WILKES-BARRE — When the conversation turns to downtown revitalization, there is one name that always comes to the forefront.
“Did you Boscov today?”
That simple, yet effective slogan has been around for decades. The five-floor department store with all the bargains and the loyal, friendly sales staff and the management/ownership that customers are on a first-name basis with, has been the anchor in downtown Wilkes-Barre for generations.
“Put simply, in downtown Wilkes-Barre, Boscov’s has become synonymous with the word ‘shopping,’” said Larry Newman, executive director at Diamond City partnership. “Boscov’s is our downtown retail anchor, serving everyone from center city workers shopping on their lunch hour to customers from throughout the Wyoming Valley for whom it is a retail destination.”
So successful has Boscov’s been, 2017 was a record year for sales for the 46-store chain.
Jim Boscov, the president/CEO of the family-owned business, looked back on 2017 with great pride. Boscov’s retail success is a sharp contrast to what has been going on in the world of large department store chains — many having closed numerous stores or filed for bankruptcy.
But not Boscov’s. Jim Boscov said a new store opened in October 2017, and another new store will open in October of this year in Connecticut, bringing the total to 47 Boscov’s.
And as successful as Boscov’s has been, 2017 began on an extremely sad note — Albert Boscov died on Feb. 10, 2017, at the age of 87. Albert’s leadership, based on bringing quality merchandise at reasonable prices to customers, is the foundation that the business is built on and continues today. Add to that the loyal customers and workers and extensive community service, and you see why the answer to “Did you Boscov today?” is almost always “yes.”
The survey shows
Newman said 69 percent of all respondents to the Diamond City Partnership’s most recent online community survey reported that they are regular or occasional customers of the city’s downtown Boscov’s. In fact, Newman said, more survey respondents said that they were regularly shopping at Boscov’s than at the Wyoming Valley Mall.
“In this day and age, that really says something about the efforts of Boscov’s management and associates,” Newman said.
Downtowners patronize Boscov’s even more heavily — according to the same survey, 80 percent of downtown workers and 70 percent of downtown residents are shopping at Boscov’s regularly or occasionally.
“It’s easy to take Boscov’s presence on South Main Street for granted, until you remember that most American cities once had big department stores anchoring their Main Streets, and that almost none of those stores remain today,” Newman said. “In fact, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched people who are here on business make a point of stopping by Boscov’s while they’re in town simply because of the opportunity to experience a traditional full-service downtown department store, with five floors connected by escalators, a restaurant and a candy counter. It’s hard to appreciate how rare that has become.”
Core values matter
Jim Boscov said his uncle instilled all the core values in his family and workers, and they are adhered to each and every day.
“We have seen a record increase in our sales,” Boscov said. “Most retailers are not doing that. And that sales increase is before our e-commerce numbers are added in — it’s just for brick and mortar sales — and that is impressive and we are proud of that.”
Boscov said the key to success is cultivating and embellishing their relationships and partnerships with vendors and that is passed on to customers.
“People give the company its personality,” Boscov said. “It’s all about people — loyal and wonderful workers and customers.”
Boscov said many Boscov’s employees know their customers by name and they often talk about family and other issues in their lives. That personal touch, Boscov said, is one of the main components to Boscov’s approach to good business.
Boscov said there are no immediate plans to change anything at the Wilkes-Barre store. He aid the recent million dollar-plus renovation project was received well by customers and employees.
“Our goal is to maintain our business in Wilkes-Barre,” Boscov said. “If you really want to be that local family business, you have to be a part of the community for real not pretend and we do that.”
Serving the needs of the community is another important part of Boscov’s corporate mission.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Boscov said. “Is it good for business? Sure it is, but it’s also the right thing to do.”
Boscov said he likes what he has seen in the downtown in recent years — more residents, more restaurants, a bigger presence of Wilkes University and King’s College, the success of the F.M. Kirby Center, Movies 14 and Barnes and Noble and more.
“All of that is so incredibly healthy for the downtown,” Boscov said. “There has been a real resurgence, and that is very exciting. We certainly want to be a part of it and supportive of it.”
Boscov said a lot of good work has been done improving the downtown.
“The good news is you’ve got people very involved who have made a difference and will continue to make a difference,” Boscov said. “I always look forward to spending time up there and hope to spend more time there.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.