READING >> Giant illustrated props of Albert Boscov dressed as a superhero taking flight were displayed on stage inside Santander Arena Sunday. Those who knew the late retail giant said he truly was one in real life. His strength of character, level of compassion for others, dedication to his community and ability to make the impossible suddenly possible forged a legacy that won’t be soon be forgotten.
“Superheroes are usually tall, fictional characters who wear spandex costumes with capes. They have a mask and fly around subduing bad guys,” said former Reading Mayor Tom McMahon. “Our superhero was not fictional and not too tall. He was just five foot seven. He did not have a mask or a costume but did seem airborne. He was everywhere. He flew at the speed of light from store to store, city to city, chasing his dreams.”
Over 1,000 people came to honor Boscov during the memorial service at the arena. In fact, the line to entire the building stretched around the block on Penn Street. Once inside, family members, friends and colleagues shared stories, laughs and a few tears to pay tribute to a man they adored.
Boscov, the chairman of Boscov’s Department Store LLC, passed away on Feb. 10, a little more than one week after announcing to co-workers and the community that he was battling late-stage cancer. He was 87.
The over two hour tribute featured such speakers as CEO and Vice Chairman Jim Boscov, former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-11, and Boscov’s daughters and grandsons. Also in attendance were former Gov. Tom Corbett and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.
Boscov was remembered for his business acumen that helped grow his company to become the largest family-owned department store chain in the country. The Boscov’s Department Store chain was started by Boscov’s father Solomon. Under Albert Boscov’s leadership, the business has grown to 45 stores in 7 states with 7,500 employees.
Boscov’s philosophy focused on the value of relationships. An example of this was when Jim Boscov said every year Albert Boscov would hold a contest for the vendors of each of the store’s departments to see which could provide the best bargain for customers. The winning vendors would receive an all expense paid resort vacation personally planned by Boscov himself. Customers would fight hard each year to try to be repeat winners and customers would benefit because of it.
“He was caring and compassionate not because it was good business,” said Jim Boscov, “but because it was the right thing to do.”
In addition to his retail expertise, Boscov was remembered by many for his philanthropic and community revitalization efforts — including Reading’s GoggleWorks Center for the Arts; Our City Reading Inc., which has made home ownership possible for more than 600 families and most recently, Reading’s DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel.
Boscov’s family members also remembered him for having an activist spirit. He helped organize a Black Heritage Festival in Reading in May of 1968. He also helped raise awareness about issues like blindness, women’s rights and the rights of Native Americans.
“He was not afraid to take a stand on any issue to make our community better,” said David Aichenbaum, Boscov’s grandson.
Rendell challenged those in the audience to pick up Boscov’s torch and carry it forward. Boscov’s death reminded him of the movie “Glory” about the first African American soldiers who fought for the Union army in the Civil War. At one point the soldier are tasked with leading a dangerous assault on a fort in Charlestown, S.C. and know they will sustain heavy casualties, Rendell said.
“The commander pointed to the standard bearer and said ‘If this man should fall, who will pick up our banner and carry it forward?’” he said. “Our standard bearer has fallen. Who here will stand up and carry it forward for Reading?”
Corbett said the ceremony was upbeat that captured Boscov’s true spirit.
“The humor that he had came through,” he said. “And that wasn’t made up. That was Al. He’s the only man that ever called me honey.”
Boscov’s work didn’t just help the citizens of Reading, but all of Pennsylvania, Corbett said.
Casey said the most important thing that every speaker focused on about Boscov was his humanity.
“They got to the person, not the successful business man,” he said. “Though he was. A successful economic leader and community leader, cultural unifier that he was. The basic decency and humanity of him was really moving.”
Before the service, several members of the public said they came to thank Boscov, or Mr. B as many affectionately referred to him.
Boscov’s employee Margie Heffner, of Fleetwood, Pa., stood for two hours outside the arena to be among the first in line.
“I worked for Mr. Boscov for 24 years,” she said. “He just did so much for everybody. I’m just here to support (him). It’s wonderful to see all the people and the support and how many people actually cared for Mr. B. He did so much for the community. And he did a lot for his employees.”
Ray Carboni, of Reading, called Boscov a pillar of society and spoke of the retailer’s generosity toward veterans by offering a 15 percent discount on store items.
“Just a good man,” he said. “He’s done so much for the City of Reading. Just an honorable man.”