Aug 032013
 

Korvette's

It’s hard to find a Long Islander from decades past who doesn’t remember shopping at Korvette’s. One of the first discount department stores to emerge from the 1950s, they are best remembered for their low prices and, perhaps surprisingly, their outstanding music departments. Once plentiful on the Island, they sadly never made it out of the 1970s.

E.J. Korvette department stores, commonly referred to as Korvette’s, were the brainchild of a WWII veteran named Eugene Ferkauf, who first entered the retail business back in 1948. At the time, due to various fair trade laws, department stores were required to offer goods at the manufactured suggested retail price. Ferkauf decided to challenge these laws, and as a result, was able to sell products at a significant discount. Sales increased steadily into the 1950s, encouraging the company to open a flagship 90,000 square foot store on Long Island in 1954, in the town of Westbury, only a few miles from bustling Levittown.

Korvette's-Westbury-1962

Korvette’s, Westbury location, circa 1962

The impressive department store carried everything from furniture, housewares and clothing, to sporting goods, electronics and one of the most extensive collections of discounted music available. You may also remember that every Korvette’s location had a pretzel stand out front, which were not only quite tasty, but also made a lot of money.

More locations followed, in places such as West Islip, Hempstead and Lake Grove, eager to lure cost-conscious shoppers from these blossoming suburban communities. The stores were clean and inviting, and soon became a favorite place to shop among middle and working class locals, thanks to prices that were consistently 10-20% lower than the major department stores. Perhaps most notably, Korvette’s prided itself in offering an extensive collection of records and tapes that rivaled the selection of places like Sam Goody, but at a fraction of the cost. For many a Long Island 70s Kid, Korvette’s was the go-to place when you had a few bucks to spend on a new album or a couple of 45s.

But cracks were starting to show in the business model throughout the 70s. One of the biggest mistakes the company made was partnering with a small local supermarket chain called Hills. They were unprepared to handle the demand from the department stores and made very little profit for the join venture. Likewise, the furniture business, which was outsourced to a fledgling manufacturer turned into a major headache for Korvette’s when they were unable keep up with demand, leaving the retailer to clean up the mess. Besides the record department, the only other area that Korvette’s did quite well in was consumer electronics, especially in regard to their own brand, called XAM, which offered stereo receivers, amplifiers, turntables, etc. Most of the equipment was made by a relatively unknown electronics company in Japan at the time called Roland.

Despite the fact that Korvette’s had over fifty locations in the 1970s, spread out as far as St. Louis and Chicago, and despite their efforts to market extensively on television throughout the decade, the company declared bankruptcy in 1980, closing every single location. But while the days of discount shopping at Korvette’s came to a close, the memories are still strong among both the millions of former customers on Long Island, and the countless employees that worked there over the years, many of whom count Korvette’s as one of their fondest employers. The impact of Korvette’s on Long Island, and on the retail industry in general, will not soon be forgotten.

If you were a former Korvette’s shopper, perhaps spent countless hours browsing their record department, or a former employee, we hope you’ll take a few moments to share all of your recollections in our comments section below, as we pay tribute to an extinct store that once dotted the landscape across New York.

  32 Responses to “Korvette’s”

  1. I worked there stocking and selling Eve Nelson cosmetics It was a great place to meet girls and buy records

  2. I saw a guy run out of the Korvettes by the smithahven mall with a stack of records (even had the metal rack thing and sign attached), he was tackled in the pk lot by security lol, i guess they really needed the loss prevention considering their final outcome..

  3. When I was a kid, I remember going to the Korvettes store in the Mid Island (Broadway) Mall. The store was originally Kleins, and changed to Korvettes sometime in the mid 70s. When the store closed in 1980, my family and I went to shop around for some close out items. My parents bought me a little orange b&w television set, the first ever in my room. It lasted about 5 or 10 years before the reception started to decline. It wasn’t until the 90s when I finally got a color tv in my room!

    The Korvettes store in the mall remained vacant for a number of decades until IKEA moved in, and it’s still there now. Every time I go to IKEA, all my Korvettes memories come back to me, and I remember my first ever b&w tv set!

  4. I grew up in the Bronx. I shopped at the Pelham store and the Yonkers store often. My mother, uncle, cousin, and finally I worked for Korvettes over the years. I worked in the Pelham store until just before it went out of business. I have many fun memories both shopping there and working there.

  5. I browsed, hung & shopped the Korvettes in Pelham Manor, it seemed like we went there for everything, including the Trammps Disco Inferno album, before Saturday Night Fever came out, an older friend of mine, his girlfriend lived behind the pancake house, and i would go browse while he was visiting her, then we used to go bowling at the loyal inn

  6. Yes, Carle Place was 90,000 square feet, but only 60,000 of it was selling.

  7. My friend Roni & I saw John Travolta at Korvettes in Levittown NY in 1977..a MOB of screaming girls when he came out on the roof & broke into his famous BARBARINO dance from Welcome Back Kotter..so memorable..

    • Korvettes never had a store in Levittown.

    • I remember seeing john travolta on the roof of korvettes doing his barbarino dance. I think he was on the roof cause they didn’t expect so many screaming teens. The actually snuck him out dressed as a police officer and took him to the 2nd precinct in syosset. I saw him dressed and in the back of a police car as he drive down east drive in Woodbury to get to the precinct!!

  8. Remember when stores were actually closed on Sunday! We used to ride our minibikes and go carts in the EJ Corvettes parking lot in Douglaston Queens.

  9. Our ‘local’ Korvettes was in Port Chester, NY! We’re from southwestern CT. I’m pleading with anyone who has photographs of the Port Chester store – interior as well as exterior – to post them up, either here or on any site devoted to the great American discount department store. They are a dying bread, and Target and Kohls cannot compare to the likes of Caldor, Bradlees, and E.J. Korvettes.

    My folks’ bad habit – cigarettes – was what introduced this little ’70s boy to Korvettes forty years ago, and I still have vague memories of the visual style and layout of the inside of the store. Records and electronics were downstairs, as was the Christmas section in season. I miss it so much, as the quality of merchandise, from clothing to boom boxes to sporting goods and garden and lawn equipment, was better than the made-in-China stuff they sell today.

    After Korvettes, Portchester became home to a Caldor, and finally, Kohls. It’s just not the same now.

    • I agree with this plea .

      I vividly remember the Christmas shoppe on the first level where Ulta now is. ( Cira 1976 ) this was prior to the Mens dept expanding into the vacant Pergament.

  10. I worked in the pelham store also in the 7O’s boy did I have fun

  11. I remember shopping the Korvettes in Commack when I was a kid. It seemed nicer than Modells but not as upscale as the larger department stores. I think that location was a Kleins, then a Korvettes, then Gertz, then Sterns and finally Macy’s.

    • The Commack store was our Korvette’s, and indeed, it had been a Klein’s before that. It certainly wasn’t the most sophisticated looking of places, but the unusual bargains one could find strewn about the shelves! My most vivid memory is from the mid-70’s, when I was nine or ten. One afternoon, a friend’s mom called my mother to say that we had to go with them to Korvette’s right away. My mom got off the phone puzzled, and told me the reason: “She said that Dr. Spock is there, and you’d want to meet him. Why would you want to see Dr. Spock?” That friend and I were avid Trekkies, and of course, it was not the famous pediatrician whom my friend’s mom meant, but rather Leonard Nimoy — as I explained. Indeed, we rushed on over there to get on the long line, and as we were standing there so far back that we couldn’t yet see him, a woman came around saying something like, “This is disappointing! He just looks like a normal guy! He doesn’t even have the ears on!”

      • I was a newspaper photographer back then and I was there that day to cover Leonard Nimoy being there at the Hicksville store at Mid-Island Plaza.

  12. I loved the Carl Place store. It had the best toy and hobby department. I was always riding my bicycle there to buy models. Then I was buying my first set of golf clubs one at a time, bought a swimming pool, a Beagle mix puppy for $10 which was a wonderful dog. I remember buying sneakers for $1.99 before they became a fad and designer rip off.
    In the later years, there was a Hills supermarket connected to the western side of the store, it was kinda like a super Walmart is today.
    I have great memories from the days before texting and computers, it was sure fun to be alive back in those days. I miss all the old stores like Masters, TSS, Mays, A&S, Gimbles, and the 5&10’s. I grew up in GCP.

    • The Hills/Korvettes Supermarket wasn’t connected to the Carle Place Korvettes store, but was about 200′ west of it. The Korvettes dept. store building is long gone, but the supermarket bldg. is still there, now occupied by the Ideal Restaurant Supply business, and flip-flopped where the entrance used to face Westbury Avenue now faces Voice Road.

  13. I remember the Korvette store in Hempstead in the early 1950’s. It used to be a Grand Union supermarket that closed.

  14. I was a child during the 1970s and remember going with my mom to both Korvette’s Dept Store and Hills Supermarkets … but oddly do not remember the two being combined.

    We lived in Valley Stream originally and moved to Seaford as I got a little older and mom would shop at a Hills near both homes. When we moved to Seaford there was a Hills in nearby Massapequa only blocks away. We even met a store owner who used to have a small variety and beauty store near the first Hills we lived near who had opened one in the shopping area near the second Hills we moved near.

    So it was almost like not moving when we went to the new Hills because the other small store owner was at the new location right next door and we could shop at both stores again (she chose the location because her small store always did well near the other Hills near Valley Stream).

    But Hills (and Korvettes were coming to an end I guess as the Hills closed near the end of the 70s) so her store ended up closing around when Hills closed. That Hills was never located near a Korvettes so it never had the combo Hills/Korvette sign outside. I did not shop at the Valley Stream area store after we moved as it was a 30 minute drive away. I do not recall where the Korvette was located that we shopped at … but I cannot remember a Hills attached to it. I still have a couple of small KORVETTE plastic shopping bags as my mom stored things in bags and they were never thrown out over the years. luckily they were not empty … dad was always throwing out empty bags my mom saved … he didn’t se them as sentimental … just garbage. Mom used to have an old Wetsons platic bag in her car (had moved it from glove compartment to glove compartment … but dad threw it out a few years ago. Ahhhhh … I could scream. If I had known he was going to do that I would have taken it out and saved it myself.

    Anyway back to Korvettes …
    It seems Korvettes came up with the idea of having a supermarket BEFORE they merged with Hills and the merger was an attempt to save them after running the supermarket themselves (and it was pulling them down). So Korvettes may have had more to do with killing Hills then Hills did with killing Korvettes. Whatever the case may be … Hills improved the situation but left soon after when Korvettes merged again.

    I miss BOTH stores. My mom died this summer and many memories died with her … I could always remember some little flash of a thing and I would mention it to her and she would add more information …. and then a FLOOD of memories would come to my mind. Without her … all I have are the tiny flashes … no more floods of memories. They are in my mind … but it she seems she always had the keys to open the past memory food gates (and those ‘keys’ died with her).

    Some info about Hills (who it appears was growing and expanding nicely and healthily before the merger) …
    http://www.nytimes.com/1964/03/31/hills-supermarkets.html?_r=0
    http://pleasantfamilyshopping.blogspot.com/2007/11/korvette-supermarkets.html

    The real downturn seems to come AFTER Hills owner Hilliard J. Coan leaves the company and Korvettes merges with (Charles Bassine and) Spartan Industries.

    Korvette founder Eugene Ferkauf’s decision to merge with Charles Bassine (ie Spartan Industries) when Hills founder Hilliard Coan left … appears to be what put the nail in the coffin for Korvettes … not the Hills merger …
    https://books.google.com/books?id=B9eqmWnCcSsC&pg=PA194&lpg=PA194

  15. My Mother worked for E,J, Korvette so did my sister and brorther but at different times we live in Carle Place the store just down the road I brought my girl a engagement ring back then and gave to her Christmas we got married 1975 we were married 39 years until she pass away in March of 2014 .

  16. I bought way more records there than at Sam Goody’s! Great deals on Tommy by The Who, The Beatles’ Hey Jude album, Alice Cooper –– it was a great time.

  17. i worked at Korvettes in Lake Grove…around 1969-1971…manager in Sports Dept was Pat Padalino….manager my dept was ronny…store assistant manager was Armand Tommasini..store manager was Mr. Kimmelman…great friends and employees were Dave Detlefson, Cliff in Records, Ronny, Dave in Hardware, Mike , Frank…Bernie in security, Joe in snack bar…great memories and great people….

    • Hi Tom,
      My name is Michelle and my mom worked for Korvettes in Lake Grove around that time.. not sure when she started working there. Her name was Lillian Bellavia. Maybe you remember her? Sadly she passed away in 2009. She loved working there. I remember going to work with her and walking across the road to the mall to pass time. She kept merchandise bags from the store and I still have them. Good memories..
      Michelle

  18. oh yeah…Bill in warehouse…Mike Derosa in Hardware

  19. and the famous Steve Cascione…i love him

  20. I remember the Hills supermarket right near Korvettes. My brother and I helped people to their cars with their packages for tips while my mother shopped. We did pretty well. I don’t think kids would be able to do that today or would want to. We can also add Pathmark and Waldbaums to the list of failed supermarkets. who would have thought?

  21. Bought my first LP in the West Islip store in 1963. Chad and Jeremy’s ” Yesterday’s Gone”! Second purchase “Meet the Beatles”

  22. I joined EJ Korvette after high school, at the pilot store on
    44th st. In 1961 in NYC. after just one year I was
    promoted to the West Orange, New Jersey store. I spent
    7 years at Korvette. it was the foundation of my career.
    I later became self employed for 35 years. There will never
    Be another EJ Korvette.
    Mr.Ferkoff was quite a man.

  23. Great company.
    Mr. Furkoff was a great man. Thank you, Mr. Fern .

  24. The Fifth Ave. store was a milestone accomplishment.
    What a great company.
    At times I get tears in my eyes, thinking back.

  25. Jeannine said
    I brought Save the last dance for me L. P.
    from the Defranco family and I love Tony
    Defranco and the Defranco family and I
    love E J Korvettes because Save the
    last dance for me by the Defranco family
    was 4.99 at the store and I wish E J
    korvette come back to Staten Island
    to stay because I love the store

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