Saturday, October 16, 2021

The History of E.J. Korvette Department Stores and the Truth about their Name.

“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 from the Korean war 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 a small maneuverable Canadian 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. 

20 comments:

  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.

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    1. I worked on the snack shop in 1975

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    2. That's the one My family went to. Loved it.

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    3. Great article..loved shopping there as a teenager. Didn’t know where the name came till your article. Thanks Neil

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    4. Just purchased a string orchestra vinyl compilation here in Philadelphia called The Magnificent Sound of Strings by The Promenade String Orchestra. Looks to be circa 1965....brand new with the original packaging and EJ Korvette pricing sticker. Got curious of the history because I find it fascinating that here in the beginning of 2023.....58 years after this vinyl was pressed and apparently some 43 years after the retail store where this was being sold vanished.....my needle will be the first to touch this little treasure. Pretty cool indeed. Happy New Year everyone......

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

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  3. Thanks for the history. We also went to the store on 87th and Cicero.😊

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  4. Thanks. It was our local department store on the west side of Detroit.

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  5. I worked at the one in Skokie Illinois when in high school in 1970.I worked in several different departments but loved the chocolate department the best.

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  6. 87th /Cicero store replaced a drive in theater that burnt down. Watched the blaze from Hometown front yard!

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    1. Worked at the Morton Grove location. We had a great baseball team and tournament with all stores participating. Best album prices in town.

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  7. Worked at Morton Grove IL store for about 5 years...ended up a department manager....we also had a very competitive softball league and tournament that involved all stores around the country.
    Those were fun days...and the records were the best prices in town!....

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  8. My MIL used to work @ the one in Mount Prospect or Arlington Hts (she gets them confused). She enjoyed working @Korvette’s but never knew anything about it’s name...now, however, I just shared your interesting Blog with her.

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    1. Was it on hwy 12 or Hwy. 14? Northwest Hwy or Rand Rd.

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  9. I also worked @ the Morton Grove IL. Store for 3 years while in high school; men’s department! Many fond memories and had lots of fun with people from the baseball team and activities outside work with co workers as well! Some of us would meet @ Big Boys restaurant sharing the same parking lot as E.J. Korvette just on the corner of Dempster & Harlem after work! Great times!

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  10. My mother would take me shopping at the Korvette store in West Orange, New Jersey. That store had a special escalator for carts because the lower level was in the basement and there was no elevator for the customers.

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    1. Those escalators that can move a cart up or down stairs, was brought back into use by IKEA.

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  11. my folks also shopped in their park forest Illinois branch in the 1950s. a great place and together we purchased most of my tom swift boy inventor serial volumes from that location...those were the days.

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    1. Bought Tom Swift books there also....99 cents as I recall. Small book section located next to record area where LP's were around 3 bucks. They had a high end audio section and some musical instruments in this area (first Checkmate guitar amp 59 bucks). This was on second floor with toys and clothing and auto on first floor... remember buying Classic Car Wax for 5 dollars a tin,,,, nothing but the best for my 1972 Pontiac Luxury Lemans. Great memories.
      The store was at rt. 30 and rt. 54 in Matteson, IL.

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  12. Toward the end you could buy record albums for $2.97

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