Carl Bennett, who transformed an $8,000 investment in a second-floor “Walk-Up-&-Save” store in Port Chester, N.Y., in 1951 into Caldor, the regional discount powerhouse chain that he sold three decades later for $313 million, died on Dec. 23 at his home in Greenwich, Conn. He was 101.
His death was confirmed by his daughter, Robin Bennett Kanarek.
Mr. Bennett and his wife, Dorothy, blended their first names and business acumen to create one of the largest and most aggressive retailers in the Northeast, combining cut-rate pricing on quality, brand-name goods with a liberal return policy.
Mr. Bennett retired as chairman and chief executive in 1985, four years after his company was purchased by Associated Dry Goods, the owner of Lord & Taylor and other high-end department stores. By then, 100 Caldor outlets in seven states together had reached $1 billion in annual sales.
Known as “the Bloomingdale’s of discounting,” Caldor reduced costs by paying suppliers promptly and thrived by stocking quality merchandise rather than irregular items and cheap goods from closeouts. They provided friendly and well-informed service, undercut competitors like W.T. Grant, Two Guys and Woolco and took over their stores when those retailers consolidated or went out of business.
But the company was liquidated in 1999 after facing similar stiff competition from nationwide retailing behemoths like Target and Walmart.
The Bennetts were also known locally for their philanthropy. They gave more than $20 million to Stamford Health and Stamford Hospital in Connecticut (located on what was named the Bennett Medical Center campus in 2018) and to Jewish educational causes.
Carl Bennett was born on Jan. 27, 1920, in Greenwich, the son of Mayer Bennett, a grocer and founder of Temple Sholom in Greenwich, and Rebecca (Lipsky) Bennett. The family lived above their grocery store.
After graduating from Greenwich High School, he attended New York University but dropped out to work in his father’s store. He served in the 466th Army Quartermaster Battalion overseas during World War II.
Mr. Bennett, who had also worked as a liquor salesman and a butcher, married Dorothy Becker in 1951. The newlyweds were returning wedding gifts to an E.J. Korvettes outlet — part of another big-box department store chain — when Mr. Becker envisioned opening a discount store of his own.
“He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do with his life,” his daughter said, “but he totally admired his father, a grocer, and that’s how he developed his love of retailing.”
With $8,000 in Army savings and a $50,000 bank loan, the Bennetts opened a 1,200-square-foot store selling toys, housewares, luggage and gifts on the second floor of a commercial building on Main Street in Port Chester.
In 1958, they opened a second Caldor, a 70,000-square-foot store in Norwalk, Conn., that also sold clothing. In 1961, Caldor went public with Mr. Bennett as president and chairman and his wife as treasurer.
Mr. Bennett was inducted into the Retailer Hall of Fame in 1983.
Dorothy Bennett died in 2008. In addition to his daughter, Mr. Bennett is survived by two sons, Marc and Bruce; and five grandchildren.