Longtime retail executive Alfred “Bud” Gates died Dec. 22 in his Manchester, N.H., residence at age 95.
Despite his age, Gates knew all of his passwords, key birthdays and other information that those many decades younger cannot recall, his son Jerome said. He was also a solid driver. Gates’ health faltered following a fall around Thanksgiving.
A memorial service will be held next year at a yet-to-be determined date.
A Boston native, Gates spent much of his professional career in New York City, working at B. Altman & Co. He joined the specialty store in 1951 and stayed with the company until 1987. At the time of his retirement, Gates served as a general merchandise manager as well as on its executive committee and board.
Following his retirement from B. Altman, Gates continued to work as a consultant for Woolrich, Brooks Brothers and other brands.
His father Jerome had also worked for B. Altman, running the retailer’s branch operations in the ’40s and ’50s and is believed to have established the first branch store of any major New York department store. In the Thirties B. Altman unveiled a White Plains, N.Y., store where The Westchester shopping mall now stands. Dating back to 1865, B. Altman was forced to close by a bankruptcy court in 1989.
Although Gates remained a lifelong Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots fan, he grew up with his parents and two siblings in White Plains, N.Y. That Westchester County town was also where he resided for most of his life, but he relocated to Manchester eight years ago.
After picking up his high school diploma, Gates enlisted at the age of 17 in the U.S. Navy in 1944 and served until 1946. Following World War II, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Colby College. As a senior in college he married Mary Bauman, forming what would be a 70-year union until her death in 2018. Along the way they had and raised seven children.
Gates started his career at Younker Bros. in Des Moines, Iowa, after being hired into its executive training program in 1949. Two years later Gates joined B. Altman. Known for his work ethic and interpersonal skills, Gates would “log miles in the store each day, taking a great deal of interest in what was going on in the store. Altman’s was known for superior customer service and that was something that he felt was important,” according to his son, who would occasionally go to work with his father.
He was “a strong believer in loyalty and giving responsibility to the people who worked for him. If they worked hard, he stood by them and made sure that they were promoted up through the organization,” his son said.
Gates’ first post at B. Altman in 1951 was selling men’s neckties during the Christmas season. He then moved to the ladies’ floor as a section manager, before being named an assistant buyer. In 1953, Gates was tapped as a buyer for the sweater and suede shop, and added an assortment of other classifications to his responsibilities over the next nine years. The executive introduced “Irish fisherman knits” to the U.S. and persuaded Evan-Picone’s cofounder Charles Evans to make the first better-proportioned skirts and pants, Jerome Gates said.
Traveling extensively to Europe, South America and Asia to discover interesting designers and manufacturers of women’s clothing, Gates helped Altman’s develop the largest department of imported sweaters in the country. His familiarity with the world of sports was also put to use: At one point in the early ’60s, Gates acted as buyer for better-priced active and spectator sportswear, swimwear and skiwear, among other categories. Within a year he was promoted to sportswear merchandise manager. In 1972, Gates was asked to take over men’s sportswear and doubled the department’s sales within three years.
In 1975 Gates was named vice president of branch stores, a post that his father had once held. He spent seven years remodeling and reallocating departments and training group managers to become merchants. After branch stores’ sales did quite well as a result of those efforts, Gates was promoted to general merchandise manager in 1982 for all the stores. In addition to the East 34th Street Manhattan flagship and the White Plains store, there were locations in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio.
B. Altman was set up with a special tax treatment under which the retailer donated a certain amount of money to different organizations, Jerome Gates said. When tax laws changed in 1985, nonprofits were required to divest certain profit-making entities. As a result, Altman’s had to split its real estate from its retail business. “That was the beginning of the end for Altman’s. They owned 100 percent of their real estate. It was quite valuable and was sold at very high values to investors, and then Altman’s had to lease back that space at incredibly high rates. And the owners rented it for as much as possible,” Jerome Gates said. “It was almost like a leverage buyout.”
Gates retired at the age of 60 before the company was sold a second time. He then consulted with Woolrich and Brooks Bros., helping both move into the outlet business. By the late Nineties Gates stopped working but devoted more time to civic issues, including serving as treasurer of the White Plains Beautification Foundation for eight years.
In addition to his son Jerome, Gates is survived by his daughters Linda Gates Bates, Brenda Gallagher, Leslie Gates Ransom and Mary Syzman, and his other sons Roy and Alfred. Donations may be made in memory of Alfred and Mary Gates to the Visiting Nurse Association of Manchester and Southern New Hampshire.