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Morris Sidewater, 98; clothing chain founder

"My strength is in recognizing my own weaknesses," Morris Sidewater told an Inquirer reporter in 1971, the year he took his Charming Shoppes chain public.

"My strength is in recognizing my own weaknesses," Morris Sidewater told an Inquirer reporter in 1971, the year he took his Charming Shoppes chain public.

"I'll listen to the smallest retailer or to anyone in our organization," Mr. Sidewater said. "I intend to have the pulse of this business, and so will my people."

On Thursday, June 2, Mr. Sidewater, 98, a founder of Charming Shoppes Inc., the women's apparel firm headquartered in Bensalem, died of a heart ailment at his home in Lower Merion. Mr. Sidewater retired as chief executive officer in 1988.

On the day of Mr. Sidewater's death, Charming Shoppes Inc. reported earnings of $26 million in the first quarter ending April 30, compared with $3.9 million in the same 2010 period.

The firm now operates three chains: Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug, and Catherines.

Anthony M. Romano, president and CEO of the company, said Friday: "Having started my retail career at Charming Shoppes, I had the honor and pleasure of working with Moe. To me, he was a shining example of a great CEO. With his tremendous leadership style, he had a profound impact on the Charming family."

Eric M. Specter, executive vice president and chief financial officer of the company, said: "Moe taught me the retail business from the bottom up, and I will forever regard him as my mentor. . . . Seventy-one years after the founding of Charming Shoppes, we remain grateful for his visionary leadership."

Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Sidewater graduated from West Philadelphia High School in 1930 and attended night classes at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

With his brother, Arthur, Mr. Sidewater opened his first store in 1940 at 4620 Frankford Ave., near Oxford Avenue.

The 1971 Inquirer article reported that early in his career, Mr. Sidewater, "who was an assistant buyer at the defunct Frank & Seder department store, also worked for the old Blatt's (now Lit Bros.) in Atlantic City."

The article said he also had been "a women's sportswear buyer for Associated Dry Goods Corp. in New York."

"He went into his own business . . . with his brother, Arthur . . . who was a former dancer with Red Skelton."

The December 1971 article reported that "Charming Shoppes, which went public in August 1971, had sales of $14 million in the previous fiscal year, with net earnings of $666,000.

Upon Mr. Sidewater's retirement in 1988, the firm had annual sales of $1 billion, according to biographical notes.

In 1994, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington honored Mr. Sidewater for his support.

Biographical notes reported that Mr. Sidewater was a board member of Brith Sholom House, the retirement community in Wynnefield; the former Beth Jacob School in Philadelphia; the former Dropsie College; the Jewish Federation of Philadelphia; and what is now the Epilepsy Foundation, Eastern Pennsylvania.

He was an advisory board member of the Center for Judaic Studies at Penn and of Penn's Wharton Entrepreneurial Programs.

He was a trustee of the Annenberg Research Institute.

In 1986 and 1987, the Wall Street Transcript, at that time a weekly newspaper, named Mr. Sidewater its retailer of the year.

Mr. Sidewater is survived by sons Samuel and Steven; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Evelyn, his wife of 73 years, died in 2009. His brother, Arthur, died in 1995.

The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Monday, June 6, at Goldsteins' Rosenberg's Raphael-Sacks, 6410 Broad St., with burial in Roosevelt Memorial Park.