zehr — “”let’s spell it Zayre”” — for very good, they decided.
- In the early 70’s Zayre Corp. attempted to buy the Marshalls chain When that effort failed, the company hired Bernard ‘Ben’ Cammarata, previously General Merchandise Manager of Marshalls, to essentially create a Marshalls clone.
- In March 1977, he opened the first T.J. Maxx in Auburn, Massachusetts, quickly followed by a second store in nearby Worcester. The stores were an instant hit with customers.
- A number of Zayre’s departments were leased out to concessionaires during Zayre’s first decade, including linens, greeting cards, candy, and health and beauty items, totaling nearly a third of Zayre’s store revenues.
- In 1984, Zayre Corp. introduced a new warehouse retail concept to the Northeast called BJ’s Wholesale Club. The self-service, cash-and-carry, membership warehouse sells general merchandise and food at wholesale prices.
- Zayre’s slogan in the 1960s was, “”Fabulous Department Stores,”” followed in the early 1970s with, “”Compare… you can’t do better than Zayre.””
- Zayre was one of only a few stores to remain open 24 hours a day during the weeks preceding Christmas each year.