News & Views from 465 California Street

Ode to Mervyn’s

Clint Reilly

The death of a business rarely evokes emotion these days. “Good riddance” is a frequent reaction. “Don’t let the door hit your fanny on the way out,” is another popular refrain.

But when Mervyn’s – a Bay Area retail institution – declared bankruptcy in July and announced a liquidation sale on October 15, many were saddened.

Of course, the company has been hurt by the same stormy economic picture that all retailers are now facing. But Mervyn’s is also an example of how unscrupulous financial engineers loot good companies and abandon them to be picked over by buzzards as they roll over and die.

When I was a young boy in the 1950s, my family lived in Washington Manor – a small enclave of postwar homes near San Lorenzo’s Arroyo High School.

I can still remember the day my mother took me to Mervyn’s in the San Lorenzo Village Shopping Center to purchase my first pair of black-and-white Converse high tops. It was the first of many trips to the friendly local department store during my childhood.

Mervin Morris began in 1949 with this single store in San Lorenzo and built it into a chain he ultimately sold in 1977 to Dayton Hudson, (now the Target Corporation, one of the nation’s iconic retail brands).

Opening branches from Hayward to Daly City, Walnut Creek to San Jose, and from Vallejo to Marin, Morris developed the prototype of the modern department store chain serving working class families.

Decades later, my wife Janet worked for Mervyn’s before leaving after the birth of our second daughter. She created a program called the “Community Closet,” which outfitted women on welfare with free work-appropriate clothing.

The Community Closet was a 72-foot big-rig truck that had been converted into a miniature showroom. For six years, this Mervyn’s on wheels moved from city to city giving away thousands of beautiful new ensembles.

At its height, the Mervyn’s chain included 300 stores in 16 states with 33,000 employees and annual sales of $4 billion. The company stayed true to its Bay Area roots by hiring Joe Montana and Kristi Yamaguchi – local celebrities with national appeal – as spokespeople.

In 2004, Target Corporation sold Mervyn’s to a private equity partnership. That was the beginning of the end. A November 22, 2008 Wall Street Journal story chronicles the downward spiral:

Cerberus Capital Management LP and a group of private equity investors bought Mervyn’s from Target Corporation in 2004 for $1.25 billion. The investor group, which structured the buyout as two separate purchases – one for retail operations and one for the chains valuable real estate holdings, has earned more than $250 million in profits…The Mervyn’s store chain, by contrast, is in liquidation…”

By stripping out Mervyn’s valuable real estate, selling premium parcels and then leasing its own buildings back to the store at exorbitant rates, Cerberus guaranteed a big profit for itself and bankruptcy for Mervyn’s.

Thousands of long-term employees have been left without jobs or severance benefits. Even vacation pay has been withheld by the bankruptcy court.

Asked by KGO television how he felt about Mervyn’s liquidation, the company’s 88-year-old founder didn’t hide his disappointment. “Have you ever had anyone punch you really hard in the stomach?” Morris asked. “That’s the way I felt.”

Thirty-five-year Mervyn’s veteran Charlene Glafke summed up the sentiments of the 18,000 employees who lost their jobs. “I gave my life to Mervyn’s,” she told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s heartbreaking.”

Mervyn’s death highlights the predatory practices of many vulture investors. Mervyn’s has filed a lawsuit accusing its private equity owners of looting the chain which, of course, the financiers loudly deny.

As the final sale of Mervyn’s last merchandise winds down, a proud company and thousands of dedicated workers join their customers in honoring a store that outfitted generations of Bay Area families.

But we will also remember the hard times and financial perfidy that bankrupted it.

Comments (49)

  • I enjoyed reading Clint Reilly’s column, Ode to Mervyn’s. I, too, grew up in San Lorenzo and remember when Mervyn’s first new store was built in an empty lot across from his original store. My father owned the launderette that was three stores down from the new Mervyn’s. It was a great store and seemed to have higher quality merchandise than any store around there. Later when the company decided to expand, my father’s business was bought by Mervyn’s. I feel sad about the demise of Mervyn’s so I can only imagine how Mervin Morris must feel. I’m sure that he felt that what he did when he sold the company was in his best interests, but never expected that Mervyn’s would no longer be around. Unfortunately, it’s a sign of the times right now.


    Posted by: Helen | December 2nd, 2008 at 10:35 am

  • Clint, I enjoyed your piece on Mervyn’s. My Father worked with Merv for many years as the two of them built the chain from a small 1500 sq ft store to what was at the time a wonderful chain. Many of my younger years were spent in the backroom of the store. My Dad was responsible for buying for every department back then, and hired his first buyer, Mr. Cohen, ( later went on to run Trader Joe’s), and Jack Kilmartin as his first assistant.The initial growth years were unbelievable. the first growth took them not to additional towns, but from the side street,(Grutmans took their original site), to the longer strip, where almost every year they knocked the wall down and expanded the store until they came to the bowling alley at the end..Remember that? I spent many an hour listening to Merv and my Dad fret over the opening of Macy’s at BayFair and how it would effect them. I also had the opportunity to hear so many chains talk about moving into the bay Area to destroy Mervyn’s..remember Treasury Stores ? I can remember my Dad creating GirAnimals, and getting frustrated trying to read the sports page while eating breakfast. to accomplish this important morning ritual, he use to fold it up..this readable size became the basis for creating the tabloid insert my DAD started in the early 1960′s. Inserted it on Mondays because the paper was empty. Something which today every retailer still uses today.My Father parted ways in the mid 60′s. Merv helped him start his own chain, which the two of us converted to a very successful chain catering to Senior Women, called the Gold Hanger. My Father passed away last year, but would not have been surprised to see the chain’s demise. I have stayed in touch over the years with Merv, and always felt his calling would have been as Governor of California. Thank you for your article, unfortunately the day of the true merchant will never again be seen.

    Posted by: Ron | December 2nd, 2008 at 10:44 am

  • Thank you very much for your article it touch the hearts of many of us that are still working at Mervyns to the very sad end. Your article summed up how many of us feel here at Merrvyn’s. Thanks again for a beautifully written article. Joellen

    Posted by: joellen bell | December 2nd, 2008 at 12:40 pm

  • Clint,

    Your story about the fall of Mervyn’s brought back a ton of memories. With my parents and sister we moved to San Lorenzo into a home on Via San Juan about 1950. I attended David E. Martin and Arroyo High, class of ’61. When I was about 8 or 9 years old my mother would give me a note saying it was OK to charge a new shirt/pair of shoes or whatever at Mervyn’s. Mr. Mervyn Morris would check our account on his 3×5 index cards and I soon would be on my way with my purchase. Two other interesting stories about the early days of Mervyn’s. When he was building the new 2 story building across the street from the original store he had a small elevator installed in the employee area for his main bookkeeper who was in a wheelchair. Sorry I can’t remember her name. This was long before any state or federal laws required such action. He also purchased a house behind the new store and had in remodeled into an employee lunch and break area. Access was via a gate on the alley that separated the back yard of the house and the store. Both of these actions speak loudly as to the kind of person he was. Growing up in San Lorenzo we were always proud to say that Mervyn’s had started in our town. I too as sad to see it gone. Gary

    Posted by: Gary | December 2nd, 2008 at 1:07 pm

  • Dear Mr. Reilly,

    Several times I’ve occasioned upon your column, in Marin IJ. My hat is off to you, re correct feelings you portray.

    Mervyns is another example of inappropriate / unnecessary institutional squander; expedited toward excessive financial betterme nt of a few, while impinging upon the financial wellbeing of many. This financial predicament’s too often similar occurrences are one BIG down fall of capitalism that has little on “the books” to thwart its ongoing occurrences. Similar forms of greed (in its many guises ) can be primarily blamed for the current global financial crisis. “The few ” (percentage wise) super rich too often attain their “unnecessary heights of wealt h” by meticulously and maliciously taking advantage of “ the many”. If purveyors of said squander and greed continue to have nothing to answer for their self effacing aggrandizements then it appears the cycle will continue, unabated . However, there is a way in which committees (Congress… etc… .) could pass laws that curtail or nearly completely remove opportunity for these onerous occurrences. The drafting and passage of such laws is not beyond the scope of human intelligence – it ’s not rocket science. Speed limits are placed and enforced on roads to curtail excesses of the few and to protect the many. Limiting financial laws could also be put into effect that curtail the aggressively greedy few and protect the passively living many.



    Posted by: Art | December 2nd, 2008 at 2:23 pm

  • I worked for Mervyn’s (old Antioch store) for 10 years between 1989 and 1999 when Dayton-Hudson owned it. I helped remodel it in 1989 when the old County East Mall changed from the out door mall to the current closed in mall (now Sommersville Towne Centre). During my tenure there I had the opportunity of meeting Mervin Morris as he came to the store one day. I remember when they did the Joe Montana promo. They put a freeze on wages for 3 or 4 years so they could pay Joe. But that wasn’t near as bad as when the “buzzards” took over. By that time I was gone but my sister was still there. She had 25 years with Mervyn’s. Towards the end of her tenure there they had stripped all of their benefits including sick time. Well, I finally talked her into quitting and she is happy with the Antioch Unified School District now. As for me, I went into the mortgage business where I was for 9 years before getting laid off in Jan. 2008. Now I am still looking for a job.
    But I just had to comment after reading “Ode to Mervyn’s”…Yes, it is very sad. I gave alot of blood, sweat and tears into that place.

    Posted by: Ken Anderson | December 2nd, 2008 at 2:37 pm

  • I went to work for Mervyn’s in their corporate offices when my youngest daughter graduated from Arroyo High School. It was to be one of the best moves I made in my life other than the marrying the nicest most loving man I could have ever met.
    I was a stay at home mom of two great kids and had only worked part time jobs that didn’t interfere with my PTA duties at the kids schools. I held a few jobs prior to getting married and was thrilled to be hired by Mervyn’s as Christmas help in September of 1983. I loved the people I worked with who became my good friends and eventually moved from my job in New Accounts to Loss Prevention and then to Benefits and then to Human Resources and finished my 23 year career with Mervyn’s as the Administrative Assistant to Laura Meddaugh who was the Controller. I left the company in 2004 after being offered a great severance package. I knew the company was in trouble but it broke my heart to see Mervyn’s close all it’s warehouses and stores. My heart breaks for the thousands of people who were affected by job loss and losing benefits as well as vacation pay. What a loss!
    Janet George

    Posted by: Janet George | December 2nd, 2008 at 2:57 pm

  • Corporate greed ruins another institution and affects thousands of workers and familites that made it profitable. There out to be a law!!!

    Posted by: Julia Quinn | December 2nd, 2008 at 4:31 pm

  • Mervyn’s did it to them selves. I used to shop there many years ago. Then they threw out customer service when they took the check out stands out of every department.
    You could never find anyone to help you or that new anything about a department.

    I am sorry it happened but customer service is important to the public.

    Posted by: Bonnie | December 2nd, 2008 at 5:31 pm

  • I hope and pray those “people” never sleep again. They have no idea the magnitude of destruction they’ve left behind. It’s people like them that are tearing this country down….and the world. They’re no better than thugs in suits. They should be in prison! But alas, God knows what they did and it is recorded.

    Posted by: Kathy Witherell | December 2nd, 2008 at 5:58 pm

  • Mervyn’s opened up a new store in Newark, CA on July 25, 2008 to considerable fanfare. Perhaps it was more of a store relocation from their previous spot at nearby Newpark Mall — right across the street — but the store was built new with 81,250 sq ft of space. None of this made any sense…to move 4/10ths of a mile away and to a much worse location, with NOTHING else in the vicinty to attract shoppers was certain folly. That area north of Mowry has always been an unattractive and undesirable location given how many stores over the years have closed down or moved away from there. So now, about 5 months later, the store is destined to close and Mervyn’s is bankrupt. I wonder if this also was part of “vulture investor” Cerberus Capital Mgmt’s grand plan to scoop up more real estate holdings before blowing apart Mervyn’s. Good luck to Mervyn’s on their lawsuit against the greedy private equity owners, but that will do nothing now for the 18,000 employees losing their jobs in the midst of a recession.

    Posted by: Brad Baldwin | December 2nd, 2008 at 6:01 pm

  • Dear Mr. Reilly,

    I just finished reading you article in the CC Times re the recent demise of Mervyn’s.

    While it sounds as though you had some “sentimental” and “familial” attachments to Mervyn’s, and I can appreciate and understand that, at the end of the day it wasn’t a very “good” store. I’ve walked into Mervyn’s over the years and usually walked immediately out. From the layout to the service to the clothes, it simply had no appeal. And with the increased competition from WalMart, K-Mart, Kohls, Ross, et al., the writing of its demise has probably been on the wall for a long time. And I’m sure investors saw that. Rather than condemning them as “vultures” and “predators” you’d be better served, as would your readers, to analyze it objectively. Using such firebrand words may bring you and your readers some degree of satisfaction, however it does not serve the pursuit of intellectual and rigorous honesty.

    With the bloated retail, banking, restaurant, etc. industries you should expect to see more businesses “going under”. And it has less to do with “predators” and more to do with poor planning and business practices. It’s “incompetence”, not “evil”, that we should be addressing.


    B. Vickery
    Concord, California

    Posted by: Vickery | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:31 pm

  • Clint:

    I enjoyed reading your article but unfortunately I feel there are many others who will follow the same fate as Mervyn’s whether larger or faller. Greed/Mistrust has finally hit this economy good as we see what has happened and what will continue to happen with all various businesses . We are in a Recession but the worst has not reared its ugly head.

    Such companies as Mervyns I too have had a fond relationship as my wife and I have shopped there for years. Soon, just history.

    Best Regards,


    Posted by: Hondo | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:32 pm

  • Clint –

    As a regular reader of your article in the Hayward Daily Review, I want you to know that your message today hit straight to the point. As a long-time vendor to Mervyn’s as well as having several friends who spent nearly all their careers there, I too share the sentiment that being Cerbus Capital being allowed to rape this stalwart to the community for its real estate is wrong. Further, I think that the BK Courts should go after the principals of Cerbus Capital for restitution of their gains to go and pay those directly affected by the demise of Mervyns’s. Fortunately, our company was not a creditor of Mervyn’s at the time of its filing.

    As a volunteer and co-founder of the Mervyn’s Child Spree, I had worked with your wife Janet and her staff over the years and found that those folks truly had the spirit and sense of fair play that Mervin Morris instilled in him. Like you, I too remember my mom taking me to the San Lorenzo store, only for me it was to buy my Boy Scout uniform and supplies.

    A sad state of affairs indeed, and one that will affect not just those displaced employees but literally hundreds of thousands of people that Mervyn’s supported as part of their 5% Giveback Programs to the communities that they serve.



    Posted by: Brian | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:34 pm

  • Thanks for publishing your thoughtful essay on the passing
    of Mervyn’s. My family will never forget the “local hero”
    scholarship that Mervyn’s gave our daughter, or the awards ceremony
    at the Oakland Museum that they hosted for the many recipients.
    Unlike the private equity vultures who despoiled it, Mervyn’s was a
    company that understood and honored the need to give back to its
    community. From Business Week, I see that Sun Capital and
    Lubert-Adler were involved along with Cerberus in the pillaging. May
    they all share in the karma.

    Posted by: Ring | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:34 pm

  • So what caused Cerberus Capital Management LP to commit its destructive act? One could blame it all on greed, but that wouldn’t be the whole story.

    There’s an all-too-accepted mind set floating around that goes something like: “The aim of the free market is to enrich practitioners in accordance with their skill and diligence. Money flows toward strength. As I enrich myself, I help the economy and that helps everyone. Therefore, the more money I make, the better and more important person I am”.

    Too many people, rich and poor alike, believe this.

    One doesn’t have to be a socialist to recognize the folly of allowing corporations to be become too big to fail. Nor does one have to be a genius to recognize the folly of putting jobs for Americans at the bottom of the priority pile.

    G. Cauthen,

    Posted by: Cauthen | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:35 pm

  • Hello Mr. Reilly, I always enjoy reading your columns but I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed your remarks about the closing of Mervyns in the Contra Costa Times today! Your remarks brought back very specific memories of my childhood in San Leandro.

    I also am a child of the 50s (born 1953) and grew up in the Bonaire neighborhood of San Leandro and attended St. Felicitas elementary school in Washington Manor. With a family of 7 (5 daughters) we did not do a lot of shopping (new shoes and dresses twice a year at Xmas and Easter, school uniforms the rest of the time, hand-me-down coats and sweaters). However, every shopping experience we did have took place at Mervyns in San Lorenzo. It was always a treat to go there and that is why, I think, it remains such an icon in our experiences. Thank you for dusting off those memories and paying tribute to them!

    Best regards,

    Karen Arntzen
    California Chapter Services Coordinator
    Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence

    Posted by: Karen | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:36 pm

  • Enjoyed your column about the demise of Mervyn’s. I had the pleasure of working for this company for 19 years. But this was a repeat of what happened to another company I worked for, also 19 years — Joseph Magnin. During the 80′s, numerous retailers were purchased and bankrupted by investors in leveraged buyouts. The saddest result is the absence of Fashion. Today, whether cheap or expensive, the clothes look the same. There is a real lack of creative fashion for the masses.

    Deloise B.
    Oakland, CA

    Posted by: Deloise | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:37 pm

  • I also, as a kid, used to go to the original Mervyn’s store in San Lorenzo. Thus unabashed greed that I already knew about makes me sick all over. What are we becoming as a few greedy people leave a path of destruction that destroys the lives of people? I hate to think that perhaps I am living in the past but those original San Lorenzo days are looking pretty good. Possibly this recession (asuming we make it through) is perhaps one of the best things that could happen to us!

    Posted by: Keith M. | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:37 pm

  • Your article well-done and richly deserved. My wife and I were beginning teachers in 1952 in Hayward(she) and I in San Lorenzo. Mervyn Morris sponsored a “welcome luncheon” for new SLOR teachers for many years. And, in the ’60,s gave my district money to develop and implement a “Drug Abuse Prevention program on a condition of anonymity. My wife and I shopped often at his store.

    Perhaps you might remember Principals at W.Manor: Bob Vejby and David Horn.

    Posted by: B Schott | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:39 pm

  • As a Mervyn’s stockboy in1967 when the south San Jose store was opened,I remember Mr. Morris well. We worked there while the store was under construction,and enjoyed it when Mr. Morris arrived on Sunday often with the whole family,with sandwiches and sodas for all the stockboys.He really built the company store by store and gave large amounts of funds to charities all over the bay area.Some of the worst greed happens during recessions and we must remember to make our government work to protect the potential victims.

    Jim Beall
    Assemblymember 24th district San Jose

    Posted by: Jim Beall | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:40 pm

  • Hi Clint,

    First of all I truly enjoy reading your articles.

    I was raised in Washington Manor attending Lewelling, Washington Manor and Marina High School.
    In seventh grade, my math teacher, Mr.Luden worked at Mervyn’s in San Lorenzo. It was always quite memorable to purchase your Levi’s from your math teacher. Seeing him on a different stage really opened my eyes to the flexibility in the work place. Today I provide consulting work to various companies working when I want. I can trace at least some of my successes back to Mervyn’s.

    Since you were from the Manor, have you seen the one man play “Not a Genuine Black Man” ? It is very interesting as the play that takes place in Washington Manor. I highly recommend it.

    Keep up the good writing. It’s one of the last reasons I am subscribing to a paper.


    T. Hodge

    Posted by: T.Hodge | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:40 pm

  • Message to Mr. Clint Reilly

    We need to recognize that the same Cerberus that you are referring to in today’s Contra Costa Times, Ode to Mervyn’s, all but owns Chrysler that is going to have hat in hand this week before Congress, trying to obtain a bailout/bridge/funding to carry them (Cerberus) thru the same conditions effected with Mervyns?

    Please, if you have not already done so, email your Mervyn’s article to our Bay Area Congressional Team, especially Ellen Tauscher.

    Why, I have asked others, should we be bailing out a “…private equity partnership…”, which has a different interest (see Mervyns) than does Ford?

    Thank you for your column.

    W. Tolman

    Posted by: W. Tolman | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:41 pm

  • Hi Clint,

    We enjoyed your commentary regarding Mervyn’s, but one thing bothers us. Why did Mr. Morris sell his company in the first place? It was hugely successful and profitable and he was still a relatively young man. Did he need the money or did he just get greedy?
    Like you, we find the closing of Mervyn’s very disturbing. We started shopping there when we moved to Newark in 1969 when they still had their store at The Hub in Fremont. Unbelievably, they closed their store in NewPark Mall and built a brand new building across the street from there just this past August! Cerberus Capital Management ruined a good company and many lives.

    Ron & Sherry

    Posted by: Ron & Sherry | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:43 pm

  • Thank you for your explanation of the ‘killing’ of a
    wonderful business. I live in San Lorenzo, so saw Mervyn’s grow from
    a small shop to the chain that served so many people so well.
    I counted on almost always finding just the clothes I needed for our
    two sons as they grew up – and for their children more recently.
    What a crime to lose a business that was serving its markets well.

    Posted by: Sally V. | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:44 pm

  • Hi Clint:

    As a slightly right of center ex-Republican, I have enjoyed reading your articles in the Independent Journal. I consider my self a critical reader, and your articles have an undeniable logic. Keep up the good work!

    Your article on Mervyn’s was not only on the money as usual, but it had a certain subjectivity with which I could identify. In 1951, my family relocated from Larkspur to San Lorenzo where I initially attended San Lorenzo Village School. I was later transfered to a new school, Lorenzo Manor School. closer to our house. I later attended David D. Bohannon Junior High. In 1954, we moved back to Marin County. Otherwise, I would have become a San Lorenzo High Rebel.

    My mother used to buy me clothes at a new store in the San Lorenzo Village Shopping Center called Mervyn’s. It was, I believe, the first and only store at that time run by some guy named Mervyn Morris. My older sister used to take me to one of the super markets on the square for a hamburger and fries in a basket………..with a fountain coke in the old fashioned glass. What a thrill to sit at the counter and ponder my good fortune.

    I would welcome the opportunity of meeting with you some time.


    Posted by: Skip | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:45 pm

  • Hi Clint:

    Gad, why would anyone do ANY kind of business with a company called Cerberus???? If my memory serves, Cerberus was the fierce two- (or three-?) headed dog who guarded the gates of Hell. No way would I even give them the time of day, since it’s already clear, just from the name, that they are up to no good.

    I was disgusted and dismayed to hear what Cerberus did to Mervyn’s. We were Sears people when my kids were young, but I did go to Mervyn’s occasionally, and also had the opportunity to meet Merv Morris a few times when I was working at Sacred Heart in Atherton. What has happened to the company and its employees is very sad.

    Palo Alto

    Posted by: Sue | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:47 pm

  • Dear Clint Reilly,

    Thank you for your “Ode to Mervyn’s” column in the San Jose Mercury
    today. Your comments were so appropriate.



    Posted by: Ruthe | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:48 pm

  • It is my understanding that Orchard Supply has also been purchased by a private equity partnership also. Is this also to destroy OSH on the way to making a huge profit for the investors? I wonder if these investors also have stock in Home Depot(pardon the expression) and want to drive out any competition?


    Joan H.

    Posted by: Joan H. | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:50 pm

  • Dear Clint,

    I would like to thank you for the very informative article in the Mercury News about Mervyns. I happen to be one of the many customers over the last 30 years that have enjoyed the terrific bargains that Mervyns had to offer. I also remember the Community Closet that Mervyns provided to the many families who were in need.

    I can still remember the many times my children gather there allowance to purchase a Barbie outfit or Hot Wheels at Mervyns or the great sales items I got on Black Friday!

    Mervyns offer name brand items as well as there own store brand for there customers. I have always been impressed with the quality and customer service that I’ve received over the many years while shopping at Mervyns. What a shame that our two NFL teams 49ers and Raiders couldn’t help out this store chain and keep it from going under.

    A “Specially Store” that would appeal to the “Trendy” customers and still sell items for our middle class would seem to be a good venue. Maybe if Mervyns had obtained a celebrity like Michael Phelps to help promote Mervyns it would have generated new business. I agree with you Clint it is a shame that all those loyal staff members are going to be laid off after giving us so many years of service.

    The Mervyns in my area is in Campbell. A good location in a residential area. Over the years Mervyns quality and service has been one of there top features that kept so many of there customers happy.

    Thank you again for the heartwarming article of a store so many of us will always remember.

    Judie P.

    Posted by: Judie | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:51 pm

  • your column today really resonated with me. it is even more
    disheartening to think that former treasury secretary john snow is
    heading up cereberus, the same firm that owns chrysler and is asking
    taxpayers for $7 billion. the pillaging continues.

    Posted by: G. Chang | December 2nd, 2008 at 8:51 pm

  • I too worked at the original Mervyn’s in San Lorenzo when I was in high school & I still work for Mervyn’s but now I work in the Pleasant Hill store as Seasonal help which I have been doing for the last couple of years. Back then Mervyns’ proved to be a great company to work for & it still was until the buyout happened. I know for a fact that Mervyn’s is going to be well missed in every community.


    Posted by: Diane Basker | December 3rd, 2008 at 4:15 am

  • Memories………….

    I grew up in San Lorenzo when the downtown was a busy place. Mayfair Market, Denevi’s Kavanagh Liquors,even the bowling alley were going strong. Bought my first Cub Scout knife at Mervyn’s, and my uniform, back in 1962.

    Thanks for the article
    Got my first kiss at the ‘ Lorenzo”

    T. Glazer

    Posted by: T. Glazer | December 3rd, 2008 at 9:56 am

  • Clint,

    Perhaps the “looters” of Mervyn’s new full-well that they could do what they did. Perhaps there is no law against an owner running a business into the ground.

    But, it obviously doesn’t make it right. Look at all the lives that were affected.

    The lawsuit against Cerebus Capital Management LP will be interesting to watch because it will help to make clear whether it is legal for the owner of two captive entities (Mervyn’s and the real estate holdings) to force one of the companies (Mervyn’s) into paying more for building leases than it would have agreed to on the open market, thereby ensuring its eventual demise.

    Sad story, but maybe the lawsuit will forestall similar predatory practices or maybe even make it illegal.



    Posted by: Harold | December 3rd, 2008 at 9:57 am

  • Thank you for your column, “Ode to Mervyn’s”. I am so sad to see this institution and community-involved store go out of business. The rape of this fine company should be illegal and at least front page news. The dedicated employees and the community are the losers. It makes me sick.


    Posted by: Linda | December 3rd, 2008 at 10:32 am

  • In elementary to junior high, my mother always took my younger sister and I to Mervyn’s a week or two prior to the start of the school year. I always got about $100 clothing allowance which equated to roughly 2 Levi’s, 1 khaki, and 5 shirts. My sister always received more because she didn’t have a newspaper route.

    When my pop’s took me shopping behind mom’s back, he always let me buy whatever i wanted. Pops always looked for the clearance items and some times we were @ Mervyn’s for hours…especially when pops needed time away from moms. There were many High Sierra shirts in his closet as well as John Henry ties. I think i still might have a CC. Courtenay brand garment of his somewhere at home.

    Mervyn’s was about value. Dad knew it. Macy’s was way out of our family’s league. But Mervyn’s was the better alternative to K-mart. (though we shopped there too). Every kid in school knew at that time whether your clothes were from Mervyn’s or the “other” store. :)

    What i liked about Mervyn’s most was the layaway program.

    Posted by: Don Nguyen | December 3rd, 2008 at 11:13 am

  • I really liked your article on Mervyn’s store. I think it is terrible what has happened to it.

    I grew up in San Lorenzo and was there when Mervin Morris started up his store in the Village. I was nine years old and remember the store well.

    I truly will miss our store in Livermore.

    Betty F.

    Posted by: Betty Boop | December 3rd, 2008 at 5:26 pm

  • I too grew up in Washington Manor just off Lewelling and shopped with my Mom for 97% of my school clothes in the San Lorenzo original store.
    Mom worked at Capwells hayward (later Mervyns head offices) and would get her employee discount-but still we shopped at Mervyns.
    We would wander over to Grutmans after Mervyns looking for something else and usually they did not have it.

    That store was wonderful and had soooo much better selection than their recent stores had.
    I walked through the mervyns in marin 2 weeks ago and found NOTHING I liked. Just not attractive clothes selection at all and most shirts and knits were $45 (minus 25%)= still too much.
    I think the recent store buyers were colorblind and the prices? TOO HIGH compared to Ross etc

    Posted by: gary York | December 3rd, 2008 at 9:41 pm

  • I loved your Ode to Mervyn’s.
    I couldn’t agree with you more!
    Joan Daley
    Bend Oregon

    Posted by: Joan | December 3rd, 2008 at 11:17 pm

  • I wanted to thank you for the thoughtful tribute to Mervyn’s. It means a lot knowing that the store had such a profound impact on its customers and within its communities.

    I was not alive when my grandfather was running the company, but your article certainly did a great job taking me back in time. I wish I could have been there to see it.

    Best Regards,

    Matt Morris

    Posted by: Matt Morris | December 4th, 2008 at 10:36 am

  • Dear Mr. Reilly:
    Thank you for another condemnation of the greed of private equity firms like Cerberus and for raising up the human toll.

    I, too, grew up in Washington Manor on the San Lorenzo side, attending Argonne (long another housing tract), Barrett Junior High (across the creek) and Marina High (long an industrial tract, with only the park across the street surviving). I recall so well the back-to-school shopping trips with my mom at Mervyn’s in San Lorenzo Village.

    While in college, my husband worked at Mervyn’s men’s department part-time before becoming a management trainee and joining the retail management team after graduation. In between grad school stints, I went to work in the Credit Department, backing off to full-time to pursue additional grad studies at Cal; that academic trail ended with the unplanned arrival of our first son (now 32 and a sportswriter in Oregon). When he was a year old, I was offered an opportunity to become a department manager in what was now the credit division, and accepted the job as a sort of experiment. I stayed 12 more years, advancing to Director, Accounts Receivable before leaving (genuinely sobbing) to become a Vice President and department head in Bank of America’s credit card operation.

    I continued to shop at Mervyn’s and my kids grew up on those back-to-school trips too. One of my close friends is my former administrative assistant at Mervyn’s, who just lost her job–as you pointed out, with no severance and not even her accrued vacation pay–after more than 30 years of faithful, capable service (internal colleagues were always trying to recruit her away from me!). Her daughter just started college at Chico State this fall.

    What they did may be legal, but it’s a moral crime.

    I’m told that Peter Drucker once said in the ’80s that Mervyn’s people think they were put on earth to work there. Yes, we were passionate! But you could ask any customer service representative who our primary customer was, and she would be able to correctly describe our customer, as if she worked in marketing, not customer service–and serve that customer accordingly. So many people worked there for so long because it was a great place to work, despite the roller coaster ride of the past 15 years under DHC-Target and after.

    It’s just plain wrong to destroy that part of our community fabric. Thanks again for saying so.

    Best Regards,


    Posted by: Kathleen | December 4th, 2008 at 10:47 am

  • I worked for Mervyn’s in their corporate headquarters in Hayward in the mid-90′s until 2001. I loved working there. My fondest memory was being on the team that dreamed up and rolled out the ubiquitous, bright yellow Community Closet. As mentioned in your article, the Community Closet was a 72-foot big-rig truck that was transformed into a beautiful store on wheels. I, along with a team of folks, traveled with that truck across the country to every city where Mervyn’s had a store. On that journey, we clothed 6,000 women trasitioning from welfare to work. At each stop we invited the women aboard the truck, paired them with a professional stylist, helped them choose the clothes that were right for them and sent them off with a renewed confidence and a wardrobe of brand new, work-appropriate Mervyn’s clothes. More often than not, the women told us it was the very best day of their lives. Often, there were tears of joy. Not only did it have a profound effect on the women receiving the clothes, but it had a profound effect on me and our entire team.
    The Community Closet is just one example of the kind of company Mervyn’s was when I was there. Of course, it was a business – and a very profitable one at that – but there was a culture of caring and philanthropy that was ever-present. Five percent of all the profits – regardless of the economic climate – went back to the community.
    Thank you for the article, Clint. Mervyn’s will indeed be missed.

    Posted by: Janet Reilly | December 4th, 2008 at 12:47 pm

  • To Clint Reilly.

    That was a very good article about Mervyn’s. My husband and I bought our first house in San Lorenzo (GI bill) and of course there was very limited shopping. Mervyn’s was OUR STORE – and that of all my friends. This was 1953 so they had not been in their location very long. I did not work at Mervyn’s although I knew many who did. I was busy having babies after we moved there. This was a store which knew its clientele – family oriented merchandise at reasonable prices. When we moved to Concord in 1962 there was a store there shortly afterward and again it catered to its clientele with clothing for the whole family. After it came under other umbrellas it was never the same. Now all the stores are closing and much nostalgia ensues. I was not participating in the “Community Closet” but it seems that it would be appropriate for Mervyn’s.

    That is not the only retail coming under difficult times but it is one to lament.


    Posted by: Barbara | December 4th, 2008 at 11:05 pm

  • Thank you so much for a heartfelt story. I worked for this wonderful company for 33 years reaching that final anniversary 3 weeks before October’s separation. I wouldn’t trade any year devoted, except for that ending day.

    I, too, grew up with fond memories of the San Lorenzo store, and delighting at Santa in that storefront window!

    It’s a very difficult farewell indeed.

    Posted by: Tina Lanfri | December 5th, 2008 at 8:06 pm

  • This article reallyt helped me understand what happened to Mervyns. There should be regulations preventing Private equity firms from destroying companies and hurting all the workers.

    I have no idea where I will have to shop now.

    Posted by: Steve | December 7th, 2008 at 12:25 am

  • Mr. Reilly

    Although there are several people who have come to know Mervin Morris as an individual and a generous a giving person, they are among a very small group of people who actually know that his first name is MERVIN – not VYN, and that his last name is Morris. Somewhere I heard that the reason the store was named MERVYN’S was that the sign painter misspelled Mervin’s name.

    I, on the other hand, have always been proud to say that the Morris family lived next door to mine in Delano, CA, where Mervin learned the merchandising business. I have wondered for many years about Mervin, and am gladden by the “Your Memories of Mervyn’s” column recently published.

    As a Mervyn’s shopper, I always found good quality and good value in whatever I bought at a Mervyn’s store, as well as a sense of pride to know that a small town boy became a respected household name.

    Posted by: Pauline Stewart-Horn | December 9th, 2008 at 10:23 am

  • Dear Mr. Reilly,
    I read your reminiscence about Mervyn’s with great interest, because I too was a Washington Manor kid in the late ’50 and ’60s, and remember the San Lorenzo store vividly. Most of my clothes came from there, as did all of my Boy Scouting equipment and in particular, my shoes–they had a terrific boy’s shoe department. Anyone who was a regular customer there will, I’m sure, remember it with a nostalgic sigh. There just aren’t stores like that any more.
    We continued to shop at various Mervyn’s stores until quite recently, when it became clear that the chain had no future because it simply was not re-stocking. The announcement of its imminent closing came as no surprise, I am sad to say.
    Thank you for your concise explanation of what ultimately happened to the chain–it is an object lesson about the perils of corporate greed and its terrible consequences.

    Posted by: Howard Kadis | December 19th, 2008 at 9:20 am

  • This message has been copied from what Kathleen wrote: “I’m told that Peter Drucker once said in the ’80s that Mervyn’s people think they were put on earth to work there.”

    That’s quite a statement but I’ll have to agree, it was a great place to work during the growth years. I will miss the store, the company and the people. It’s hard to imagine the bay area without Mervyn’s.

    Thank you for the wonderful tribute.

    Posted by: Monique | January 13th, 2009 at 11:36 pm

  • I met Mr. Morris at a reunion Saturday for Mervyn’s employees. What a class act. We all swarmed him and his wife as if they were Elvis! Having grown up in San Lorenzo from the early 60′s and having worked at the Corporate office for almost 17 years (until they TRIED to move me to MN!) , it is like losing a family member. A great loss for the Bay area. We all have very fond memories of the #1 store (SLZ with the slope in the floor) and a GREAT company and family of co-workers. As a previous person mentioned, I believe we were born to work there. No more “Merv days” :(

    God Bless all of my Merv family in their job searches. May you find another “home” like Mervyn’s as the memories live on. (now, how do I purge store numbers, tie lines and GL accounts from my brain for new info! ha)

    Posted by: Sandy | January 26th, 2009 at 2:40 pm

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