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Albert R. Boscov, Retailer & Philanthropist, Remembered
Albert Robert Boscov, of Reading, Pa., passed away on February 10, 2017, at his home, surrounded by his family and the many well-wishes of his extended family of Boscov’s communities and employees.
Albert was the beloved husband of Eunice Boscov, whom he met in the Adirondacks pretending to be a children’s book writer (because clearly that’s whom every woman dreams of marrying). After a whirlwind romance that included standing-room tickets to numerous Broadway shows, they were married on September 7, 1959.
That love-at-first-sight romance became a lifelong adoration of his “Eunie.”
He leaves behind two generations who had no problem writing the “Whom I Most Admire” essay; three daughters: Ruth Aichenbaum (and husband, Michael Aichenbaum), Ellen Boscov (and husband, Todd Taylor), Meg Boscov (and husband, Randall Brown); five grandchildren: David Aichenbaum (and wife, Hannah Byland), Josh Aichenbaum, Amelia Boscov, Jonah Boscov-Brown and Chloe Boscov-Brown; sister-in-law, Shirley Boscov; and brother-in-law and former partner, Ed Lakin; and many nieces and nephews.
Albert was born in Reading, Pa., on September 22, 1929, the youngest son of Solomon and Ethel Boscov; he was predeceased by siblings: Reba Lakin, Joseph Boscov and Shirley Holzman. Albert first made a name for himself as an expert fly catcher in his father’s neighborhood store on 9th and Pike, receiving a dime for every fly he caught, until his father realized he was being shown the same fly over and over.
A graduate of Reading High School, he also graduated with a business degree from Drexel University, where he started his first business, U-Eat-Em delivery service, hero sandwiches delivered by a future hero.
He also received honorary Doctor of Humanities degrees from Albright College, Reading, Pa., and honorary Doctor of Arts and Letters degree from Kings College, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., and a Doctor of Public Service from Kutztown University.
He served in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. After his service, Albert returned home to join the family business, and in 1962, he opened Boscov’s first full-service department store, Boscov’s West, in suburban Reading. Boscov’s has since become the largest-family owned department store chain in the nation, with 45 stores in seven states, employing over 7,500 co-workers.
“We like to give people a reason for coming to Boscov’s even when they don’t want to buy anything,” Albert once said. “They enjoy themselves and hopefully we make a friend.”
Albert of course made many friends with his playful approach to retail. Openings for new stores always included community leaders and of course entertainment, a show that might include Eddie Fisher, Dorothy Lamour, Shirley Jones, Henny Youngman, Morey Amsterdam and maybe even Casey, the roller-skating chimp. Onto that stage would twirl a bounding Al Boscov, throwing out sales pitches and one-liners, his retail ballet ending in a smooth and light Arabesque. Albert’s natural ability to create friends and community infused Boscov’s ethos.
Al’s family remains especially proud of Al’s continual efforts to fight prejudice and promote cultural understanding. For example, at times of growing racial tensions in Reading, Al used his three Reading stores to present a Heritage Festival, providing the opportunity for the black community to share various aspects of black culture—foods, art, writings, entertainment. Similarly, Al Boscov presented a Puerto Rican Heritage Festival in his Reading and Lebanon stores, again bringing together the Hispanic, white, and black communities with a theme of “Knowing is Understanding.” His belief that we all must take time to know each other and to take care of each other remains one of his most important and, the family hopes, lasting legacies.
As Chairman of Boscov’s, Albert set new standards for successful retailing, community involvement, and civic duty. He founded and led the nonprofit Our City Reading, Inc., to assist Reading in restoring abandoned homes and to bring about a resurgence to downtown. Under his leadership, more than 600 families had the opportunity to own and live in a new home. Boscov’s led the efforts to equip a Senior Citizens Center in downtown Reading; The Horizon Center provided seniors with hot meals and activities. Boscov’s also led the campaign to purchase and help equip a Community Center for the Police Athletic League. In 2006, Albert opened the GoggleWorks, the nation’s largest Center for the Arts, and also was responsible for constructing the GoggleWorks Apartments. In 2016, he opened the Hilton DoubleTree Hotel, a five star convention hotel in downtown Reading.
His philanthropy and dedication extended to all the communities Boscov’s serves. Boscov’s hosts many non-profit programs that generate over $600,000 a year for thousands of very worthy organizations. Boscov’s, for example, raised $3.5 million for creating the F. M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre. The City of Wilkes-Barre honored Albert by declaring April 4, 1985 “Al Boscov Day” in recognition of his dedication to that community and the leadership role he played in the revitalization of downtown Wilkes-Barre.
Albert championed many causes and organizations that were near and dear to his heart. In recognition, he received numerous awards, including the Outstanding Citizenship Award from the Reading-Berks Chamber of Commerce,
B’nai Brith’s Americanism Award, Sertoma’s Service to Mankind Award, Esquire Magazine’s Business in the Art Award, and the 1998 Richard J. Caron Award of Excellence. Albert was also named Retailer of the Year by the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers’ Association, Retailer of the Year by the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association, Retailer of the Year by the Pennsylvania
Retailers Association and, in 2013, was the first inductee of the Pennsylvania Retailers’ Hall of Fame. In 2002, the Pennsylvania Society awarded Albert The Society’s Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement.
On April 30, 2009, Albert was commemorated in bronze during a surprise celebration in Reading. His statue is located outside of Albert Boscov Plaza, his likeness complete with hard hat, blueprints, a replica of his father’s original store and the red pen that Albert always carried. He was surprised and pleased about receiving the honor, joking, “It’s too tall.”
A yearly family vacation with his wife, daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren over the winter holidays became a cherished tradition for Al and his family. Each morning began with Al singing his good morning song and each night ended with a parade that wound through the dining room and kitchen. Al always put a song in every heart he met, a song whose melody still reaches us—and always will.
Burial will be private. There will be a public Memorial Service Sunday, Feb. 26, beginning at 1 p.m., at the Santander Arena, Seventh and Penn streets, in downtown Reading. Doors open at noon.
In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to Our City Reading, Inc., http://bit.ly/2lA2Paf, or GoggleWorks Center for the Arts, http://bit.ly/2luSC32. Online condolences may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Henninger Funeral Home, Inc., is in charge of arrangements.
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