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February 1987 - Heck's Files For Bankruptcy
By Heath Harrison
April 28, 2013


Before the discount store business came to be represented almost entirely by national giants like Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target, the U.S. retail landscape, and that of West Virginia, was dotted by many smaller regional chains, like Hills, Fisher's Big Wheel, Ames, and Murphy's.

But one store probably stands out most in our region's memory.

The West Virginia-based Heck's Department Store chain was founded by Boone County native Fred Haddad, along with fellow Boone County businessmen (and former rivals) Tom and Lester Ellis and wholesale distributor Douglas Cook.

(The Heck's name was a combination of the names Haddad, Ellis and Cook.)

The first Heck’s store opened at 1114 Washington St. E. in Charleston in 1959. An instant success, Heck's opened a second location between South Charleston and St. Albans in 1960, followed by a Huntington store, located at 2626 Fifth Ave., a short time later.

The standalone stores carried a wide variety of items, including clothing, hardware, toys, sporting goods, appliances and furniture. Haddad and his partners saw the trend of U.S. shoppers moving away from small five and dime store like Woolworth's to larger discount stores and were able to take advantage of the changes in retail sales.

The stores prospered, turned a profit every year and the chain expanded quickly throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s. Heck's moved into the Midwest when it acquired T-Way stores.

Haddad served as the company's chairman of the board and president, and the company established its headquarters on Kanawha Boulevard in Charleston and set up its distribution center in Nitro.

At its peak in the 1980s, Heck's operated 170 stores throughout West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Maryland and Virginia. Forbes Magazine ranked Heck’s third nationally in profitability and growth in 1980, beating out Kmart.

In 1983, Haddad retired as Heck's president and sold his stock in the company.

Sales fell the following year, and the company saw its first losses in 1984. In 1985, layoffs began, as losses continued.

A number of factors contributed to Heck’s decline. The U.S. economic downturn of the early 1980s hit W.Va. particularly hard, and the store faced increased competition from other chains as well.

A 1991 Philadelphia Inquirer article lists several factors for the collapse of Heck’s under the new management, putting the blame on sweeping changes to the stores.

Specifically, the Inquirer cited customer frustration with constant store redesigns and products being dropped from inventory. The store also faced major troubles from costly data errors caused by its new computer accounting system.

Heck's filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in February 1987, and in 1988, some Heck's locations began to close.

The company reemerged from bankruptcy in 1989, after closing more than 100 stores, but was unable to turn a profit and its assets were sold to Retail Acquisition Corporation, a subsidiary of Jordache Enterprises, in 1990. The company's headquarters was moved to Pittsburgh.

The remaining Heck's stores, now numbering around 70, were rebranded as the poorly-received L.A. Joe chain, which, after experiencing two years of consecutive losses, filed for Chapter 11 and folded in 1992.

Haddad, who remained a prominent member of Charleston's business and political community after leaving Heck's, died in 2003 at age 81. Charleston's Haddad Riverfront Park is named in his honor.

Many of the former Heck's store buildings are still standing, and now house a variety of tenants, ranging from businesses like Big Lots and Gabriel Bros. to local flea markets and office space.

This week’s “Remember When” video, courtesy of the West Virginia Division of Culture and History archives, features two WCHS reports from 1987 and 1988 on the company’s final days, as well as some additional footage. The clip provides a good look at some of the company’s signage, and gives a view of the exterior and interior of a few of the stores.

Bonus video: A Youtube user has unearthed an old Heck’s television commercial. You can watch it here.

Also: The Charleston Gazette has a photo of the inside of the first Heck’s store in Charleston here.

What are some of your memories of Heck’s? Visit our Facebook page or use our contact form to share them.

Remember When: February 1987 - Heck's Files For Bankruptcy

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