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• Eugene Ferkauf, who founded the now-defunct EJ Korvette's chain of discount department stores, passed away on Tuesday. He was 91.

The obit in the NY Times notes that "Ferkauf was one of the first businessmen to grasp the emergence of a new breed of postwar consumer. Seeing a population of Americans financially better off, impatient to get on with their lives after World War II and susceptible to the advertising shown on the latest new thing, their television sets, he concluded that victory belonged to the very bold. Mr. Ferkauf would not only discount, he would discount more deeply than anyone ever had.

"Seeing people streaming to the suburbs, he imagined the sort of sprawling, free-standing, conveniently situated, no-frills variety store that came to define American retailing. After he built it, Sam Walton came to New York to pick his brain; two years later, Mr. Walton founded Wal-Mart. By the mid-1960s, the Korvette chain had dozens of stores, including one on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and scores of imitators had followed Mr. Ferkauf’s model."

Ferkauf sold his ownership in the company in 1966 for more than $20 million; EJ Korvette's went out of business in the early 1980s.
KC's View:
I grew up in the suburbs of New York City during the late fifties and sixties, the oldest of seven in a family where our dad was a schoolteacher of limited financial means. Which meant finding places to buy stuff at a discount whenever and wherever possible. And that meant trekking up to the EJ Korvette's in Port Chester, NY, with some degree of frequency. So when they talk about this chain being the model for so many others, especially Walmart, I know exactly what they are talking about.

One thing. I actually knew very little about the company, but I was disappointed to find out from the Times obit that the urban legend was untrue - EJ Korvette did not stand for "eight Jewish Korean veterans" who founded the company. It was all Eugene Ferkauf.