Israel Himelhoch (Cropped from The Detroit Free Press Photo on “Personalities” Page, 05 February 2018)
Israel Himelhoch, the renowned Mr. I., died in 1973 at age 87. Because he was the last surviving brother, his long tenure, and the performance status the store achieved, he was by far the best-known. He had none of the empire-builder traits of his father and brothers, having first been a lawyer in New York before joining the store in Detroit in 1915, eight years after it opened. He made the most in his life as a Detroiter. He dined weekly at the Statler Hotel, lived in the Whittier Hotel on Detroit’s riverfront, and took regular morning swims, walks, and rode horseback on Belle Isle. He was a Wilsonian Democrat, a vivid contrast to his staunch Republican brothers. He was the only brother with a college education, having graduated from both Columbia University and Harvard Law School. A brilliant student, he financed his education with a series of scholarships and extra financial awards he received three years in a row. As part of one scholarship from the Curtis Publishing Company, he led a team of 50,000 magazine agents. He accomplished all this as a high school student on summer vacations, traveling the Midwest to major cities canvasing key office buildings throughout the territory.
He had both the equivalent theoretical and technical merchandising management knowledge of any top-rated Harvard Business School professor, but as a merchant, he was far removed from the skills of a Herman Himelhoch. His grasp of the sales promotion goals concept and its sophisticated implementation were light-years ahead of his three brothers combined, but his delegation of Mose Himelhoch’s financial and operational control to a Controller executive was disastrous.
Two of his strong convictions were counterproductive to the store’s growth: his obsession with downtown Detroit and riding the coattails of the J.L. Hudson Company. From 1954 until 1965, the most opportune time for expansion which coincided with the store’s peak dominance, he refused to expand without Hudson’s. When he did, Hudson’s chose an inferior location, and in the meantime Himelhoch’s™ lost market share.
His greatest asset was the tremendous respect and trust he universally commanded whether people agreed or disagreed with him. His greatest weakness was his gracious patience and generous tolerance in listening to others. Whoever got to him last, won, and that was always his wife! Chuck was only an infant when his mother, Lilian Goldstein, Israel’s first wife, died, but he recounts being told this was true then. He is “absolutely certain it was true in the case of my stepmother, who he brought into the store in the position of top decision-making management. She was an accomplished teaching and educational administrator, but never understood the retail business.”
Israel was a trustee of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Detroit Civic Theater, member of the Detroit Library Commission, the Economic Club of Detroit, director of the Detroit Shopping News, the Retail Merchants Association, the Better Business Bureau and the Central Business District Association. He served as president of Temple Beth El for five years and was appointed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Michigan Regional Labor Board during the Depression.
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