Retail entrepreneur Morris Sidewater, who founded Charming Shoppes with his brother, Arthur, died in Wynnewood, Pa. Thursday at age 98.
This story first appeared in the June 6, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The Sidewaters opened their first store in Philadelphia in September 1940. In 1951, in conjunction with two other brothers, David and Ellis Wachs, they opened a second store in Norristown, Pa. The quartet continued to open stores throughout the Fifties, but in the Sixties, they elected to open a shop in a new setting, a suburban mall in Audubon, N.J., and they chose a different name for that store, Fashion Bug.
Charming Shoppes went public in 1971 and traded on the Nasdaq. Sidewater, who was forward-looking and an innovator, pioneered the use of point-of-sale registers in his stores, as his nephew, Herb Vederman, who was involved in the family business, pointed out. “When we had probably 20 stores, he saw the future of computers and had a warehouse that oversaw manufacturing,” he noted, adding that this was at a time when such operations as the Petrie Stores, which had 200 stores, were still doing everything by hand. Sidewater’s son Steven said, “He was a motivator of people, and he knew how to get the most out of them in a kind way, not a harsh way.”
The Wall Street Transcript named him Retailer of the Year in 1986 and 1987. By the time he retired, in 1988, and moved to Hollywood, Fla., Charming Shoppes had about 1,000 stores and annual sales of $1 billion.
Sidewater was very active in charitable organizations, serving on the advisory board of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Entrepreneurial School and its Center for Judaic Studies and as a trustee of the Annenberg Research Institute. He was deeply involved in a range of Jewish charities and received the Founder’s Award of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1994 for his gift to that institution. At the time, he said, “We must remember that indifference to one another is a sin that can never be tolerated. We have a responsibility to remember the tragedy of the Holocaust so that such crimes against humanity can never happen again.”
“He was very social, and he would light up a room, whether it was a warehouse or a ballroom,” recalled one of his granddaughters, Nancy Sidewater, adding that her grandfather loved to dance and golf. He was also fascinated by new technology and was the first person she knew who used e-mail.
His wife of 73 years, Evelyn, died in 2009. He is survived by two sons, Samuel and Steven, three grandchildren, Wendy, Nancy and Peter and three great-grandchildren, Ben, Ava and Sadie. The funeral service will be held on Monday at 11 a.m. at Goldstein’s Funeral Home on North Broad Street in Philadelphia. Anyone wishing to make a donation in his name should give to the American Heart Association.