MR is saddened to report the passing of Ira Neimark, a much-admired retail executive and part of a lost generation of true merchants who worked their way up through the ranks with an unwavering focus on product. He died at his home in Harrison, New York on Thursday, April 18th at age 97.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, Neimark started his career as a teenager checking coats and serving drinks at Bonwit Teller. He joined the US Army Air Corps at age 20 and served through WWII. His career included numerous retail positions but he is clearly most known for transforming Bergdorf Goodman from “an old, dull, expensive and intimidating store to a young, exciting, expensive and intimidating store.” He brought back European couture designers, staged lavish fashion shows, opened Bergdorf Goodman’s men’s store and increased sales during his tenure (1975-1992) from $38 million to $250 million.
Perhaps the best insight into a man’s character comes from those who have worked for him. And so, these thoughts from industry icon Joe Barrato are particularly meaningful.
“Working for Ira Neimark was one of the most positive and memorable experiences in my career. Ira taught me how to be a merchant, to be always professional. He was tough but fair. We shared the same vision for the men’s department and he allowed me full authority to execute. If he trusted your work and you were a team member, he embraced you into the BG family with both tough love and genuine caring.
“I was privileged to learn from an old school merchant. And was he relentless! One day I was in the market for an appointment when I got a call from his personal assistant: ‘Mr. Neimark wants to see you immediately.’ It was not unusual to be summoned to his office from market appointments. His sense of urgency was part of his personality. So, I left my market appointment to see him, admittedly a little nervous.
“He had just finished an appointment with Stanley Marcus, who had pointed out that the black silk hose he discovered in my department did not have the Bergdorf Goodman label. Ira challenged me about this and I explained that to get the BG label would require a minimum order that would take us years to sell. He responded ‘Barrato, use your charm; get it done!’ I was so frustrated: as the only men’s store in NYC carrying black silk hosiery, I felt I should be getting accolades, not reprimands because it didn’t have the BG logo.
“Another time word got back to him that Mildred Custin of Bonwit Teller had offered me a substantial position to join her store. Another pull from the market directly to his office: ‘I understand you were made an offer to leave BG? What was the offer?’ he demanded. I was floored that he knew and nervously blurted out what I was offered, to which he instantly replied, ‘I’ll match it; and I don’t want to hear of this type of thing again.’ He was an amazing personality and I was lucky to have learned from him.”