Saturday, October 16, 2021

The History of E.J. Korvette Department Stores.

“E.J. Korvette” was not a person, but rather an acronym that stood for “Eight Jewish Korean Veterans,” who started the chain stores after they were discharged and returned home.
THE TRUTH IS that E.J. Korvette (initially a retailer of leather goods) was founded in 1948, two years before the Korean War (1950-1953) began, by a Jewish World War II veteran named Eugene Ferkauf and his friend, Joe Zwillenberg.

Ferkauf explained the nomenclature thusly: "I had a name picked out for the store, E.J. Korvette. “E” is for Eugene, my first name, and “J” stands for Joe Swillenberg, my associate, and my pal. As for “Korvette,” it was originally meant to be spelled with a “C” after the Canadian marine sub-destroyer, simply because I thought the name had a euphonious ring. When it came time to register the name, we found it was illegal to use a naval class identity, so we had to change the spelling to 'K'."
The history of E. J. Korvette, also known as Korvettes, was a chain of discount department stores, founded in 1948 in New York City. It was one of the first department stores to challenge the suggested retail price provisions of anti-discounting statutes. Founded by World War II veteran Eugene Ferkauf and his friend, Joe Zwillenberg, E.J. Korvette did much to define the idea of a discount department store. The Chicago area had many stores. 
It displaced earlier five and dime retailers and preceded later discount stores, like Walmart, and warehouse clubs such as Costco. The company failed to properly manage its business success, which led to the decline and its 1980 bankruptcy and closure.

NOTE: In 1953, when GM executives were looking to name the new Chevrolet sports car, assistant director for the Public Relations department Myron Scott suggested Corvette after the small maneuverable warship—the name was approved. A little start-up company vs. G.M.? Less naming restrictions 5 years later? You figure it out.
Compiled by Dr. Neil Gale, Ph.D. 


  1. What a great read. My husband worked there while in HS. The building in Matteson, IL still stands where EJ Korvette was. It was many things after, but still standing. Thanks Neil.

  2. I remember my mother loving this store - she shopped at the 87th and Cicero location!


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