The Richman Brothers Company was a manufacturer and distributor of men’s suits, furnishings and hats based in Cleveland, Ohio. It operated a national network of stores, a tailoring plant and office complex.
Richmond Brothers was founded by Henry Richman in 1863 in Portsmouth, Ohio,9 who manufactured clothing for iron workers.15 Richman relocated the plant to a five-story building at 1289-1299 West 9th Street in Cleveland in 1879.1 9 10
The company fostered innovative human resource practices that served as models for others. Richman Brothers eschewed time clocks and was the first company in the nation to offer two-week, and later three-week paid vacations to all employees.1 It also offered company-paid benefits, such as pensions, life insurance and medical coverage,9 and no-interest loans.
Initially, cloth was cut in the shop and finished by contractors, mostly immigrant tailors working at home or in rooms near home.9 Times were lean at times, and at one point, Richman forestalled disaster by cashing in his life insurance policy, saving the company from impending bankruptcy. Layoffs never occurred.
Richman initially sold its clothes wholesale to individuals through mail order, a local salesman or from a truck.9 It’s first store, in downtown Cincinnati, opened in 1906 by the founder’s sons, Nathan, Charles and Henry, followed by similar outfits in Cleveland in 1907,1 Louisville, Minneapolis and St. Paul.9 The company was the first clothier to offer factory-produced men’s clothing directly to customers.
All suits were priced at $10 each until 1939, when men’s furnishings and hats were added to the stores.1 By the 1920’s, the suits were averaged $22.50 each and then $49.95 by the 1960’s.9
On March 9, 1915, Richman announced that it would construct one of the largest clothing plants in the United States on East 55th Street between Superior and Payne avenues.6 The four-story, 150,000 square-foot complex proposed would replace their antiqued factory on 9th Street and house up to 1,000 employees at a cost of $300,000. It was slated to be ready for occupancy by the spring of 1916.
The new factory was engineered by the Christian, Schwarz-Enberg and Gaede Company, constructed by the Hunkin-Conkey Construction Company of Cleveland, with materials supplied by the Cleveland Builders Supply Company, solid steel windows by the E.F. Hauserman Company, heating, ventilating and air conditioning units by the American Blower Company, concrete floors by the Master Builders Company, exterior Hy-Tex brick by the Hydraulic-Press Brick Company, iron stairs and the nation’s longest steel cutting tables at 60-feet long crafted by the Van Dorn Iron Works, and ornamental fencing by the Sheer Brothers Fence and Iron Company.7 The plant opened in 1917 and was designated by the local Chamber of Commerce as the best factory erected in the city for the calendar year. The facility eventually grew to occupy 612,000 square-feet over 23-acres.5
By the mid-20th century, Richman Brothers was the largest clothing chain in the United States.1 Under the direction of George H. Richman, a cousin of the three Richman brothers, the company boasted 119 retail outlets. On October 14, 1954, George held the largest conference telephone call to all employees in the chain’s 79 stores during Richman Brothers’ 75th anniversary party, boasting that “plans, not quite completed, will make Richman Brothers the only sizable chain selling men’s wear exclusively.”8 Over 200 executives, employees and civic leaders joined in the festivities at the flagship store at 726 Euclid Avenue in downtown Cleveland. The anniversary also signaled the start of a month-long promotion.
Richman Brothers expanded with the acquisition of Stein’s Stores, a chain of 91 men’s stores in the south and southwest United States, in 1959.10 15 It made Richman Brothers, with its 118 retail outlets, the biggest clothing chain in the nation. The deal also included a Stein’s factory in Knoxville, Tennessee.
In 1962, the General Men’s Wear Corporation was formed to operate leased menswear departments in discount stores.11 The leased departments were located as to not compete with existing Richman outlets. In the middle of the decade, Richman Brothers opened its first young men’s store, Adam’s Row, in Fort Wayne, Indiana.12 By the third quarter of 1968, Richman Brothers boasted 4,300 employees and 281 retail stores and leased departments in 38 states operating under the Richman, Stein, Harvey and Anderson-Little brands.9 Its net profit of $3.896 million for 1967 was a record, with sales rising 18% from the year prior to over $90 million.
Richman Brothers was sold to the F.W. Woolworth Company of New York in 1969.1 14 At the time of the sale, Richman had sales of $90.133 million.14
In March 1973, Richman Brothers planned a $1 million equipment expansion at its main plant on East 55th Street.13 The new hardware, for the fabric finishing department, was designed to assure fabric quality and uniformity. The equipment included computer controlled fabric inspection, straightening, finishing, storing and transporting machinery.
By 1974, the Richman Brothers unit of Woolworth operated 176 stores under the Richman name, 53 Anderson Little stores and 37 Stein’s stores.14 By the end of 1989, Woolworth had grown the Richman Brothers unit into a $283 million clothing empire under the Richman Brothers, Cotton Supply Company and Anderson-Little brand.3 4 By the end of the year, ten Anderson-Little stores and eight Richman stores were opened.
On May 15, 1990,15 Woolworth announced that it was closing the Cleveland Richman Brothers manufacturing facility, leaving 375 jobless.5 Rumors had spread among the workers of its potential closing after the plant switched to a four-day work week in January and after it had opened a newer facility in Carrollton, Georgia. The distribution center, which employed 80 people, would continue to operate in the East 55th Street complex.
The manufacturing equipment was auctioned off on October 2, 1990.16
The closure of the flagship factory mirrored the decline of the textile industry in Cleveland, which peaked with 6,100 employees in 1979.15 By 1990, it was down to just 3,200.
The Richman Brothers unit of Woolworth had become unprofitable by the early 1990’s and in 1992, Woolworth closed its Richman unit.1 Nine stores in Cleveland were closed, along with 251 others nationwide.3 A total of 4,500 workers were let-go. A number of the stores were converted into the company’s more successful speciality stores, such as Champs Sports, Foot Locker and Northern Reflections.
On September 11, 2009, a group of Chinese investors, headed by Derek Ng, purchased the former Richman Brothers factory with the hopes of converting the property into a hub of North American operations of several high- and low-tech Chinese companies,2 condominiums and studios.17 The $40 million project would require the rehabilitation of the 650,000 square-foot property.
Ng is seeking federal approval to establish an EB-5 regional investment center, which would allow the investors to seek international money.17 The program would also offer expedited immigrant visas to foreign investors who create jobs.
[stag_toggle style=”normal” title=”Sources” state=”closed”]
- “Richman Brothers Co.” Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Case Western Reserve University, 20 June 1997. Web. 4 Aug. 2015.
- Breckenridge, Tom, and Michelle Jarboe. “Chinese Investment Group Plans to Redevelop Richman Bros. Building.” Cleveland Plain-Dealer. Web. 5 Oct. 2009. Article.
- “Richman Chain Will Be Closed.” New York Times. Web. 3 Apr. 1992. Article.
- Cuff, Daniel F. “Richman Brothers Gets a Nee Chief Executive.” New York Times. Web. 25 Jan. 1990. Article.
- Freeh, John. “‘You’ve Slapped Us in the Face.'” Cleveland Plain-Dealer 17 May 1990: 21C. Print.
- “Richman Bros. Buy Suit Factory Site.” Cleveland Plain-Dealer 10 Mar. 1915: 14. Print.
- “Richman’s Prize Factory.” Cleveland Plain-Dealer 21 Oct. 1917: 9A. Print.
- “Richman Greets 1,000 Across U.S.” Cleveland Plain-Dealer 15 Oct. 1954: 5. Print.
- “Richman Charts Woolworth Union.” Cleveland Plain-Dealer 7 Sept. 1968: 1-21. Print.
- Bryan, John E. “Richman’s Buys 91-Store Chain.” Cleveland Plain-Dealer 12 Aug. 1959: 1. Print.
- Bryan, John E. “Richman Brothers in Discount Stores.” Cleveland Plain-Dealer 6 Apr. 1962: 20. Print.
- “Richman’s Has Record Sales, Net.” Cleveland Plain-Dealer 29 Mar. 1968: 32. Print.
- Kelly, Michael. “$1-Million Equipment Expansion Planned at Richman Plant Here.” Cleveland Plain-Dealer 29 Mar. 1973: 2C. Print.
- “Richman’s sales reported again by Woolworth.” Cleveland Plain-Dealer 23 Apr. 1974: 2C. Print.
- Freeh, John. “Richman closes clothes plant.” Cleveland Plain-Dealer 16 May 1990: 3E. Print.
- “End of an era.” Cleveland Plain-Dealer 2 Oct. 1990: 3E. Print.
- Smith, Robert L. “Cleveland developers say ‘Hello, China!’ with a video and a dream.” Cleveland Plain-Dealer. Web. 17 Sept. 2011. Article.