My pals were all pretty cynical and the more linguistically clever of them called Zayre "purveyors of junk". What most of us wouldn't admit was that our Moms bought half of our back to school clothes there. Probably our pencils and notebooks too! (Before the days of 'binders'). It was cheap dammit, and what could a poor mom to do, but to shop in a discount store? Marshall's, Ames, Turnstyle, Caldor, they all followed suit, but somehow the name Zayre has stuck in the local craw longer, probably because the company was headquartered right in Framingham from 1956 - 1990. Zayre's origins go back to 1919 when brothers Max and Morris Feldberg founded the New England Trading Company in Boston. An underwear and hosiery wholesaler, the company began as a supplier to full-line department stores and specialty shops. Ten years later, the brothers launched their first retail operation, Bell Hosiery Shops (later shortened to "Bell Shops"). By the early 50's The Bell Shops were suffering due to the rise of "mill" discount store operations. With the family's second generation, Stanley H. Feldberg (son of Max) and Sumner A. Feldberg (son of Morris) now in positions of responsibility, the company began to explore options, putting considerable effort into studying the hugely successful mill stores. Mill stores began operation in closed, empty textile mills available at dirt-cheap rents selling mainly clothing and linens. As these companies became more successful, they began to build their own new stores, either free-standing or in shopping centers, allowing greater visibility along with the benefits of custom-built facilities. In June 1956, the Hyannis Zayre opened, a whopping 5,000 square feet in size. A second Zayre store opened in September 1956 in Roslindale, a much larger 39,000 square feet. Within a few years, Zayre stores would average 70,000 to 90,000 square feet.
New York Times retail writer Isadore Barmash explained the origin of the chain's name: "One day the Feldbergs and Bert Stern, an advertising consultant, were casting around for possible names for the new operation when Max broke off to take a call. He ended his phone conversation with a typical Jewish phrase: "Zehr gut," or "very good." Stern repeated, "Zehr, where, we need a nice-sounding name." The men stared at one another. Zehr -- "let's spell it Zayre" -- for very good, they decided." Not purveyors of junk after all!
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