Irving Lerman was born in a village near Odessa, Russia in about 1913, and immigrated to Toronto, via Philadelphia in 1929. In 1942 he launched “Thrifty’s Riding and Sport Shop” at the corner of Queen and Church streets. The word thrifty was chosen to convey low prices, and the rest of the name loosely described his stock, which ranged from war surplus to work clothing.
In the 1950s Lerman began selling dungarees (aka blue jeans) just as sales were on the rise and by the late 1960s, when blue jeans were the single best selling garment, he had line-ups around the block of his three story shop. One of his sales tactics was to announce in the store that customers would be limited to purchasing only four pairs each.
By 1972, the company had expanded to ten branches when he sold a half interest to Dylex Corporation – the largest clothing company conglomerate in Canada. When Lerman retired in 1982 Thrifty’s had expanded to 128 stores across Canada and was the fourth largest dealer of Levi’s in the world. After free trade opened up the Canadian market in 1988 to American stores like The Gap and Old Navy, Thrifty’s was unable to compete in terms of cost and style selection. Irving Lerman died in 1997 and by 2000 Dylex had sold Thrifty’s to ‘American Eagle Outfitters’ who had rebranded the 107 existing Thrifty stores as ‘Bluenotes’. However, the chain continued to lose money and the company was resold in 2004 to the private company YM Inc.