Canadian Fashion Connection – Thrifty’s

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.

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
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6 Responses to Canadian Fashion Connection – Thrifty’s

  1. Christine Little says:

    I met Irving Lerman while working at Thrifty,s ,queen & church st. store.
    I have his signature on my sales award certificates,He used to take me to the rubber
    boot factory when he went to replenish the store stock. I worked there in the 1970,s.

  2. Dan Haugh says:

    I worked for Thrifty’s for approximately 11 years from 1973 to 1984 in the four stores located in London, Ontario. The last six years were spent as the manager of store #106 in White Oaks Mall. I met Irving on several occasions. Stories that Irving told similar to the one you mentioned about the four pair limit, are… legendary.
    Unfortunately Dylex had their own ideas of how a business should be run in the 80s.

    Stores like the Thrifty’s at the Church and Queen location and Novak’s in London were one of a kind.
    Irivng, his sons Alan and Moishe and son-in-law Charlie Diamond made Thrifty’s such a unique, unforgettable place to work.

    Those times are missed, but will never be forgotten.

    I am glad I came across this post.

  3. Ron Lynn says:

    I worked for Thrifty’s from 1964 until 1974. I was 15 years old when I started working the summer of 1964. My father was a friend of Irving’s. I mentioned to my father that I was looking for a summer job so he called Irving. I was told to see Irving at the Queen Street store the next day. I was hired on the spot. My jobs were to sweep the floors every morning, bring up stock from the basement and twice a day go across the street and get coffees and pastries for the sales staff. I was not allowed to sell for the first year of my employment. My first pay cheque I worked Monday to Saturday and every two weeks I was paid $90.00. I have 1,000 stories to tell about working for Thrifty’s. I worked there before Alan, Moises and Charlie came into the business. My wife was the bookkeeper and Irving’s personal secretary. After 10 years I left Thrifty’s and started my own business. Irving offer me 5 cents an hour raise to stay. He was a very generous man and he enriched my life and taught me all about business.

    • Jonathan says:

      Thank-you for your ‘I was there’ memoir. You obviously liked working there if you stayed 10 years!

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