NEW YORK — Sy Stewart, a legend in the lamp industry and a friend and mentor to many retailers, died of lung cancer on Wednesday at his home in Manhasset, N.Y. He was 79.
Stewart was the founder of the Alsy+Cycle II lamp company, which, during the Seventies and Eighties, was the largest U.S. lamp manufacturer, with a 50 percent market share in the midpriced market. Later, the company was called Alsy.
“He was never a vendor who tried to get you to buy something,” said Allen Questrom, who ran J.C. Penney, Barneys New York and Federated Department Stores. “He always tried to give you an advantage, which so seldom happens in our industry. Whenever I saw him, he would kiss me on both cheeks.”
Terry Lundgren, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Federated, said, “He had a lot of influence, but was so unselfish and so giving. We will all miss him. Nobody had more of a positive attitude. Up until the day he left us, he believed he would be the one to beat this cancer. He was going to figure out a way to beat it. Everybody loved this guy, and if you had a problem, he would tell you how to turn it around into an opportunity.”
Michael Gould, chairman and ceo of Bloomingdale’s, said, “First and foremost, he was a friend, but if I had to describe the essence of Sy, it was that he stretched you intellectually. He helped you look at a subject or a problem from the inside and the outside.”
There were many other top retailers and suppliers in Stewart’s circle, including Eric Salus, Michael Steinberg, Ron Frasch and Roger Farah. But even if people didn’t know him well, Stewart greeted them like close friends, with a big smile. “He was genuine,” Lundgren said.
Even Donald Trump was part of the circle, and Stewart’s connections helped enable Trump to start merchandising home goods and men’s wear utilizing the Trump label. He told the builder, casino owner and television personality that Trump is a brand that could be extended outside real estate and casinos.
Stewart retired in 1990 from a long career in lamp manufacturing. He is credited with pioneering gallery, otherwise known as shop-in-shop, programs and championing “good, better, best” assortments. At Alsy/Cycle II, which he owned and operated with longtime partner Al Gindel, Stewart was first to test products with consumers before rolling out full-scale programs.
The company shipped to a variety of chains, including Federated, Penney’s, Sears and May, as well as lamp and home specialty chains and hotels. “He would steer the market into unique products so everybody had their great items,” Lundgren said. Most recently, Stewart was a partner and an adviser at Barington Capital Group.
Stewart had some favorite sayings and ideas he would convey, including: “You never lose an argument on fact, you lose it on emotion.”
On business, he would say, “If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life.” And one of his all-purpose sayings was: “If you don’t know where you are going, then you are there.”
Stewart is survived by his wife, Gloria; three daughters, Michele Elson, Lisa Jacobs and Beth Kotler, and six grandchildren.
Funeral services will be at 1 p.m. today at Gutterman’s Funeral Home, 8000 Jericho Turnpike in Woodbury, N.Y. Burial will take place at Locust Valley Cemetery immediately after the services.