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November 16: Creator of the Factory Outlet Store

Lawrence Bush
November 16, 2016
Harold Alfond, founder of Dexter Shoes and creator of the first factory outlet store, at which factory-flawed items and unpopular (“stale”) brands are sold at a steep discount, died at 93 on this date in 2007. Alfond worked in Maine’s shoe industry from an early age (he never went to college), and bought an old wool mill with his father in 1958 to launch Dexter Shoes. In the 1960s, he opened the first factory-outlet store in Skowhegan. By the 1990s, eighty of his log-cabin-style outlet stores stood on New England highways -- and in outlet malls. The family-run business was sold to Warren Buffett’s Berkshire-Hathaway in 1993 for $443 million; Buffett later called it is biggest mistake. With the wealth that mistake fostered, the Harold Alfond Foundation has given more than $100 million to charity, much of it directed to sports facilities (Alfond was a lifelong athlete and sports enthusiast and a part-owner of the Boston Red Sox), as well as to education and cancer treatment. The “Harold Alfond College Challenge,” established in 2009, gives a $500 grant to all Maine residents who enroll before first birthday, to help families plan for college education. As of July 2010, 5,500 babies had been enrolled. “In 1939, while in route to the Skowhegan Fair, Alfond picked up a hitchhiker who told him about a shoe factory for sale in nearby Norridgewock, Maine. He never arrived at the fair, but instead toured the abandoned factory. A year later, using proceeds from the sale of his car, Alfond and his father bought the plant for $1,000 and launched Norrwock Shoe Company. In 1944, Alfond sold the Norrwock Shoe Company to Shoe Corporation of America for $1.1 million.” -- Harold Alfond Foundation

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.