Lester Kronfeld, founder of the Lester’s specialty stores in New York and New Jersey, died Saturday at age 87 of natural causes.
Kronfeld and his wife of 65 years, Lillian, who survives him, built Lester’s from a single, 300-square-foot discount children’s wear store in Brooklyn to a group of six expansive, contemporary stores that offer trendy apparel in babies, kids, juniors and women’s wear. More than 1,000 people attended services for Kronfeld on Sunday in Woodbury, Long Island, N.Y., including about 200 Lester’s employees, said his nephew, Barry Cohen.
“They catered to a mostly Jewish and Italian Brooklyn community in the beginning and grew a very loyal customer base. Back in those days, they used to shop in the showrooms and factories that were right on Seventh Avenue and bring back merchandise to the store and sell it on the same day,” said Cohen, who now owns and manages the Lester’s stores with the Kronfelds’ daughter, Sheri, and her husband, Perry Schorr.
The company encompasses the original Brooklyn store — now greatly enlarged via annexations of neighboring buildings — as well as locations in Manhattan’s Upper East Side; Greenvale, N.Y.; Huntington Station, N.Y.; Rye, N.Y., and Deal, N.J. The Brooklyn store is the largest at about 18,000 square feet, followed by the Huntington Station store at about 15,000 square feet. The Manhattan store is about 10,000 square feet, as are the Greenvale and Rye units, while the Deal store is 5,000 square feet.
“He was a great businessman and a great promoter. He was a born salesman and his wife was a tremendous buyer and his customers loved him,” recalled Cohen.
The Kronfelds, who were longtime Brooklyn residents who later moved to the gated community of North Shore Towers in Queens, were active in running Lester’s well into their seventies.
Kronfeld was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on May 7, 1925, to Esther and Leo Kronfeld. He joined the U.S. Navy at 18 during World War II, serving from 1943 to 1946. Kronfeld was posted to the heavy cruiser U.S.S. Quincy and saw action during the invasion of Normandy. He also accompanied President Roosevelt when the ship transported him to the Yalta Conference in 1945.
Kronfeld and his wife opened their first store near Brooklyn’s Sheepshead Bay neighborhood in 1948 and called it the Little Miss Dress Shop, before changing its name to Lester’s. Today, the six stores carry an array of contemporary, denim and children’s brands, such as J Brand, DKNY, Paige Denim, Seven For All Mankind, Theory, Current/Elliott, Equipment, Superga and Sam Edelman. In February, the company launched an e-commerce site.
Apart from his wife, Cohen and the Schorrs, Kronfeld is survived by his sons, Stanley and Gary; his brother, Donald, and five grandchildren.