• Cinde Ingram

Fortunoff Backyard to return

Houston — Houston-based outdoor furniture retailer The Chair King has joined forces with former Fortunoff executives and a family member to open Fortunoff Backyard Stores in six markets on Long Island, N.Y., and in New Jersey this coming February.

The Chair King purchased controlling interest in Furniture Concepts LLC, which owns licensing rights to the Fortunoff brand for outdoor furniture and seasonal products in the United States and on the Internet.

Officials said the six stores will reopen on Long Island and New Jersey in the best of Fortunoff's former 18 locations, under management and leadership of former Fortunoff executives Marty Merkur and Bernard Sensale. Isidore Mayrock, a member of the Fortunoff family with 30 years of retail and real estate experience in the Tri-State area, also has invested in the new company and joined the board.

David Barish, president of The Chair King, will serve as chairman and president of the new company.

"We are excited to be able to bring back an iconic Fortunoff brand to the Tri-State area as well as to partner with these great operators Marty and Bernie," Barish said. He added that the deal could be done quickly "when you have an opportunity to double your business overnight and you have a strong executive team ready to come back."

The Chair King Casual Furniture Stores and Fortunoff Backyard Stores will operate separately but will be strategically aligned. The combined purchasing power of the two companies is expected to be in the $70 million range, making the alliance the largest specialty outdoor furniture powerhouse in the country.

Merkur said real estate was easily available for locating six stores in target areas. Recruiting Fortunoff's best store managers and salespeople to return also was a relatively easy task, given the economy, he said.

Having the entire Fortunoff data base is another asset. For 82 years of its 85-year history Fortunoff's was family-owned, and the iconic brand still holds customer loyalty, he said.

"If you were from the Tri-State area, you knew Fortunoff as a household name," Merkur said. "We ran it and think of it as a fashion business."
The outdoor furnishings part of Fortunoff helped the retailer grow after its start in 1922 as a single store in Brooklyn owned by Max and Clara Fortunoff. The Fortunoff and Mayrock families operated what became 20 stores in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New Jersey until selling the business in 2005 to two private equity firms.

Fortunoff filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 2008 and re-emerged when another firm bought it, but filed for bankruptcy again last February. Unable to find a buyer, the retailer held going-out-of-business sales last spring. In July, Fortunoff and Mayrock family members bought back the business name and all its intellectual property.

Cinde Ingram is editor-in-chief of Casual Living, a sister publication of Home Textiles Today.

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