RON BARTIZEK and JERRY LYNOTT
Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
WILKES-BARRE, Pa. - Boscov's Department Stores will remain an independent, family-owned business under terms of a recapitalization and restructuring that was announced Monday.
At the same time, Albert Boscov, 76, and Edwin Lakin, 82, have retired and redeemed their equity interests. Ken Lakin, son of Edwin Lakin and nephew of Albert Boscov, will take the helm as chairman and chief executive officer.
"We spent a lot of time over the past 18 months studying our strategic alternatives, including a sale of the business, and concluded that remaining family owned and operated was much better than a sale from the perspective of our customers, employees, vendors and the communities we have been fortunate enough to have been part of over the years," Albert Boscov said in a press release.
Longtime associate Tom Jacobs looked positively on the change, saying Ken Lakin will "preserve" the business model established by the chain's founders that's built on concern for the community and employees.
Jacobs said he spoke with Lakin, who told him, "I'm going to run it the way they want me to run it."
Now manager at the Neshaminy Mall store in Bensalem, Jacobs came to Wilkes-Barre in 1980 after Boscov's purchased the former Fowler, Dick and Walker -- The Boston Store. He left in 1993, went to the new store in the Mall at Steamtown in Scranton and returned to Wilkes-Barre in 1998 for a few years.
"One of the things that Wilkes-Barre did for us," said Jacobs, "it made us a real department store."
Vendors and investors took notice as Al Boscov showed off the Wilkes-Barre property that was the number one volume store in the chain throughout the 1980s, Jacobs said. "Wilkes-Barre really brought us into the department-store age."
Boscov's influence has stretched far beyond commerce. Shortly after taking over the Wilkes-Barre store, he convinced other downtown property owners to outline their buildings in white lights for the holiday season, an idea he patterned after Boathouse Row in Philadelphia.
"Wherever Albert put a store, he became a citizen of that municipality," said Curtis Montz, who stayed on through the transition and worked as an administrator at the Wilkes-Barre store until 1987.
Boscov also spearheaded the creation of the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts. An organization called "Save the Paramount" had been struggling to preserve the landmark theater on Public Square. "They were practically penniless," Montz said.
Boscov moved the effort in another direction, but kept the existing group members on the committee. "He put his money where his mouth was, and got a lot of other money."
"I drove Albert around when we were raising money," Montz said. "He was incredible."
When the first executive director didn't work out, Boscov volunteered Montz to run the refurbished theater.
"Unbeknownst to me he told the newspaper he had a guy to run the place," said Montz, who was out of town celebrating his wedding anniversary.
Boscov's influence has continued to include helping to get the downtown theaters off the ground. Al Boscov had worked with Mayor Tom McGroarty's administration, then continued his support when the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Business and Industry took over the project.
"Albert brought Wayne Anderson (the theater operator) to town," said Chamber president Stephen Barrouk. "He helped recruit this company for us."
Barrouk was pleased when told Boscov's would remain in family hands. He had accepted that the chain might follow industry trends and merge with a larger department store.
"I figured that would be a natural thing that might happen." He's hopeful new management will continue its commitment to the community. "That family has been good to Wilkes-Barre over the years. We hope it stays that way."
Boscov's was founded as a neighborhood store in Reading in the 1920s by Solomon Boscov, Albert's father and an immigrant from Russia.
Today Boscov's generates yearly sales revenue of about $1.1 billion and is the largest full-line, family-owned independent department store in the country. The company employs more than 10,000 people and has 40 stores in six states: Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia.
New chairman Ken Lakin said he expects to add 10 or more stores in the next few years.
Boscov's will continue to be 100 percent owned by the children and grandchildren of the families of Edwin and Alma Lakin, Albert and Eunice Boscov, Joseph and Shirley Boscov, and James and Shirley Boscov Holzman, Boscov said.
Neither Boscov nor Lakin were available for comment Monday.