A Boyds Legend Retires

by Harry Sheff

Boyds Philadelphia’s longest-working salesman—48-year veteran Howard Eisenberg—retired earlier this month. Eisenberg, 73, was hired in by Boyds founder Alexander Gushner and has worked for two more generations of Gushners since.

“We’re going to miss him terribly,” said current Boyds president Ken Gushner. “It’s pretty difficult to duplicate what he was capable of doing. He’s played an instrumental role in helping to make our business what is today.”

Howard Eisenberg and Ken Gushner
Howard Eisenberg and Ken Gushner

Eisenberg was not just known for his longevity, but his unique sales skills. “In his own quiet way, Howard Eisenberg probably sells more tailored clothing than anyone else in America,” said Boyds’ Ralph Yaffe in a 2008 MR story about the salesman.

“He has an innate ability to connect with people,” added Gushner. “He could have sold anything—I’m sure if he sold cars he’d be the best at it. More than anything else, he likes and understands people. He’s able to adapt to whoever he was working with, regardless of who they were or what walk of life they came from. That combined with a work ethic and a focus better than any sales person I’ve ever seen. The man didn’t go out to lunch. Literally. He didn’t go out to lunch for the last 20 years.”

“That’s true,” admits Eisenberg. “I didn’t want to miss any time—you never know when the customer is going to come in. I’d eat in the morning before I came in and dinner when I left. I can’t work with food in my stomach.”

When asked if he thought he has a natural sales ability, Eisenberg, a soft-spoken man of few words, laughs. “Well, I do. I just love what I do.”

Eisenberg won’t share many stories form the sales floor—he’s too discreet—but when pressed he will talk about his largest sales. “My biggest sale was $120,000, from two different people. It was a very nice situation. I’ve had customers who spend $200 for a pair of pants and customers who spend $2,000 for a suit. I have everybody.”

His clientele were disappointed to see him go. “I’ve called them all, and they were very sad; some of them made me cry but I got over it,” he says. When an article about his retirement in the Philadelphia Inquirer came out, several people showed up at the store to congratulate him, to say goodbye and to buy clothing from him one more time.

Sadly, Eisenberg’s retirement comes 18 months after a diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease. “It’s fair,” he says of his health. “I’m in Florida now. The warm climate helps—it’s much better—but it’s not as good as I was before. I play golf in the morning and go to the track in the afternoon to watch my horses run. If I don’t do that I go to the pool.”

“If his health had held out, he would have kept doing this,” confides Gushner. “It wasn’t work for him, it was fun. He didn’t do things by the book—at least not today’s book. He didn’t reach out to customers after a sale, never wrote a thank you note. But the people liked him so much, and enjoyed what he sold them and felt so good about the time they spent with him that they would come back on a regular basis—and only to him.”

Eisenberg’s son, Colin, followed his dad to Boyds and has been there 12 years. “Colin is one of the managers here, and we’re very optimistic that he’s going to pick up some of Howard’s following—a lot of people know who he is because he’s been here 12 years himself,” said Gushner. “He’ll fill his shoes as well as anyone could. It’s sort of natural in a sense.”