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Irwin Chase

~ Inducted 2009

Irwin Chase is the eldest son of Martin Chase, a Russian Jew who immigrated with his family&nbsp;from the Ukraine to Providence in 1912.&nbsp;The Chase family first settled in South Providence but later moved to the East Side.&nbsp;Born in 1926, Irwin attended Hope High School. At eighteen he joined the army and fought in World War II&nbsp;earning a Combat Infantryman Badge and a Bronze Star.&nbsp;

During the 1930s and 40s, Irwin's father operated Marty's Clothing Store on Eddy Street and purchased a small ribbon-making business in Norwich, Connecticut.&nbsp;In 1946,&nbsp;Martin acquired the 450,000-square-foot Ann & Hope Mill in Cumberland from the Lonsdale Company for $350,000.&nbsp;

Irwin joined his father in business after graduating from Brown University in 1948.&nbsp;By the early 1950s, however, the ribbon-making operation, which had been moved from Norwich to the Ann & Hope Mill failed.

From that apparent setback sprouted the seed for a new entrepreneurial venture.&nbsp;During the 1952 Christmas season, Irwin assumed the task of selling the surplus ribbon along with holiday decorations at the mill.&nbsp;Soon word spread about a new factory store with no frills and attractive discount prices.&nbsp;A new idea in consumer retailing had been born.&nbsp;In 1953, Ann & Hope formally opened its doors as America's first discount department store chain.&nbsp;Offerings soon included housewares, toys, sporting goods, casual clothes and, later, garden supplies and major home appliances.&nbsp;

The Chases—father and son—were innovators in several areas.&nbsp;Their store was devoid of costly floor displays; there were few sales assistants; cash registers were clustered at the front of the store;&nbsp;the shopping experience via cart was self-service, and nearby parking was free.&nbsp;Ann & Hope had become a retailing beacon for a new generation of suburbanites. Today, many of these features seem ingrained in our consumer buying genetic code, but in the 1950s the Chases' retailing concepts were truly revolutionary. Ann & Hope had become a discount retail laboratory, attracting the entrepreneurial curiosity of small Arkansas retailer Sam Walton and Henry Cunningham, President of Kresge's, both of whom paid the Chases a visit in 1961.&nbsp;A year later Walton opened Walmart and Cunningham created&nbsp;Kmart--both modeled after Ann & Hope.&nbsp;

During the two decades that followed, the Chases expanded from their Cumberland base, opening five new department stores.&nbsp;By 2001, however, Irwin recognized their growing inability to compete with multi-national chains, so Ann & Hope exited the department store business.&nbsp;Nonetheless,&nbsp;Irwin Chase's lifelong passion with discount retailing lives on today in the company's nine specialty curtain and bath outlets, five dollar stores, and six garden outlets.

--Paul R. Campbell


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