Leonard Luria, a Miami Beach philanthropist and one-time owner of a namesake 53-store jewelry and retail chain, died Monday of cardiac arrest. He was 89.
His company, L. Luria & Son, opened in Florida in 1961 and boomed in the 1970s and early 1980s as a leading catalog-showroom retailer whose core business of jewelry was complemented by discounted home furnishings.
“He was a very principled man, and he was a very tough businessman,” said his son, Peter Luria, 60. “We were the first discounters of name-brand merchandise in this whole community. It was before the Costcos and the Best Buys and the Office Depots.”
But the company’s fortunes waned and by August 1996, with Luria semi-retired, the family sold the company to a group of investors. Within two years, the company was in bankruptcy and the stores shuttered.
Luria, nevertheless, remained a visible figure in Miami. Over the years, he was an avid supporter of the arts and Jewish charities.
Born in Brooklyn in 1923, Luria was part of a historic business family in New York City — his great grandfather founded a wholesale gold and silver company in 1898.
Leonard Luria graduated with a business degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and also served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
In 1961, Luria moved to South Florida, where the family had a distribution center. He opened his first store at 980 SW First St, and his second on Biscayne Boulevard at Northeast 146th Street.
A staunch Democrat, Luria was proud of the way he ran his company, often hiring young people and immigrants, especially Cubans fleeing Castro in the early 1960s. He quit Miami’s Chamber of Commerce over what he perceived to be anti-Cuban rhetoric, his son said.
“He hired former Cuban diplomats to help on the sales floor. They had never worked before but they knew china and silver better than anyone because of dinner parties at embassies,” Peter Luria said.
The company went public in 1978, and a year later the company boasted 10 stores. At its height, the company had 53 stores in Florida, 3,000 employees and shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange.
The store’s catalog-showroom format required customers to fill out forms to get merchandise from a warehouse, a model that fascinated consumers because it offered discounts on home furnishings, luggage and other merchandise.
But catalog showrooms began losing favor with consumers with the proliferation of newer stores in the market selling much of the same merchandise consumers used to get at Luria’s.
In the late 1980s, Luria’s launched a strategy to revive the chain by converting its stores into larger, more modern superstores, and changing the catalog-showroom format to an off-the-shelf system. Ultimately, the company shrank.
By 1996, Ocean Reef Management purchased L. Luria & Son hoping to turn around the company’s fortunes.
“It bothered him a lot,” said Peter Luria. “We had a very proud name. He was sorry he sold the name. But he wasn’t one to look back.”
In 1998, with lawsuits mounting and creditors agitating, the company filed for bankruptcy and its assets were liquidated.
Luria, who lived on Fisher Island, continued his business life as an investor and continued supporting his favorite charitable foundations.
Over the years, Luria’s money went to many causes, including Israel Bonds, the Greater Miami Jewish Federation and the foundation of Mount Sinai Medical Center. He was also active with organizations such as the American Friends of Hebrew University, American Friends of Tel Aviv University and the Concert Association Of Miami.
His wife, Gloria Luria, also ran a Miami art gallery.
He is survived by Gloria Luria, his wife of over 60 years, his sisters, Renee Leopold and Eleanor Brilliant, and three children: Peter Luria, Henry Luria, and Nancy Luria Cohen. In all, Luria has 10 grandchildren.
Services will be held Wednesday at a 11 a.m. at Miami Beach’s Temple Beth Shalom, 4144 Chase Ave. A burial will follow at Mount Nebo Miami Memorial Gardens, 5505 NW 3rd St.