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Saturday, October 18, 2008

RIP Mervyn's

So I heard the news that the owners of Mervyn's are throwing in the towel and liquidating the company. A massive "going out of business sale" will occur soon and extend through the holiday shopping season. The owners will get squat, and some of the lenders will get nicked, too. This causes a slight twinge of sadness for me. I shall explain.

Mervyn's was a classic post-war success story. In the summer of 1949, 29-year old Mervin G. Morris opened the first Mervyn's store in San Lorenzo CA, about 20 miles south of Oakland. I grew up in San Leandro CA, the first suburb north of San Lorenzo. My mother would drag me to Mervyn's every fall to buy my back-to-school clothes. Mervin Morris was an innovator. He was one of the first retailers to focus on young families with modest incomes; he was one of the first retailers to offer revolving credit accounts to customers; he was one of the first retailers to advertise sales in large newspaper ads. My family was right in Mervyn's target demographic and I spent many hours in that store in San Lorenzo. The company grew and opened stores all over northern California.

Mr. Morris sold his company to Dayton Hudson (aka Target) in 1978. They neglected it for 26 years, then flushed it in a sale to Cerberus in 2004. Cerberus is a vulture investor/hedge fund. They could give a hoot about the company's history or legacy. And of course, few people care about Mervyn's as a brand - Target, WalMart and the rest of the discounters repeatedly kicked Mervyn's butt.

In 1976, I graduated from college. The economy was pretty weak (sorta like it is now). I had two job offers - one was to join the management training program at Mervyn's, the other was to sell life insurance (gag me). I couldn't stand the idea of peddling budget underwear to the masses, so I went to grad school instead. In a way, Mervyn's is the reason I continued my education, ended up in Chicago, and have the life that I have had.

Thus the twinge of sadness.

RIP Mervyn's.

1 comment:

tim said...

It really is a shame. There are so many stores in the Bay Area closing up these days. Entire strip malls are empty.