The Return of Rich’s… and Hydrox?

Charlotte has been lucky in that their regional department store, Belk, still exists. If anything, Belk is as strong now as it’s been in years. Other cities weren’t so lucky. Chicago, for example, had its heart ripped out when it lost Marshall Field’s, and Atlanta lost its favorite department store, Rich’s, too.

For decades, Atlanta had two department stores: Davison’s and Rich’s. Davison’s was founded in 1891, and the thing I remember most is their weird, half-height charge cards:

davisons

The story back in the 80s was that Macy’s bought Davison’s and converted the stores over to the Macy’s brand. The truth was a little more complicated:  the store’s three owners sold out to R.H. Macy & Co. all the way back in 1925. So Atlantans were pretty much shopping at Macy’s the entire time. But in the early 80s, Macy’s decided to consolidate many of their regional brands under the Macy’s name. In 1984, Davison’s iconic logo was changed to mimic that of Macy’s:

ga atl davisons

And, in 1985, Davison’s and all of Macy’s midwest brands were combined into one division, Macy’s Atlanta. In 1986, all Davison’s stores were rebranded to Macy’s.

While all this was going on, Rich’s thrived. The store was an Atlanta institution. Ever heard about the time Nordstrom took back a set of tires from a customer, even though the store has never sold tires? Yeah, Rich’s had tales like that too. There were so many, in fact, that Atlanta Constitution columnist Celestine Sibley was able to write an entire book – Dear Store: An Affectionate Portrait of Rich’s – about it. I remember my dad telling me a story about a child once losing a beloved stuffed animal, and the father called Rich’s in a panic. Problem was, the doll was several years old and had been discontinued. Rich’s staff nevertheless called all over the United States until a new one was found; the stuffed animal was put on a Rich’s truck and delivered to the customer… at no charge. Its’ stuff like this, combined with the Great Tree (a Christmas tree placed atop the downtown store, the lighting of which was a city tradition) and the Pink Pig (a tiny monorail hung from the ceiling of the toy department that thousands of Atlanta kids looked forward to riding every holiday season) that really wove the store into the fabric of the city.

Anyway, Rich’s was doing so well that in 1976 Federated Department Stores approached the Rich family with an offer they couldn’t refuse. So they sold out. And in 1994, Federated bought Macy’s. This meant that one company owned Atlanta’s two main department store chains. For a time, Rich’s operated as the “high-end” store while Macy’s was the “mid-market” option. For a time Federated co-branded the stores as Rich’s-Macy’s. But the writing was on the wall for the beloved Rich’s brand. In 2005, after 138 years in business, Rich’s became Macy’s.

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But there’s a chance that Rich’s might come back. Sort of.

Enter Ellia Kassoff. Kassoff’s uncle was Ed Leaf, founder of Leaf Brands, makers of candies like Jolly Ranchers, PayDay, Whoppers and Double Bubble. Leaf sold the company to a Finnish outfit called Huhtamaki Oy in 1983. Leaf then bought several other brands, and by the early 1990s the company was one of the largest candy companies in the world. In 1996, Huhtamaki sold most of their American brands to Hershey, which has been making them ever since.

Here’s the thing, though: when Hershey bought the rights to Leaf’s candies in the US, it only bought the rights to the candies. The Leaf brand name was still used by Huhtamaki on the international market, but not in the United States. Kassoff noticed this and filed forced cancellation paperwork with the US Trademark Office. See, unlike copyrights, which last a very long time, trademarks only last as long as their owners use them. If Nabsico decided to stop making Chips Ahoy cookies for some reason, after a certain amount of time anyone – yes, even you – can file papers to force the company to give up the trademark, which you can then register for yourself. It’s kind of surprising, but Huhtamaki didn’t really put up a fight for the Leaf name, so Kassoff was able to resurrect Leaf Brands as his own company.

Kassoff is fascinated with old brands, and it all started with Astro Pops. The rocket-ship inspired candy was one of Kassoff’s favorites as a kid, and he wondered what had happened to them. He called Spangler Candy, who’d stopped making them. On a complete whim, he offered to buy the brand; it took a couple of years, but he eventually acquired the rights to the pops.

But he’s just getting started. Although a lot of people think that Hydrox cookies were just a cheap knock-off of Oreo cookies, Hydrox in fact predates Oreros by several years. And unlike Oreros, Hydrox cookies were kosher, making them popular with Jewish kids. Could he bring that brand back too? How about Burger Chef, once the second largest burger chain in the United States? How about Eastern Airlines? Or Chipwich? or Compaq? How about beloved local stores like Rich’s (Atlanta), Marshall Field’s (Chicago), Jordan Marsh (Boston), Filene’s (New England), or Bon Marche (Seattle)?

Kassoff wants to bring them all back, and you can read this fascinating article about Kassoff and his love of abandoned brands at the Consumerist. Really, you should take 2-3 minutes… it’s amazing stuff!

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