History of the Richman Brothers Company

Richman Brothers Company (1879-1992) began when Henry Richman, a Jewish immigrant from Bavaria, and his partner, Joseph Lehman, also a German-Jewish immigrant, moved their men's clothing manufacturing/wholesale business, The Lehman-Richman Co., from Portsmouth, Ohio, to Cleveland, Ohio, in 1879. Relying at first on outside contractors for piecework, the business struggled. In 1890, Henry Richman cashed in his life insurance policy to keep the company solvent. Following the depression of 1893, Lehman retired. In 1904, when Henry Richman turned his business over to his sons, Nathan, Charles, and Henry, Jr., the company was on firmer ground. At this time the company's name became Richman Brothers. Nathan became Chairman of the Board; Charles, President; and Henry, Jr., Secretary/Treasurer. Each brother had worked in every aspect of the company before assuming leadership.

The Richman brothers established their first retail store in 1906 in Cincinnati, Ohio, followed a year later by stores in Cleveland and Louisville, Kentucky. In 1912, the company began a mail order business and also began direct-selling through traveling salesmen. Richman Brothers' house-to-house sales and mail order business operated until 1942, when the company closed the mail order division.

Moving away from reliance on outside piecework, Richman Brothers built its Cleveland plant in 1916 at 1600 East 55th Street. This plant, which won an award from the Cleveland Chamber of Commerce, was the first in the country to house all of its clothes-making operations under one roof. Richman Brothers hired 200 employees, with its former outside contractors acting as in-house supervisors and instructors. The company was incorporated in Ohio in 1919.

By 1929, Richman Brothers operated forty stores in thirty-eight cities (three in Cleveland), in addition to its Cleveland plant. Despite the Depression of the 1930s, Richman Brothers remained in full operation, maintaining salaries and wages and even hiring new workers. Between 1930 and 1933, twenty-three new stores were opened. Of these, only three operated at a loss. In 1934, the company reported that its minimum factory wage ($16 per week) was actually higher than that required by the Clothing Manufacturers' Code of the National Industrial Recovery Act ($14.40 per week or 40 cents per hour). In 1932, Henry Richman, Jr., Nathan Richman, and Charles Richman eliminated their own salaries and established the Richman Foundation to give grants and interest-free loans to disabled, aged, or needy employees. Henry Richman, Jr. died in 1934, followed by Charles in 1936, and Nathan in 1941. The three brothers had never married. Frank C. Lewman, who had joined the company in 1913 as an accountant with the mail-order division, became president of the company following Charles' death. In 1950, he became chairman of the board, and George H. Richman, a distant cousin of the original three brothers who had changed his last name to Richman, became president. Lewman and George Richman served in those capacities until 1970, when Donald J. Gerstenberger became President and CEO.

In the 1940s, Richman Brothers continued to grow, establishing its first West Coast stores. In the early 1940s, the company began adding furnishing goods departments to some of its stores. It also took on war work, manufacturing uniforms for the Army, Navy, and Women's Army Corps. In early 1943, the company reported to its shareholders that 50 percent of its production had been devoted to military garments.

In the 1950s, the company's expansion continued, notably in the suburban markets and on the West Coast. During the same period the company also experienced union problems. Richman Brothers, a non-union shop, was a model of corporate paternalism almost from its inception. Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America (ACWA), which had unionized other Cleveland garment manufacturers, made overtures to Richman Brothers workers as early as 1939, but the company remained non-union. Beginning in 1950, a number of Richman Brothers' stores were picketed by ACWA. The company responded by getting an injunction against the union's picketing from the Common Pleas Court. The depth of the company's union troubles is alluded to in their shareholders reports, which document the court battles regarding this and similar injunctions throughout the 1950s. Richman Brothers' battle with the Amalgamated Clothing Workers reached both the Ohio and U.S. Supreme Courts. Richman Brothers remained a non-union shop throughout its existence. Anderson-Little, which it acquired in 1966, however, was unionized by ACWA.

Despite their union troubles, Richman Brothers continued to expand. In 1959, it acquired ninety Stein's stores (men's clothing) in the South, and, in 1966, Anderson-Little (men's and women's professional clothing) in New England, giving the company a presence in new markets. The Stein's stores were almost all converted to Richman Brothers stores soon after their acquisition, while Anderson-Little stores continued to trade under their original name. In 1969, the F. W. Woolworth Co. bought out Richman Brothers which continued to function as a wholly-owned subsidiary. In 1975, Richman Brothers operated 279 stores in thirty-nine states. In 1979, Harry P. Guinther took over as president and CEO; in 1983, William H. Gaudreau assumed these posts.

In 1986, Richman Brothers Company corporate headquarters was moved to Fall River, Massachusetts, the location of Anderson-Little's corporate offices. In 1987, their accounting and data processing departments were merged into Woolworth's. About 100 employees were released. In 1989, Lee Sunderland became president and CEO of the company. In 1990, Richman Brothers' Cleveland manufacturing plant closed and was sold. In April 1992, Woolworth began liquidating Richman Brothers by closing the warehouse/distribution center and several retail stores. By December 31, 1992, Richman Brothers Company had been completely liquidated, with all Richman Brothers and Anderson-Little retail stores closed. Throughout its history, Richman Brothers Company maintained a policy of corporate paternalism. It considered and referred to its many employees as the Richman Family. When its East 55th Street factory opened, employees kept track of their own time and piecework. Richman Brothers was the first factory-retail organization to give its employees annual paid vacations: one week at Christmas and one week at July 4, during which time the factory shut down. In 1949, paid vacation was increased to three weeks. By 1950, Richman Brothers employee benefits included the following: free life insurance, hospitalization and surgery benefits, double indemnity and dismemberment insurance, childbirth benefits, loans without interest, pay for holidays, three weeks paid vacation, medical expense reimbursement, and sick benefits. Employees were also encouraged to become shareholders in the company; almost 100 percent of employees took advantage of this option.

Richman Brothers Company was also known for its pricing policy. Until 1939, all men's suits were priced uniformly at $10. In 1939 and 1940, when the company introduced its SuperQuality Line and furnishings department, respectively, suits were priced at $22.50 for a regular suit and $27.50 for the SuperQuality Line. In 1953, prices were $39.50 and $44.50, after which the uniform pricing policy seems to have stopped.

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