Charles Himelhoch - 3rd Generation President of Himelhoch’s®
Charles (Chuck) Himelhoch - From the Birmingham Community House
Charles Himelhoch (Chuck), called “Mr. Charles” by his team (Aug. 19, 1919-Dec. 7, 2020), graduated from Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. He began working at Himelhoch’s as a stock boy after four years of service in the United States Army. Chuck advanced into leadership after serving virtually in every capacity, albeit salesperson, coat buyer, merchandise manager, and other positions vital to a deep understanding the business. Reflecting back to his experience as coat buyer, he said “We used to know a lot more than they do today about the merchandise. A heck of a lot more pure wools, cottons, and silks were used. There weren’t so many variations of manmade fabrics. We even knew the labor setup for each garment” (White, Sandra, January 30, 1977, The Detroit Free Press, p. 1D).
Chuck was known as “a man of ideas” (Detroit Free Press, January 2, 1967, p. 14). For example, when the Northland store branch added its second level, Chuck implemented the “Taste Level” strategy that eventually was executed throughout the chain. Merchandise purchased by buyers from numerous departments was placed in one area of the store and sold by a shared salesforce. A divergence from the practices of other department stores and women’s specialty stores, “Taste Level” provided agility that was comparable to the advantage enjoyed by smaller specialty boutiques.
No matter how much fashions evolved over the years, Chuck told reporter Frank Angelo of the Detroit Free Press in 1975 that “We’re still operating pretty much as we’ve always operated the family business” (Angelo, Frank, September 10, 1975, Detroit Free Press, p. 9). Although Wolf Himelhoch would have found layering, tonality, and denim jumpsuits startling, the family culture and its core operational procedures never changed. Chuck continues as CEO Emeritus of Himelhoch’s LLC, in which he and his wife Isabel's son and daughter, Chip and Carol, continue family traditions.
Chuck was a leader in retail trade organizations, and was director of the Better Business Bureau, Detroit Community Trust, the Central Business District of Detroit, and the Retail Merchants Association of Detroit. He was active at Meadowbrook Theater, The Anthony Wayne Society of Wayne State University, Rotary International, the Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit Area Council of Boy Scouts of America, and belonged to Franklin Hills Country Club, the Standard Club, and the Bloomfield Open Hunt Club, where he became a “life member.” Nationally, he was Chairman of the Ready-To-Wear Committee, and a member of Vendor Relations Committee of the National Retail Merchants Association, and treasurer of the SSA - Specialty Stores of America.
After 1979, he served as Adjunct Professor of Retail Management within the marketing departments of Wayne State University, Oakland University, Central Michigan University, and Eastern Michigan University. He also formed his own consulting and research firm, Himelhoch Retail Research Specialists, and became Assistant to the President of Schnieder’s Sporting Goods Stores.
He was active in St. Dunstan’s Guild of Cranbrook and the Birmingham Village Players and was president of the Birmingham Tennis Club. He belonged to Temple Beth El, and later the Birmingham Temple. Presently, at age 99, he and his son, Chip, belong to Shema Israel, a Messianic-Jewish synagogue in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. His wife, Isabel Levy Himelhoch (see below) not only joined the family when they married in 1955, she also became an integral part of the business.
Isabel, known to employees as “Mrs. Charles,” passed away at age 85 in February 2018. She served as better dress buyer and fashion coordinator and drew upon her retail management experience at Bergdorf Goodman in New York. She had a keen ability to forecast fashion trends. She said she always watched the children’s fashion market to forecast what women’s wear would adopt in the upcoming seasons. And she was always right! Frank Angelo, former reporter for the Detroit Free Press, covered a two-day meeting at the Holiday Inn, at which she educated 300 employees on up-coming fashion trends. At a breakfast meeting, she was “the commentator, and an enthusiastic and knowledgeable one at that, while Chuck hovered in the sidelines, ready to jump in to give a hand to push around racks of clothes or make sure a model appeared on time” (Angelo, Frank, September 10, 1975, Detroit Free Press, p. 9). In that meeting, Isabel explained to employees, in language that encapsulated fashion of the time, “ We’re in a fashion cycle that makes sense -The keywords are classic, practical, quality, and comfortable.”
Isabel was also a patron of the arts. She used to write music for Mitch Miller at Columbia Records, New York, for the show, “Sing Along with Mitch.” She studied music composition with Leonard Bernstein as a teenager, earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music composition at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, and Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, respectively. She performed in many Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, and studied voice for nine years, including four years at the New England Conservatory of Music and with Frederick Jegel of the Metropolitan Opera. In Michigan, she acted, directed, and directed music for countless productions at St. Dunston’s, Cranbrook, the Birmingham Theater, and the Pinkney Players. She conceptualized and founded “Himelhoch’s™ Needle Arts Gallery,”a department at the Northland and Birmingham, Michigan, branch stores. Her talent at needlework was of art exhibition quality. Her prolific production of needle arts could fill a museum, and included a family portrait, three-dimensional wall hangings, geometric designs, and vivid images of jungle animals.
Isabel is perhaps best remembered playing the piano, surrounded by friends and family, singing popular songs from musicals. Carol, her daughter, says her favorite photo, shared below, captures Isabel’s joy in sharing her enormous musical talent with others.
Photo of Isabel Himelhoch in her College Years, Seated Center at the Piano - ©Himelhoch’s LLC
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