Monday, February 16, 2009

The Death of a Retail Giant

I always liked Sidney Weinstein and this is to note his passing. Sidney, who was 87 when he died of pulmonary disease Sunday, was the classic mid-century innovative business professional, a man ahead of his time in a way that made him successful with his clientelle.

Sidney, for whom his father's retail store was named (Sidney's), was one of the first retailers--or maybe business people of any kind--in this region to offer women credit without having a co-signer. If you were in college or had a job, Sidney would float you, as he would have any man. This was at a time when women wore white gloves, pill-box hats, hose and chastity belts (that last part is from my own experience). It was a time of Mom and Dad and Biff and Buffy and a kind of smothering conservatism brought on by the baby-boom Eisenhower years and rebelled against by the boomers themselves in the 1960s.

Sidney and his wife, Ann, were above that, beyond that, away from that. They were afficionados of the art scene, cultured people with a deep, wide generous streak and an appreciation for beauty at any level. Sidney's black and white, single model ads on the back of the Roanoke Times Spectator section were a staple in the region's advertising repertoire. I worked around those ads for a couple of years as Spectator's designer and I always looked forward to seeing what lovely would adorn that page--and the lovelies were young local girls, photographed attractively and tastefully.

Sidney's was one of the first truly prominent downtown icons that became a victim of the Wal-Mart-ization of our culture. It filed bankruptcy in 1991 and finally closed in 1993. The stores had opened in 1922 and Sidney had taken his father's idea and expanded it greatly, employing 700 people in 81 stores at the peak. My wife Christina actually had her first job as a teenager--other than babysitting--there.

Mostly, though, those who knew Sidney knew a man with a dry, cutting sense of humor--often bordering on the dark, but always a bit light to the touch. And he was a good man.

1 comment:

  1. I never knew Sidney personally but I was really sad when his stores finally couldn't fight anymore. He sounds like one in a million.