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William Modell; expanded sporting goods chain

WILLIAM D. MODELL WILLIAM D. MODELL (modell's via ap file)
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dennis Hevesi
New York Times News Service / February 22, 2008

NEW YORK - William D. Modell, who as chairman of the Modell's Sporting Goods chain oversaw its expansion throughout much of the Northeast, died Feb. 14 in Manhattan. He was 86 and lived in Hewlett Harbor, N.Y.

The cause was complications of prostate cancer, his wife, Shelby, said.

Mr. Modell joined Modell's, a 118-year-old family-owned business, at the end of World War II and became chairman in 1985. But he had effectively run the corporation since 1963, working alongside his father, Henry, who was chairman.

In 1975, the chain consisted of 10 stores in New York City and on Long Island, with annual revenue of about $10.5 million. There are now 136 Modell's stores in eight states, including Massachusetts, with revenue last year of approximately $635 million.

The business was started in 1889 by Mr. Modell's grandfather, Morris, an immigrant from Hungary who opened a general store on Cortlandt Street in Lower Manhattan. It thrived after World War I by stocking up on Army surplus merchandise and selling it at low prices.

The store also made innovative use of the surplus, creating, for example, children's snowsuits out of khaki blankets and lamps using shell casings as bases. Modell's now sells casual clothing, work clothing, and 400 styles of footwear in addition to sporting goods.

William Modell's expansion strategy involved buying locations from failing rivals. In 1996, for instance, the chain grew to 67 stores from 52 by paying $2.5 million for 15 outlets in New Jersey and in the Baltimore and Washington areas of the bankrupt Herman's World of Sporting Goods, a chain that had been one of Modell's biggest competitors.

Born on May 13, 1921, Mr. Modell grew up in the Manhattan Beach section of Brooklyn. He attended New York University and served in the Army during World War II.

Besides his wife, the former Shelby Zaldin, he leaves his sister, Doris Tipograph of Hewlett Harbor; a daughter, Leslie Modell, of Manhattan; a son, Mitchell, of Alpine, N.J., who is president of the company; and nine grandchildren.

Mr. Modell's son Michael, who had Crohn's disease, died in 2001. Among other philanthropic works, Mr. Modell was a founder of the Crohn's & Colitis Foundation of America.

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