Sumner Feldberg, founder of BJ’s, TJ Maxx, Zayre, dies at 98

Sumner L. Feldberg, formerly of Palm Beach and founder of Zayre, BJ’S Wholesale Club and TJ Maxx, died Friday, July 1, 2022. He was 98.

Mr. Feldberg, known as “Sonny,” was born June 19, 1924. He grew up in the Boston suburb of Newton, Massachusetts, and graduated from Newton High School.

He studied at Harvard and in his freshman year he enlisted in the US Air Force. A meteorologist by training, he became a lieutenant and was first sent to Natal, Brazil, to give American pilots weather reports for their missions in India, China and Africa.

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After his military service, Mr. Feldberg returned to Harvard and completed his studies, graduating cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1947. He then enrolled in the first class of Harvard Business School when it reopened after the Second World War.

After graduating, Mr. Feldberg joined his father, uncle and cousin at the Bell Shops. Early on, he became interested in the concept of discount retailing. After observing the model of another discount merchandising operation, Mr. Feldberg created his own. The first Zayre store opened in Hyannis, Mass.; it went public in 1962.

The Zayre department store in the Fall River Mall.

Mr. Feldberg then created a fashion catalog called Chadwicks of Boston and launched a women’s discount chain called Hit or Miss. He then founded BJ’s Wholesale Club and TJ Maxx. Eventually these stores fell under the parent company, TJX, which now also includes Home Goods, Home Sense, Marshalls, Sierra, Winners, Smart Sense and TK Maxx in Europe and Australia. According to its latest annual report, TJX has approximately 360,000 employees.

He has served on numerous corporate and university boards, including Brandeis University, Boston University Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, Beth Israel Leahy Clinic, Mass Mutual Insurance Co., and Combined Jewish Philanthropies. He also served on the board of directors of the National Retail Merchants Association for 10 years and served as its president for a further five years.

Mr. Feldberg and his wife, Esther, were longtime members of the Washington Institute and the International Leadership Reunion.

Longtime residents of the island, they owned a condominium at Villa Plati and then a Palm Beach Regency-style home at 1020 N. Ocean Blvd. The couple moved to MorseLife retirement home in West Palm in 2021.

He was a member of Belmont Country Club, Queechee Country Club and Palm Beach Country Club.

On the artistic scene, The Collection of Esther M. and Sumner L. Feldberg was exhibited in 2021 at the Norton Art Museum in West Palm Beach.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by three children, Michael Feldberg and his wife Ruth Lazarus, Ellen Feldberg Gordon and her husband Michael, and Beth Lichter Mann; nine grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his daughter, Mollye Lichter Block, and his son, James Lichter.

The Feldberg family is planning a celebration of life via Zoom for the month of August. Memorial donations may be made to Facing History And Ourselves, 16 Hurd Road, Brookline, MA 02446.