NEW YORK CITY -- Eugene Ferkauf, founder of the E.J. Korvette discount department stores, often called "Korvette's," died on June 5. He was 91.
A pioneer in the discount big box store concept, Ferkauf opened his first store in a small loft in midtown Manhattan in 1948. By 1953, he had opened a big box store on Long Island in Carle Place, Nassau County. At its height, the Korvette's chain operated some 50 stores and 60 supermarkets.
As with big box stores today, bulk venders and other amusement devices were common features in Ferkauf's stores, typically occupying a space near the front entrance.
The chain featured minimum sales help and little in the way of décor. What brought people in were discounts that could range anywhere from 10% or 40% over competitors' prices. According to some accounts, the now-defunct chain would serve as the inspiration for today's big box chains like Wal-Mart and Costco.
Ferkauf sold the chain in 1966 for $20 million. Following multiple owners and increased competition and a number of strategic missteps, the last store in the chain closed in 1980.
Contrary to urban legend, the name E.J. Korvette is not an acronym for "Eleven Jewish Korean War Veterans. Ferkauf, who served during World War II with the Army Signal Corps in the Philippines and Japan, took the first two initials from his own name and that of a friend and company executive, Joe Swillenberg. The "Korvette" in the name is an intentional misspelling of a class of naval ships.
Ferkauf is survived by his wife, Estelle; his sister, Lauretta Cruhlac; his daughters, Bobby Dor Kurzweil, Lenore Bronstein and Amy Shapira; and nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.