For nearly a half-century, Gerald Elovitz’s Building #19 stores gave penny-pinching New Englanders reason to smile as they poked through salvage and fire-damaged merchandise to find “good stuff... cheap.”
Mr. Elovitz, who was long known as Jerry Ellis, died Saturday at his home at the age of 90, according to his eldest daughter, Linda Elovitz Marshall, of Selkirk, N.Y. Marshall said her father died from vascular problems.
The co-founder of Building #19, which was established with his friend, the late Harry Andler, in the mid-1960s, was a warm, loving husband and father whose concern extended to the well-being of his employees, she said.
“He really cared about his employees, his customers, and the communities where the stores were located,” said Marshall. “He really did a good job at making people feel good.”
Mr. Elovitz was born in Providence and raised in Hartford. An Army veteran who had been stationed in Italy during World War II. He graduated from Trinity College in Hartford and married his high school sweetheart, Elaine Glaubinger, with whom he had three children.
The business that made Mr. Elovitz famous began when he was out of work and began selling smoke-damaged furniture with Andler in Hingham, said Marshall.
“It was the baby in the family,” she said of the store, where she would occasionally run a register. “We took so much pride in it.”
In 2013, the company entered bankruptcy and he closed the chain’s 10 stores. Mr. Elovitz told the Globe that year that the business had been on “a downward slope” for a decade: Internet sales took a bite out of brick-and-mortar retailers, plus salvage buyers could find merchandise online.
And there were fewer warehouse fires, thanks to safer construction.
“I certainly don’t feel good about it,” he said of the bankruptcy. “But you have to play the hand you’re dealt. What else can you do? But I’ve had a great run.”
For nearly 50 years before that, customers had flocked to Building #19, attracted by his sales and his black-and-white comic-book-style newspaper inserts, which featured Mr. Elovitz — as a cartoon caricature — who poked fun at his store, his wares, and his customers, but always with tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Mr. Elovitz wrote those fliers himself, with a little help from mail-order joke magazines, said Marshall.
The humor was evident inside his stores, where a customer might have been greeted with a sign reading “Free Delivery (to your car)” or “If you can’t find what you’re looking for, buy something else.”
Outside of his stores, Mr. Elovitz’s greatest pride and joy was his family, said Marshall.
When Marshall published her first children’s book, she said her father held the book and offered her a warm smile.
He told her, “Sweetheart, no one in this family has written a book before. I’m so glad you put ‘Elovitz’ in your name,” recalled Marshall. “He was sweet, understanding, and generous.”
Along with his wife, Elaine Elovitz of Dedham, and daughter Linda, he leaves another daughter, Judi Elovitz of Newton, a son, Bill Elovitz of Boston, nine grandchildren, and 19 great-grandchildren.
A private service for family members will be held Monday, and shiva will be observed afterward.John Hilliard can be reached at [email protected].