NEW YORK — David Cohen, 80, the force behind John’s Bargain Stores, a major retailer in the Sixties, died Thursday of lung cancer at his home in Medford, New York.
This story first appeared in the June 3, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Cohen left school in the sixth grade to work full-time for his father’s closeout store and wholesale business, which was then known as John’s. A teacher at continuation school, a must for dropouts, suggested Cohen go into printing, but decided his talents might be better used elsewhere after he turned up for printing class with cases of ink cleaning solvents to sell to his classmates for twice the going price. He then left school entirely, his wife, Blanche, told WWD Sunday.
When the couple first met in 1940, Cohen took a shoebox model of his store to show his date and said he planned to open 50 stores one day.
“When I went home that night, I told my mother, `He’s very nice — crazy — but nice. No one had 50 stores at that time,” said Blanche Cohen. They were married three months later.
Cohen worked his way up to chairman and president of John’s Bargain Stores, and his siblings Leo, Benjamin, James and Stella were among his employees. To save money, Cohen actually built the first 10 stores himself, including the shelves and counters, his wife said. Under his guard, John’s Bargain Stores swelled to 527 units along the East coast and in Puerto Rico in the Sixties, but sales slipped from over-expansion, shoplifters, and Cohen’s 12-month sick leave in 1967. That year, the chain filed for bankruptcy protection and disbanded under new owners in the Seventies.
“He was very fair. He would tear manufacturers’ down to the last penny. But he always said, `If the manufacturers can’t make a profit and we can’t make a profit, then we can’t do it,”‘ Blanche Cohen said.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by his brother James; his sister Stella Tobin; his daughter Shirley Schefter, and his sons, Howard and Allen.”