by Karen Alberg Grossman

At age 80, Esther Gushner (daughter of founder) connects past with present.

My father Albert (aka Abe) and his brother Alex (aka Elek) emigrated from Russia and started a little business together in Philadelphia — a series of small haberdasheries. They had so little inventory that they’d sell out of their window displays. Their success grew during WWII since they were able to procure white shirts when few other stores had access to them. After the war, they added tailored clothing and specialized in big-and-tall. Wilt Chamberlain and other professional athletes were clients; they established a strong niche business.

Next, they traded up, adding a few luxury lines like Zegna and Brioni. They also built a huge business in leather jackets, selling to a diverse demographic. I remember how well the two got along, with none of the rivalries that oftenplague family businesses. They were opposites in terms of personal style so when a customer asked to meet “Mr. Boyd,” my father would appear since his French moustache gave him a certain flair, (Sadly, both brothers died of aneurisms around the same time: my father six months after Alex. My mother believed he died from a broken heart because he loved his baby brother so intensely.)

When my father wanted out of the business, he didn’t offer it to either of his daughters; that just wasn’t done at the time. But I ended up going to work for Gerry, my oldest first cousin. Although I never had ownership in the business, I changed my name back to Gushner and was delighted to keep the family tradition alive. (Even today, it’s so special for me to visit the store and see some of the same associates I knew as a little girl.)

Under Gerry’s leadership, we sold zillions of ultra-suede jackets: customers bought them in every color, especially snowbirds because they were lightweight. Gerry was responsible for the move to 1515 Chestnut, the nicer side of town. His wife would sometimes call asking if Gerry was available, noting that if the store had a bed and a shower, he likely wouldn’t come home at all.

I met my second husband at Boyds (he was a top customer) which is of course my fondest memory. But what’s with me always is the work ethic that permeates this entire family. The store has always been their baby; for every generation of Gushner’s, the dream is to continue the legacy. And Kent is adding so much to this: letting the old-timers stay while hiring new young talent, building a beautiful lunchroom so associates can mingle, creating gorgeous new selling floors and an environment of personal service and human connection. There’s a wonderful quote that says “the most precious gift that one person can give another is attention.” And that’s the ethos I truly feel at Boyds.