November 16, 2018

Leon J. Levitz, built furniture empire, dies at 101

Leon Jerome Levitz, co-founder of Levitz Furniture, died on Sept. 18 in his home in Arlington, Texas. He was 101.

Levitz was born on June 12, 1915, in Lebanon, Pa., one of seven children of Sarah and Richard Benjamin Levitz, who immigrated to the United States from Lithuania in 1903. His father opened a dry goods store at the age of 18, above which the family lived for years.

In 1937, just one year after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of business, Levitz opened his first store in Pottstown, Pa., with older brother Ralph and a $10,000 line of credit from their father. The store tripled in size in three years.

In 1956, Leon Levitz followed his brother Sam to Tucson, Ariz., where after a weekend warehouse sale, with inventory open to the public, the furniture warehouse concept
was born.

“In the early days, display wasn’t a priority, and when Ralph and I opened the first Levitz Warehouse Furniture Showroom, in Allentown [Pa.] in 1963, it was a resounding success,” said Levitz, who, in 1971, had five warehouse showrooms open in five cities in five months. Annual sales rose from $18 million in 1967 to over $400 million in 1974. “Today, most stores have followed our lead, bringing the customer to the supply.”

In 1968, the company went public, opening at $15 per share, and grew to be worth almost seven times that in just weeks. For decades, the chain’s commercial jingle (“You’ll love it at Levitz”) was ubiquitous nationwide.

With close to 70 stores open by 1972, Ralph ran the East Coast operations while Leon Levitz, who served as president of the company, remained in the West before retiring in 1980.

Six years into retirement, Levitz, with his son Gary and nephew Philip, re-entered the market with the purchase of the Dallas-Fort Worth locations of RB Furniture — a chain that grew to 11 stores before being sold to Heilig-Meyers.

Nominated to the American Furniture Hall of Fame, Levitz was a recipient of the lifetime achievement award from the Arizona Home Furnishings Representatives Association, which called him a pioneer of the industry. He is the focus of the book “We Do It Every Day: The Story Behind the Success of Levitz Furniture” by Wight Martindale Jr. 

“In the almost 80 years I’ve been in business, a lot has changed but much is the same,” Levitz said last year. “My father had a sign up that said, ‘The customer is always right.’ From $10,000 in our first few months to $10 million in one month, it’s the only way. If you take care of the business, the business will take care of you.”

He is survived by daughter Linda, son John, eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his former wives Ruth Kauffman and Margaret “Bibi” Davison, and children Sarah and Gary.