Stew Leonard Sr. Dies at 93; Founded ‘Disneyland of Dairy Stores’

Stew Leonard Sr., a folkloric retailer who expanded his namesake shops into merchandising meccas replete with petting zoos and mechanical singing livestock, died on Wednesday at a hospital in Manhattan. He was 93.

The trigger was issues of pneumonia, his son Stewart Jr. stated.

Mr. Leonard opened his unique retailer in Norwalk, Conn., in 1969 as a vacation spot that promised contemporary milk as a result of it was constructed round a bottling plant. “You’d must personal a cow to get it sooner,” his ads proclaimed.

Bryan Miller described it in The New York Occasions because the “Disneyland of Dairy Shops”; “Ripley’s Imagine It or Not” referred to as it the “World’s Largest Dairy Retailer”; and it earned a spot within the Guinness World Data for having the best greenback gross sales per sq. foot of promoting house.

In 2015, Enterprise Insider praised Kroger’s buyer loyalty program and Wegmans’s walk-in beer locker, but it surely concluded that anybody who had ever set foot in Stew Leonard’s “is aware of it’s miles above the remainder.”

The journal listed 13 causes Stew Leonard’s was “actually America’s finest grocery retailer.” The primary was its customer support coverage: “Rule 1: The client is at all times proper. Rule 2: If the client is ever incorrect, reread Rule 1.”

Greater than 50 years after the primary retailer opened, Stew Leonard’s has expanded to embody seven areas incomes $600 million yearly, and it stays family-owned and operated with an enormously loyal buyer base.

Mr. Leonard turned Frank Perdue’s largest wholesale hen purchaser. He organized with a distributor good friend to bottle Paul Newman’s salad dressing. The shops’ chief criterion for employment was an exuberant smile. To maintain costs low, the shops have stocked solely about 2,000 objects — grocery fundamentals — about 3 % of what chain shops promote.

In 1986, he was offered with a Presidential Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence from Ronald Reagan.

Mr. Leonard retired round 1990, however remained chairman emeritus of the corporate’s board. Three years later, he was sentenced to jail after pleading responsible to tax fraud for skimming greater than $17 million in gross sales from the Norwalk retailer; on the time, it was the nation’s largest computer-driven tax evasion case on report.

Lots of his devoted patrons who had been interviewed afterward appeared extra saddened or disillusioned then offended. At his sentencing, Mr. Leonard, leaning on a steel cane after hip surgical procedure, stated, sobbing: “I’ve harm my household. I’ve harm my kids. I’ve harm my prospects.”

In a telephone interview on Thursday, Stewart Jr. described the fraud as “extra of a small enterprise entrepreneurial mistake.” He stated that whereas his father was serving 44 months of a 52-month sentence in a federal jail in McKean, Pa., he lectured retailers about his errors in close by Bradford. Since then he had mentored younger entrepreneurs, warning them in opposition to “the entice you’ll be able to fall into of not placing the whole lot into the money register,” his son stated.

Additionally in 1993, the Connecticut Division of Client Safety accused the Norwalk retailer of short-weighting prospects on objects like hen, walnuts and tomatoes. Mr. Leonard stated the burden discrepancies had been minuscule and had been corrected.

Stewart John Leonard was born on Dec. 1, 1929, in Norwalk to Charles Leonard, a hatter who based Clover Farms Dairy within the early Nineteen Twenties, and Anna (Stewart) Leonard, a homemaker.

“My dream ever since I used to be a little bit boy was to be a milkman,” he instructed The Occasions. He graduated from Norwalk Excessive Faculty, however as he was incomes a level from the Ratcliffe Hicks Faculty of Agriculture on the College of Connecticut in Storrs in 1951, his father died, and he and his brother inherited the enterprise.

In 1967, the state condemned the household dairy for a freeway, leaving him shattered.

“Milk was all I knew,” he stated.

In “Stew Leonard: My Story” (2009, with Scotty Reiss), he wrote that he had requested prospects on his milk route for recommendation on what to do. They steered that he open a retail retailer and, and not using a intermediary, proceed to promote his dairy merchandise on the identical low costs. He quickly purchased pasture land in Norwalk from a widow who had been a buyer of his father’s; she had agreed to promote provided that the youthful Mr. Leonard agreed to care for her sheep and chickens, too.

They turned a part of the petting zoo, which joined the mechanical cows and geese and varied costumed characters who’ve welcomed prospects as they go by means of the shop alongside a single huge snaking aisle flanked by free choices from tempting pattern cubicles.

As Tom Peters and Nancy Austin wrote in “A Ardour for Excellence: The Management Distinction” (1985), “Don’t inform Stew or his prospects that meals procuring is a bore!”

The shop was initially referred to as Clover Farms Dairy, however after a competitor opened a facsimile 20 miles away, and after Mr. Leonard found that his father had by no means trademarked the title, he branded the shop as Stew Leonard’s.

The corporate now has seven shops, in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.

It’s run by Stewart Jr. alongside along with his siblings, Beth Leonard Hollis and Jill Leonard Tavello. Along with them, Mr. Leonard is survived by his spouse, Marianne (Guthman) Leonard; one other son, Tom; 13 grandchildren, 5 of whom work for the corporate; and 11 great-grandchildren.

In retailing, Mr. Leonard stated, the “wow issue” sells, however minding the shop is what retains the enterprise going and rising.

“You’d have to have the ability to keep on high of it,” he instructed The Occasions in 1983, invoking an earthy aphorism from his dairy days. “I nonetheless consider {that a} farmer’s shadow is the most effective fertilizer.”

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