Gerald "Gerry" Gushner, 86, a former owner of Boyds, the Philadelphia clothing store that has been in his family for 78 years and three generations, died Saturday at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital of respiratory complications.
Mr. Gushner, whose father, Alexander Gushner, founded Boyds in 1938, joined the family business after graduating Pennsylvania State University in 1952. He started in sales and by the mid-1960s was Boyds' president, co-owner, and guiding spirit.
"Boyds was his passion," said Mr. Gushner's son, Kent Gushner, who grew up working in the store and currently co-owns it with his two brothers-in-law. "My sisters and I used to joke that Boyds was my father's fourth child. Sometimes, we'd kid him that it was really his first child. He came to work every day until near the end. He was at the forefront of spearheading changes and making Boyds an iconic Philadelphia store."
The changes that Mr. Gushner instituted were dramatic, his son said. Boyds was a shop for modestly priced men's clothing on Market Street near 12th when Mr. Gushner decided to start featuring European designer suits in the 1970s. A bold move for the times, it was the beginning of Boyds' retail transformation.
"We built a second floor and marketed it as 'The Penthouse' for high-end designer suits," Kent Gushner said. "We put in a glass elevator. We instituted valet parking. My dad took a lot of pride in the evolution of the business."
Twenty-five years ago, Mr. Gushner moved Boyds to Chestnut Street near 18th, added women's fashions, and created its current incarnation as an upscale store for men and women.
"He was a trailblazer," his son said. "He had a knack for inspiring and motivating me to do well and learn all he had to offer. He was never the kind of guy who had a problem handing authority over to me or to the next generation. He was the most wonderful mentor that a son could ever have."
Cindy Yaffe said her father loved home-cooked meals, home-team sports - especially the 76ers - and most of all his hometown, and living in Rittenhouse Square.
She said Boyds television commercials in the '70s and '80s featured the tag line "Come back to Philadelphia."
"It was an era when people were abandoning the city and stores were abandoning the city," Kent Gushner said. "My father stayed true to his instincts of staying in the city. He believed in the city, and his instincts proved to be right."
Mr. Gushner also believed in keeping his core salesmen. When Howard Eisenberg was thinking about leaving for a job with a competitor in the 1970s, Mr. Gushner gave him an equity stake in Boyds and a raise. Eisenberg, who was featured in an Inquirer profile, retired from Boyds in 2013 after a 48-year career.
In addition to his son and daughter, Mr. Gushner, is survived by another daughter, Lisa Glass; eight grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. His wife of 60 years, Nadine Gushner, died in 2012.
Relatives and friends are invited to an interment on Monday, Dec. 19, at 11 a.m., at Haym Salomon Memorial Park in Frazier, with services to follow at 1 p.m. at Congregation Rodeph Shalom, 615 N. Broad St., Philadelphia.
The family will remain at Congregation Rodeph Shalom following services until 8 p.m. to receive well-wishers. Memorial contributions can be made to the Abramson Cancer Center to help support Dr. Kevin Fox's work on breast cancer. Checks should be made out to "Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania" and mailed to Penn Medicine Development, Abramson Cancer Center, 3535 Market St., Suite 750, Philadelphia 19104.