NEW YORK — Funeral services were held Sunday for Irving J. Shulman, the colorful merchant who pioneered off-price retail with his Daffy’s chain. Shulman died Friday after a short illness. He was 96 years old and lived in Manhattan.
Shulman, a Russian immigrant, built his business from a single store to 17 units in the New York metropolitan area, with $155 million in annual sales, a warehouse in Secaucus, N.J., and a buying office in Florence. Daffy’s, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next month, will open stores in Times Square and the Bronx later this year.
Shulman got early experience selling clothes door-to-door after school as a boy in Rahway, N.J. After serving in the army during World War II, he returned to New Jersey to start a weekend auction business, selling everything and anything he could load into his station wagon.
In 1946, Shulman opened a store in Hoboken with his brother called Mickey Finn’s, named after the narcotic-laced drink to convey the knockout bargains that were offered. According to his children, the store once got a great deal on orange exterior paint and soon, houses all over Hoboken were painted orange.
Daffy Dan’s Bargain Town opened in Elizabeth, N.J., in 1961, selling closeouts, irregulars and merchandise from bankrupt manufacturers that Shulman found in the Garment District.
“He was basically a one-man show,” said his daughter Marcia Wilson, who is Daffy’s chairman. “On weekends and during school vacations, he would bring my brothers and me to work, sharing his love of the business.”
Shulman had a knack for deal-making and a taste for outrageous promotions, such as the time he posed a moving mannequin on the roof of the store, leading pedestrians to believe someone was going to jump. Another time, he parked a Rolls Royce outside the store to underscore Daffy’s logo: “Shopping Bargains for Millionaires.”
The company in the Eighties shortened its name to Daffy’s and began expanding. Shulman, who loved the action of retail, worked in his office in the mornings and hit the sales floor of one of Daffy’s Manhattan stores in the afternoon. He continued to work until December, when he became sick, Wilson said.
Besides Wilson, Shulman is survived by two sons, Dr. Robert J. Shulman and Michael C. Shulman, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.