Jerome Kane Ohrbach, former president of the innovative Ohrbach Department Stores founded by his father, Nathan Ohrbach, has died. He was 82.
Ohrbach died Thursday at his Los Angeles home of Parkinson's disease.
As president of the department store chain in the 1950s, Jerome Ohrbach formed Ohrbach's West Coast division and moved from his native New York to Los Angeles to open stores here. For many years, he spent six months on each coast to supervise stores in New York, Newark, N.J., and Southern California.
Three decades ago, Ohrbach pioneered merchandising techniques for large discount clothing stores that became popular in the 1980s.
To provide top-quality women's clothing at the lowest prices, he eliminated mail orders, charge accounts, alterations, deliveries and the personal selling touch. He concentrated on self-service, cash-and-carry, quality, style and price.
"Mr. Jerry," as his employees called him, adhered to his father's motto for the stores, "business in millions; profits in pennies." But he continued to upgrade the style of the clothing he sold, working to bring the world of haute couture within financial reach of the average woman.
"What we would like to do in the world of fashion," he told the Los Angeles Times in 1960, "is the equivalent of selling a new $16,000 Rolls-Royce for $5,000."
Part of his secret, Ohrbach said, was to buy original fashion designs in Paris twice a year from Dior, Griffe, Givenchy and Balenciaga at their astronomical prices, then copy them inexpensively. He strove to put exact copies, down to the buttons, on his store racks at affordable prices within eight days of the Paris debut of a haute couture design.
He prided himself on catering to women of both high and low income and doing so with good taste.
"I don't believe," he said, "you can find in Ohrbach's a dress at any price that is in bad taste."
Ohrbach remained president until the chain was sold in 1962.
He later became president of Transpacific Equipment Corp. of Beverly Hills, an export concern. He also helped to found two investment companies, the Dreyfus Corp. and Weiss, Peck & Greer.
An alumnus of Cornell University, Ohrbach served many years on Cornell's University Council and was a major benefactor of the school, donating works of art and $1 million for restoration of historic Morrill Hall. In 1977, Cornell gave him its highest award, designating him a presidential councillor.
Ohrbach is survived by four daughters and five grandchildren.
Private services and entombment will be in New York, and a memorial service will be scheduled in Los Angeles at a later date.
The family has asked that memorial contributions be made to the Nathan M. Ohrbach Foundation, 1880 Century Park East, Suite 1010, Los Angeles, 90067.