Murray Goldman combined borscht-belt humour with savvy marketing to become Vancouver’s best-known menswear retailer. The wisecracking haberdasher, who has died at 92, was a man of the cloth.
A dapper presence in a city not known to have placed an emphasis on elegant attire, Mr. Goldman became a familiar figure through radio and television commercials, as well as newspaper advertisements in which he featured prominently. He was proud to have written his own ad copy.
One of his famous lines was that not a single suit was for sale – all were available in 2-for-1 deals. Another ad promised customers a free bonus. “I got stuck with 150 of the ugliest suits you ever saw but if you buy one,” he wrote, “I’ll throw in a really rotten tie.”
In yet another promotion, he promised a price reduction on neckwear for any customer who brought in an old tie. Unfortunately, a typographic error in the newspaper led dozens of customers to show up with old car and truck tires. Mr. Goldman duly appeared in a newspaper photo kicking an old tire across the shop floor.
The clothier appeared regularly in Vancouver newspapers for a half century, his quips enlivening columns by the likes of Jack Wasserman, Denny Boyd and Malcolm Perry. (“It’s family,” he once told a columnist about his prized Jaguar. “The rabbi cut a piece off the back of the muffler to bless it.”) For a time, he wrote his own column of items and one-liners, called I’ve Heard It Said, for the Vancouver News-Herald. He was also co-host of Just for Fun, a 30-minute humour program on radio station CKNW.
As the old joke goes, Mr. Goldman liked to leave his customers in stitches.
“That’s how he got attention,” said David Goldman, a son who succeeded him in the business. “When he started, he had just one store amidst a sea of competitors. The way to sell his business was to sell himself.”
His rags-to-britches story began on Aug. 24, 1920, when he was born in Opatów, Poland, a community known in Yiddish as Apt.
Moishe was the second child and first son born to Ida (née Adelstein) and Reuben Goldman. His father and grandfather were labourers and brick makers. When the boy was 3, the family immigrated to Canada, settling into a $12-per-month, third-floor tenement apartment on Clark Street in Montreal.
His father worked as a steam presser in a ladies’ coat factory, while his mother made sheitels, the wigs worn by married Orthodox Jewish women. The family also took in boarders for an extra $1.50 per week.
At age 13, Moishe, known as Moe, quit school to help support his family as a button maker for the Goldstein Dress Co. He then became a Fuller Brush salesman, building a homemade cart from discarded orange crates. He pushed this jerry-rigged contraption through a neighbourhood later to be chronicled in the novels of Mordecai Richler, the poetry of Irving Layton and the songs of Leonard Cohen.
His introduction to storefront retailing came as a clerk for a menswear shop, for which he ran errands, washed floors and was allowed on occasion to sell ties and shirts, though not full suits.
Mr. Goldman enlisted after the outbreak of war in Europe. He trained at Camp Borden in Ontario and competed in military boxing events as a welterweight. He was nicknamed the Kosher Kid. Contemporary newspaper accounts describe the private as being attached to the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps, though his family believes he served as a military policeman.
Stationed for a time at Comox, on Vancouver Island, he visited Vancouver while on leave. There he met Shirley Lapides, the teenaged daughter of a local milliner. They married in 1944. After the war, Mr. Goldman, who by then had taken the first name Murray, helped fellow veterans move from khakis to civvies as a seller with the Hudson’s Bay Co. in downtown Vancouver.
He bought a store called Boston Clothing in 1947 after negotiating a $3,000 bank loan. Within two years, he launched his own label through an eponymous store opened next door to the Province newspaper building on West Hastings Street, a landmark location near Victory Square in what was then the commercial heart of the city. He offered blue or brown, double-breasted gabardine suits for $55. He also introduced his first promotion – a draw for a free made-to-measure suit.
When U.S. President Harry Truman relieved Gen. Douglas MacArthur of his duties, Mr. Goldman gained attention by offering the military man a free civilian wardrobe. “Please wire measurements,” the retailer urged.