Obituary: Walter Kochanek of Rare Essentials
Sad news: the menswear industry has lost a wonderful merchant and friend. Walter J. Kochanek Jr. died suddenly at his home in New London, N.H. on December 29 of a massive heart attack. He had just turned 66 (and his father had passed away just days before him).
Walt was co-founder of Rare Essentials Ltd and Essentials for Men in Hanover New Hampshire. He received both B.S. and MBA degrees from Providence College and, prior to becoming a retailer, was controller at Rhode Island College, CFO at Cornell Veterinary College and CFO at Experiment in International Living and School for International Travel. In fact, international travel was one of his passions, as were golf, skiing, cars, people and always living life to its fullest.
“Walt was one great guy,” says Lee Leonard of DLS buying office, where Walt was a member for many years. “He was hard-working and good natured; he’d give you the shirt off his back. You’d see him at every trade show: New York, Chicago, Vegas, Florence… We tipped a lot of wine glasses together in Italy, sharing good times, good stories. He worked hard but he knew how to have fun while he worked (and he loved two cherries in his whiskey!) I will miss him deeply and remember him always.”
MR editor in chief Karen Alberg remembers his dedication. “I loved walking trade shows with Walt. He was a thoughtful merchant—stopping at booths that no one ever heard of to make sure he was seeing everything. Yet he’d never buy a collection just because it was ‘hot’. He had exceptional taste, knew his customers well and bought selectively. More importantly, Walt was personable, charming, interested in the world, and always fun. He and Lynn were a terrific team: we shared a lot of laughs!”
Says Larry Roth, who sold menswear to Walt for the past 18 years at Majestic, Alex Cannon, Rainforest, etc., “We did a lot of business together, but only when the product was right for his store. I first met him when he called to complain that the 70 suits we’d shipped him came in wrong. I drove up to New Hampshire and offered to take them all back, which was the beginning of a beautiful friendship. He’d say, ‘You can always stay at our home when you’re in town but I can’t buy your line if it’s not right for my customers.’
“Walt was one of the few merchants in our business who both excelled at his job and enjoyed every minute of it. Come market week, it was just as important to book a dinner with him and Lynn as it was to book a market appointment: you might not get the order but you’d always get a fabulous evening!
“He and Lynn were a unique couple in that she runs an amazing women’s store and the two of them were an impressive team. I once went to stay at a five-star hotel in Florence: when I told the concierge I was friends with the Kochanek’s of N.H., I got an immediate upgrade. How many New Hampshire couples have that kind of impact in Europe?”
Menswear designer Lenor Romano has a different take. “I thought Walter was a curmudgeon when I first met him a decade ago at trade shows. He would shop my line and just shake his head at me: style in or style out. I was always nervous when I worked with him, until he started showing up at the shows wearing my designs. Later, he’d let me know how important my collection was to him by threatening me if my goods didn’t show up on time. We had a mutual respect and I will miss him dearly.”
“I loved Walt,” says DLS partner Fred Derring, reflecting the sentiments of many. “He was the ‘salt of the earth’ and a terrific friend. They don’t come any better…”
In addition to Lynn, his wife/partner/soul mate for 36 years, Walt is survived by his daughter Colleen and her husband Carl, his grandchildren Carl and Carrick, his mother Pearl and his siblings Dennis, Michael and Barbara.
A service is planned for Friday January 2nd at 1 p.m. at The First Baptist Church of New London, 461 Main Street. Contributions in Walt’s memory can be made to WISE, 38 Bank Street, Lebanon NH 03766 (www.wiseoftheuppervalley.org).