Zayre – Where’d They Go?

Zayre: The Story of Humble Beginnings and a Bittersweet End

Zayre was a household name for many folks in the eastern United States for over three decades. Founded in 1956, the discount store chain quickly gained popularity for its wide selection of affordable goods and convenient locations. However, despite its success, Zayre eventually met its downfall in the late 1980s.

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History and Expansion of Zayre

Zayre was founded as the New England Trading Company in 1919 by brothers Max and Morris Feldberg. Initially an underwear and hosiery wholesaler, the company supplied full-line department stores and specialty shops.

In 1929, the brothers opened their first retail store called Bell Hosiery Shops, which eventually expanded beyond just hosiery and underwear to become a women’s specialty store chain.

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By the end of World War II, there were 30 Bell Shops in the New England region. In 1946, the company acquired Nugents, another women’s specialty store chain with locations in New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey, and Washington D.C., effectively doubling its number of stores and expanding its market area.

Video: Zayre TV Commercial from 1979

After the transaction was finalized, the brothers sat down with advertising consultant, Bert Stern, to discuss name ideas. When Max ended the conversation, he said “Zehr gut,” which means “very good” in Yiddish. After a short debate, the men decided to call the operation Zehr, but spell it as the name we recognize today – Zayre.


Zayre: Transformation into a Discount Store Chain

By the early 1950s, sales at Zayre had leveled off, and it became clear that changes were needed for the company to remain successful. The Feldberg brothers, Stanley and Sumner, studied the successful mill stores and decided to turn Zayre into a discount store.


In 1956, they opened their first store in Hyannis, Massachusetts, and soon after opened a second store in Roslindale, Boston. The chain continued to grow, with an average of 20 new stores added each year. In 1962, Zayre became a public company and was listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Diversification into Specialty Retailing

In the 1960s, Zayre expanded rapidly across the eastern half of the United States, establishing a presence in nearly every state east of the Mississippi River. The company opened stores in clusters to maximize brand presence and advertising efficiency. And by the end of 1966, Zayre had 92 stores with major concentrations in the Chicago area, Miami, and Boston. In addition to offering a mix of soft lines, toys, sporting goods, records, books, and health and beauty products, Zayre also diversified into specialty retailing by acquiring the Hit or Miss chain, an off-price chain specializing in upscale women’s clothing.

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In the 1970s, Zayre attempted to purchase the Marshalls chain. But when that effort failed, the company hired Bernard Cammarata, formerly the General Merchandise Manager of Marshalls, to create a clone called T.J. Maxx. The first T.J. Maxx store opened in 1977 and was successful with middle to upper-middle-income shoppers, leading to the further expansion of the off-price apparel market for Zayre.


The Beginning of the End

Within just six years of the first T.J. Maxx store opening, Zayre found another way to offer off-price fashion to the market. Chadwick’s of Boston started selling some Hit or Miss products via their mail-order catalogs. This crossover allowed customers to view the items in person before ordering. Thus, providing consumers with the convenience of home shopping.

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By 1985, Zayre’s had undergone many transformations. The company was earning roughly 45 percent of its income from T.J. Maxx and Hit or Miss, launched B.J.’s Wholesale Club, and acquired Gaylord’s, a former chain store. The only problem was that most of the new Zayre stores that opened in the ’80s had messy appearances and cluttered aisles. Though the company attempted to rebrand its image through celebrity advertising, these efforts fell short. And by 1986, it was evident that the demand for Zayre was declining, though the other brands were still going strong.

Zayre parking lot

Last Call

In the late 1980s, Zayre struggled and faced many challenges. From announcing $69 million operating losses on $1.4 billion revenue to disorganization and unclean stores, it was evident that Zayre needed to consider restructuring. Because TJX Companies was still yielding a profit, company leaders felt the best plan of action was to focus energy on that portion of the company.

In doing so, Zayre sold off almost 400 locations to Ames Department store for a receivable note of $140 million of Ames preferred stock and $431.4 million in cash. As the company continued to focus attention on the more profitable side of the business, it began spinning off its subsidies, such as Waban, Inc., which operated Home Club and B.J.’s Wholesale Club. The same month, the company acquired all outstanding minority interests in TJX and eventually merged Zayre and TJX together.


Sadly, by 1990, every Zayre location had closed or been converted into an Ames location. What Americans once knew as the fifth largest discount retailer was just a memory. As we look back on the history of Zayre, it’s important to remember the joy that Zayre brought to so many people and the lasting impact it had on the retail industry. So, here’s to the memory of Zayre!

If you have any fond memories of Zayre, please leave them in the “Comments” section below

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31 responses to “Zayre – Where’d They Go?”

  1. Lassy Street Avatar
    Lassy Street

    I remember shopping Zayre’s as a teenager.
    I loved being able to feel the material an color’s of the clothing I wanted to buy. The other option was the catalog from Sear’s, Penny’s, ect. I’m proud I was part of that time period!!

  2. Sean McGuire Avatar
    Sean McGuire

    I remember being so poor that I shopped clearance racks at Zayre. Ended up with horrible corduroy pants. I grew quickly to hate the pants and their odd feel. But like all clothing that I hate, I would never outgrow them and they would never wear out. Those cheap pants would taunt me for years. So much that I never shopped at a Zayre’s again. Those pant are still around…in my nightmares and on other people….ugly obese people and they haunt my memories.
    When will it end! When will it end!
    Somewhere in places people like to think doesn’t exist, there is a casket maker with a slightly worn pair of corduroy pants thinking, I could line this pine box with this burgundy corduroy cloth. I’m sure there is someone who will like it.

    1. Sandra King Avatar
      Sandra King

      Loved to shop at Zayre! Quality merchandise!

  3. Tracy Avatar

    Met my soulmate at Zayre!

  4. Cynthia Avatar

    My Zayres was in Marathon, Fl. Used to love going in there after school & getting a hot dog at the food counter, best hot dogs ever !

  5. ga Avatar

    It was a great store! Lots of back-to-school shopping there when I was little!

  6. sharon Avatar

    I worked for the Zayre before the store opened and after for over six years. I started out as a cashier then worked the cash office, appliances and layaway. I was also in charge of the men’s and boys department and as CSR. I totally enjoyed working for the company even after I got married I still worked for them. Also, went to new stores and trained their employees.

  7. Sarah Avatar

    Worked at the one in Rockford, IL. It was a new one and looked great. I decided to go to college in Normal, IL. I got a job at the one in Bloomington and it was a dump. Old, dirty and messy. Some of the clothes were so old. I was shocked.

  8. KSwaim Avatar

    One of my jobs at 17 years old.

  9. Daryl E. Ratterree Avatar
    Daryl E. Ratterree

    The down fall of Zayres was that they took ordering of merchandise away from stores. All ordering was done thru Corporate Headquarters. When the Sanford Florida store finally closed, they had a total of 19 Snow Shovels in stock. Who needs a Snow Shovel in Florida?

    1. Eric James Hartman Avatar

      As a Florida resident, I can appreciate this!

  10. Bobby D Avatar
    Bobby D

    Back in the late 80s early 90s, it was the only department store in our area (Baden PA) that would be open 24 hours a day during December for late night Christmas shoppers.
    I believe Zayre started it!

  11. Miss Marie Avatar
    Miss Marie

    I worked at Hyannis store in 1980s
    They were very good to employees
    We got our birthday off with pay.

  12. Alan Greene Avatar
    Alan Greene

    Many trips to Zayre Roslindale as a little kid. I think most of my clothes were from that store!🤓

  13. Jenn Fussell Avatar
    Jenn Fussell

    My mom Brenda Myers worked at Zayres for for nearly 17 years. And maybe a year when it turned to Ames in Winston-SalemNorthCarolina. .Ames never took off here. The 2 stores in Winston were poorly managed, prices went up and customers moved on to Rose’s Department Store. We still have a few of those here. One in Walkertown and one in Mt. Airy. I worked for Zayres as a teen. I was 8 when she started working there.

  14. Scott Starkey Avatar
    Scott Starkey

    I remember shopping at Zayre . We had one here in my hometown of Danville Illinois, my sister used to work there

  15. […] customers into the store. The promotion was so successful that it became a permanent fixture at the store, and it is still running […]

  16. Sal Avatar

    I worked my way through college at the south city St .Louis store. They even had a lunch counter. I earned commission selling tires in the automotive area and TV’s in the small appliance area. My fun times were when I pushed the blue light around and people would follow. Loved the store and the time I was there. Also was a cashier as well.

  17. Brneda fronchek Avatar
    Brneda fronchek

    I worked at the Bolingbrook Il. Store in the 80’s. Very nice and giving company, lots of fun.

    1. Tim Hamilton Avatar
      Tim Hamilton

      It was my second job in the late 70’s early 80’s in the Bangor Maine Store. I worked in the automotive dept. It was convenient to have a lunch counter. I remember the ( I believe it was called) Dollar days. Good times.

  18. Barbara Cuthbert Avatar
    Barbara Cuthbert

    The first Zayre store I shopped at was on route 9 in Natick MA when I was about 10 in 1963. My family loved that store since it was so modern. In 1973, when I was newly married, I worked at the Zayre store in Hadley, MA, near UMass. It was one of my favorite jobs, even to this day.

  19. Jimmie Weaver Avatar
    Jimmie Weaver

    Worked in receiving there in Virginia Beach, Virginia on Laskin Road 1979 to 1980. Shopped even after I left Zayre for enlisting in the Navy. It was a great store. So many memories for such a short time.

  20. […] invested $6,700 of his savings into a five-and-dime store in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1897, that he co-owned with former customer John McCrory. They added a […]

  21. Gale Hethcoat Avatar
    Gale Hethcoat

    I worked for Zayre while in high school and I loved it.

  22. Cathy Culp Avatar
    Cathy Culp

    My ex-husband worked at Zayre in a suburb of Atlanta for 5 years. They closed his store at the beginning of 1989. He stocked the shelves. They would lock the stock crew in the store overnight. I have fond memories of that store.

  23. Cheryl Benoit Avatar
    Cheryl Benoit

    Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, Zayre was our Family’s go to store , twice a year shopping. We were brought there in August to get our School clothes for the year and then once at Xmas time . I remember , fondly, Dad giving my Sister and I each $3.00 to buy Xmas gifts for our Parents and each other, including our Baby Sister. I remember as soon as we walked in the door, there was a distinct odor, not a bad one, but yup, it smelled like Zayre, probably all the chemicals in the goods . Very fond memories to this day : )

  24. Linda Brumage Avatar
    Linda Brumage

    I loved Zayre and Ames both and regularly shopped at both. I miss them and wish we could go back to those days. You could purchase almost anything from these stores.

  25. William Vanderberg Avatar
    William Vanderberg

    As a young kid in the early 60’s my parents taking us to Zayre in Boston was an incredible experience! We were usually allowed to buy one (inexpensive) toy every few months we would go.

  26. James Dunn Avatar
    James Dunn

    I had come from small town in Vermont. Never had been to a city for any length p time. In or around. 1961 went spend summer with my sister and grandma in Framingham, Massachusetts
    Never had been on a city street bus. First thing upon arrival was to get on the street bus and go to Penfield shopping center. Right straight to Zayre’s. I can remember s p well the trip to Zayre’s. Later in life went to Zayre’s in Hollywood Florida. In the Taft shopping center. Which i went countless times. Loved Zayre’s.

  27. Norma June Avatar
    Norma June

    I loved Zayer ! We had one in Maryland just outside Washington DC where I used to live . I shopped there all the time. It was ran by an East Indian man . There was an East Indian Prince in gorgeous full Prince attire that would be walking around the store pushing a shopping cart . One day his cart was half way full of nothing except batteries ! I said..” Wow..that’s a lot of batteries !” He never spoke one word anytime I saw him. And basically all I could see of him was his eyes. It was amazing. I wish I had pictures .

  28. Alice Alton Avatar
    Alice Alton

    Worked at the one on Pleasant St Watertown MA in the 60’s

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