Jay Hillel Plotkin, the co-founder of Houston menswear retailer SuitMart, passed away on October 10th after a short illness. He was 89.
Jay was born on August 15, 1931 in Chicago to Oscar and Pearl Plotkin. He was educated at the University of Michigan and Northwestern University where he graduated in 1952. During this period, Jay served the United States as a member of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services) where he participated in extracting political refugees fleeing Communist rule from Yugoslavia. After graduation, he met and married the love of his life Katheryn (“Katy”) Rae Grossman of Houston, Texas after meeting her on a double date. While Jay’s intentions were to work for his family’s Chicago-based manufacturing business, the realities of brutal Midwest winters sent him and Katy off to Houston and a new start. It was in Houston that Jay would join his wife’s family as an executive in their chain of junior department stores. For the next six decades, Jay distinguished himself as a force in the industry, ultimately establishing SuitMart in 1992 with his long-time friend and partner Gary Dante.
Jay’s community service was as varied and committed as his devotion to family and friends. He was past president of the Houston Retail Merchants Association, president of Jewish Family Services and the Houston chapter of the American Red Cross.
Says his family, “Jay was the real deal. He never pretended to be anyone other than the person he was: thoughtful, funny, devoted, and curious. Jay loved to play golf and watch football. He knew the lyrics to every Big 10 fight song. His love of travel was legendary as was his annual Super Bowl poker game surrounded by lifelong friends and family. His nephews remember him as always willing to rise in the middle of the night to grill steaks and mix drinks when they came hitchhiking through Houston unannounced on their cross-country travels from New England. Jay never knew a stranger. Everyone was worthy of his attention and care. His long life was abundant with relationships that extended decades and included people from all backgrounds.”
Says close friend and business partner Gary Dante, “I knew Jay for 45 years. He was smart, tough, honest, disciplined, a great husband, father, and friend. I will miss his sense of humor and that infectious laugh. I will also miss our 30 years of having lunch together almost every day. RIP my friend.” A SuitMart tribute for associates and customers notes that “Jay will be remembered for the SuitMart commercials – running track in a suit, playing football in a suit, and the most memorable one of all–riding an elephant in a suit. Then ending every commercial with the fist bump that became SuitMart’s signature.”
Says fellow menswear merchant Dana Katz from Miltons in Massachusetts, “I had the pleasure of joining Jay with Gary for dinners and lunches at many of the tradeshows. I always enjoyed Jay’s sense of style, his wonderful stories, and his entrepreneurial spirit. When Gary shared with me the football TV spots they made in the Astrodome, I loved watching the energy and good nature that Jay brought to his business and it continued even up until the last few months with his Facebook Live appearances. Jay was a class act, a great partner with Gary and he will be sorely missed.”
From Anthony DiGirolamo at The Garage in Brooklyn, “In life, we are often judged by the company we keep: Jay’s 30-year partnership with Gary Dante speaks volumes about his character. He was such a kind-hearted person who could disarm anyone with his smile. What’s more, Jay was completely genuine and had a positive effect on everyone he touched. Rest in peace, my friend.”
Patrick Sanger from Stacy Adams spoke to MR with much emotion. “This is a tough one for me: Jay was a great friend, a father figure at times. I worked with him for about 18 years and he stood out from other retail clients: always professional, always sharing stories, always that great laugh! A cute aside: he had a dog named Patrick and while I have no evidence that he named the dog for me, I like to think that he did. Jay loved golf (he always graciously hosted), loved good cigars (that I supplied) that we’d smoke on his porch, and loved the company of genuine people. He was a steward of decency, professionalism, and fairness. He was always the sharpest dresser around. But most of all, his infectious laugh brought so much joy to those around him. I once asked him during a golf game if he ever scored a hole-in-one, and he responded that he hadn’t. I told him that he’d better hurry up; I can still hear his laughter… And even without a hole-in-one, his passing has left a hole in the hearts of all who knew him.”
Jay is predeceased by his wife Katy (Grossman), his brother Samuel and sister Harriet. He is survived by his children Carolyn (Keith Husbands) and Jay Jr. (Christy), and his grandchildren Jay III and Lucy. Jay leaves behind many nieces and nephews who, according to family, “counted him as their favorite adult in the room on any given day. The devotion of his longtime friend and caregiver Rosemary (Rosie) Johnson was a comfort and inspiration to Jay and his family for decades.”
The family notes that due to the ongoing national health crisis, graveside funeral services will be restricted to immediate family. A memorial service for extended family and friends will be announced at the appropriate time.
May the memory of this loving, caring, fun-filled man be a blessing to all who knew him.