Herbert Littman (pictured), who helped build Littman Jewelers into one of the nation’s largest jewelry chains, died Feb. 21. He was 91.
After graduating from Rutgers University, in New Jersey, Herb served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He then joined the jewelry chain founded by his father, Hyman.
By the 1970s, the chain had grown to include 20 stores in New Jersey downtowns. In the early 1980s, Herb and younger brother Leonard moved the stores into shopping malls. At its height, the chain numbered 130 stores, making it the largest privately owned jewelry retail chain in the United States. It even added a high-end sister nameplate, Barclays, in malls where it already had a presence. While it was thought of as a Northeast chain, its reach extended to Ohio and Florida.
Herb believed in the value of salesmanship and greeting every customer with a smile. He was known for his “Breakfast With Herb” sessions, where he’d come in with a wad of $2 bills and award them to salespeople when they’d answer questions correctly.
“Herb Littman was the first person I’d ever met who had a genuine passion for this industry, mostly for the people, customers, and employees,” says Kate Peterson, president of Performance Concepts, who worked for Littman Jewelers in the 1990s. “He was completely committed to training and to ensuring that everyone who worked in a Littman store was knowledgeable, professional, and enthusiastic, characteristics he believed should shape each customer’s experience. Herb and his brother Leonard taught me that integrity is the cornerstone of leadership, a lesson they both modeled daily.”
In 1998, the company, which operated under the corporate name Elangy, sold its 114 stores to Fred Meyer Jewelers. Fred Meyer still operates a handful of stores with the Littman nameplate.
After the company was sold, Herb did training for Gary Michaels Fine Jewelry, the Manalapan, N.J., store started by his son Gary and nephew Michael in 2002. He eventually retired to Boca Raton, Fla.
Herb was active in industry and charitable organizations. He served as secretary for the Diamond Council of America and as a vice president of Jewelers of America. He was also chairman of Israel Bonds in Central New Jersey and active in the United Way and other charities. He helped establish the first scholarship to Rutgers University and donated major art collections to Rutgers’ Zimmerli Art Museum.
Herbert Littman is survived by Linda, his wife of 58 years; sons Gary and Robert; five grandchildren; and brother Leonard.
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