Sy Syms, the founder of the discount retail clothing chain Syms and the founding board member of the Sy Syms School of Business at New York’s Yeshiva University, died November 17. He was 83, and the cause of death was heart failure.
Syms, born Seymour Merinsky, served in the U.S. Army and worked as a sportscaster before opening his first retail store in 1959 on Cortland Street in Lower Manhattan — around the corner from a rival establishment operated by his brother. Sy Syms eventually grew his business into a national chain that now has 30 locations.
He was among the first clothing retailers to make designer fashions affordable to middle class consumers. Earlier this year, Syms’ company purchased the off-price department store Filene’s Basement.
Through the Sy Syms Foundation, Syms supported various Jewish and non-Jewish causes, including the UJA-Federation of New York, The Clarion Fund and the Inner-City Scholarship Fund.
Most notably, in 1987, Syms donated a$5 million towards the creation of the Sy Syms School for Business, an undergraduate school at Y.U. Syms continued to support the university and its business school throughout his life, according to a university spokesman.
The Syms School was the subject of controversy in late 2008, when Bernard Madoff resigned from his position as chairman of the board, after his multibillion-dollar Ponzi scheme was exposed.
Syms is survived by his wife; six children and stepchildren; 10 grandchildren, and three sisters.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.