Byline: Mark Tosh

NEW YORK--Henry Doneger, founder and chairman of The Doneger Group, the nation's largest independent resident buying office, died Friday after becoming ill at his home in Rockville Centre, N.Y. He was 77.
Doneger, known as Hank to many in the industry, founded a buying office in 1946 with partner Jack Lasersohn, whom he bought out 15 years later. Longtime friends and associates remembered Doneger as a self-made, tough-minded businessman, but also generous and quick-witted.
"He was a true leader," said Albert Boscov, chairman of Boscov's Department Stores. Boscov said one of Doneger's legacies is having developed a buying office that served hundreds of retail clients but could still understand and tackle the problems of each one. "He seemed to have the time and the patience to help every one of us," Boscov said. "He was a unique person. He was never harried."
"He was very client-oriented, so much so that when you arrived at the office he was at the door to greet you with a handshake and a smile," said Fred Horne, president of Hornes, Wheeling, W. Va., a 40-year client of the Doneger Group. "It gave you a warm feeling to be part of the Doneger family."
Before founding his office, Doneger was a coat and suit buyer at the Arthur E. Littman buying office and Sally Stores chain in Chicago.
Over its 49 years, the buying office, under Doneger's direction, expanded from a small group of women's specialty stores to an international list of retailers and department stores. It currently represents 850 store groups with aggregate sales of about $25 billion. He also expanded the buying office's scope of services and became a driving force in a series of acquisitions and mergers that left his business on top of an industry with only a handful of surviving players. He remained active with his company until his death.
Working with his son, Abbey, who has been president of the company since 1980, Doneger nurtured accounts and built the business beyond the scope of a typical buying office, associates said. Doneger added a trend and color forecasting arm, called D3 Doneger Design Direction, in 1991, and a newsletter and market directory in 1990 with the acquisition of Thompson/Auer.
The buying operations also include men's, children's and home.
Earlier this year, Doneger absorbed Fashion Merchandising Associates in an effort to enhance the group's better, bridge and designer businesses. It expanded into women's tall sizes last year with the creation of Doneger Tall Buying and moved into the international arena in 1993 with the creation of HDA International.
Since 1986, Doneger has completed nine separate deals to move into off-price, better women's and home furnishings buying.
Doneger is a past president of The Garment Club, an honoree of United Jewish Appeal, a member of The Joel Finkelstein Cancer Foundation and a supporter of the Jack Martin Fund.
Boscov credited Doneger with helping the Reading, Pa.-based chain develop its dress and coat businesses. He also engendered a feeling of respect among the buying office staff.
"He thought it was his job to make them good rather than their job to be good," Boscov said. "Henry was one of the last gentlemen around."
Ira Kipness, vice president of Oleg Cassini suits, said Doneger was "one of the last great personalities" in the industry. He said the company was one of the first buying offices to recruit experienced department store buyers, one of the keys to the group's success.
"He had a feel for the business, the fashion and the trends, before they had computers and calculators to do the work," Kipness said. "He had the panache, the personality and was able to charm you. He could come into the showroom and show enthusiasm. You don't see that as much today."
Kipness recalled how he hauled his samples to the Lasersohn-Doneger buying office some 40 years ago as a novice in the industry and how Doneger supported his merchandise and pitched it to the stores. Joe Dugan, president of The Colony Shop in Wynne, Ark., a member of the Doneger Group for over 30 years, remembered Doneger as a "great person with a loving heart." "His office played a major role in the growth of our company from a small specialty shop doing $100,000 annually to a company that does $20 million today," Dugan said. "He was very helpful in making suggestions and providing foresight."
In addition to his son, Doneger is survived by his wife, Rita; his daughter, Jill Doneger Feldesman, who also works with the company; his sister Rita Buslik, and five grandchildren. Services were held on Sunday at Boulevard Park West Chapel, Hewlett, N.Y.

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