Founder of SYMS discount clothing store dies

AP News
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Posted: Nov 17, 2009 6:58 PM

Sy Syms, founder and chairman of the SYMS Corp. discount clothing chain, died of heart failure Tuesday in New York, according to a statement issued by the company. He was 83.

Syms founded his apparel business in 1959 in New York's financial district as a discount retailer of off-price men's clothes. By 1983, he had expanded the business to 11 stores and taken the company public. It eventually grew to 30 stores in 13 states.

The company was known by its slogan, "An educated consumer is our best customer," which Syms created and debuted on its first TV commercial in 1974. It is still used today.

The company expanded even further in June, when it bought the Filene's Basement chain and expanded its presence to 52 stores in all.

Sy Syms was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on May 12, 1926, with the name Seymour Merinsky. The family changed its name to Merns when Syms' father and brother opened a store of the same name on Vesey Street.

Syms attended Midwood High School in Brooklyn and New York University, under the GI bill. He worked as a sportscaster in Maryland and West Virginia before going back to New York to join the family business in 1950.

Nine years later, he opened a competing store on Cortland Street, around the corner from his family's store. He named it Sy Merns, but he was forced to change the name to Syms after a court fight. He later took the name legally as his own.

Syms was CEO of the company until 1998, when his daughter Marcy took over.

He was survived by his wife, Lynn Tamarkin Syms; four children, Marcy, Robert, Richard and Laura; two stepchildren; 10 grandchildren; and three sisters.

He had two other children, Stephen and Adrienne, who died before him.