MR is saddened to report the passing of much-loved Philadelphia retailer and east coast sales rep Michael Freedman. He passed away at age 70 on April 16th. His family, clients, and friends are beyond devastated.
“Men’s clothing was his whole life,” says Robin, his wife of 48 years. “Clothing and family.” The two met in a sleepaway camp when they were 15 and 17 years old. “Michael never missed an opportunity to talk about his children. He was so proud of their accomplishments and even more proud of their character.”
Michael’s dad had owned a men’s store in Philadelphia where Michael started working at 8 years old. In 1976, shortly after he and Robin married, he opened his own men’s haberdashery in Upper Darby called Directions. “The store is still there and successful,” says Robin. “When Michael ultimately decided to become a sales rep, he handed the store keys to his store manager, Antwinne Alston, who now runs the business with his son. Their family is part of our family to this day.”
Among the many men’s collections that Michael has repped over the years: Dream World, Renoir, Stitched Holdings, M&M, Bassiri, Bruno Capelli, Vannucci, and Carucci shoes. Robin notes that he’d receive regular calls to rep other collections based on his untarnished reputation, work ethic, overall sales talent, and far-reaching kindness. “The way he cared for his clients was something special,” she maintains. “He’d load up his Chrysler Pacifica with rolling racks of every item in every color. He treated people with so much respect, no matter how big or small the store. In fact, he’d even postponed his surgery for a road trip to Virginia to make sure his clients had all their spring/summer merchandise.”
While still working as a road rep, Michael and Robin opened Boys Connection, an upscale boys’ store in Bala Cynwyd that specializes in bar mitzvah suits but has evolved into men’s. “Michael would always tell people this was my store,” says Robin, “but he handled so much of it: displays, bookkeeping, vendor relations, schmoozing with customers… while still visiting clients along the East Coast!” (Editor’s note: Main Line Today just awarded Boys Connection a 2023 Readers’ Choice award for Best Boys Store.)
Philip Scotti from Philip Michael Fashion for Men considered Michael both business consultant and friend. “I’ve known Michael for 18 years. I first met him at the Magic Show and we had an instant connection. I recognized his willingness to help, not just to sell product. Michael’s mantra was ‘I work for the retailer’ and it was so true! During every visit, he’d make merchandising recommendations that would always get positive results. My store associates looked forward to learning from his extensive knowledge. His extraordinary sense of humor was always a special part of his visits. When the store was busy, he’d always help the customers, thus showing his true passion for the business.”
Client and friend Gary Dante from SuitMart in Houston appreciated Michael’s fun-loving personality. “At the last Magic show, we had a $100 bet on the World Series: he had the Phillies and of course, I had the Astros. We let the guys from Stitch Holding guard the money. So next day, I showed up at their booth to collect. Michael got down on one knee and kissed the ring and payoff. It was hilarious. He then stood up and gave me $200. In $2 dollar bills! He was always so good-natured and so much fun!”
Says retailer Bart Rice from Better Menswear in Virginia, “Michael Freedman was one of my primary sales reps for the last 14 years. He was a lot of things: friend, coach, advisor, mentor, and most importantly part of our family. He was always there with advice whether I wanted to hear it or not, full of new ideas. He was a ‘fresh set of eyes’ when he would visit. I’d always ask his input; he had an uncanny ability to see things from both a customer and retailer perspective.
“Michael took great pride in ‘working for his customers’ and would celebrate progress as if he had an ownership stake in the store. He was extremely smart, worked very hard, was passionate, honest, and caring. He always took the time to make sure he interacted with everyone in the store: customers, salespeople, sales support people and those in the tailor shop. He exemplified the phrase, ‘never met a stranger’ because he’d figure out how to connect with anyone, regardless of gender, age, race, or religion. I am a better retailer, business owner, person, father, and husband because of him.”
Michael Gilardian from Stitched Holdings reiterates Michael’s many assets. “He was our sales manager for the past 10 years. He worked hard all his life and was a smart, savvy guy. Our relationship was more than just work: it was based on strong values and the constant humor we kept throwing at each other. He called it as he saw it. Some people stood back when they first met him but once they started to know him, they couldn’t get enough of him. He was a true mensch, a non-replaceable friend and salesman. He will be greatly missed.”
Mark Hiken from Steven Land gets right to the point: “Michael was our top salesman because of the unwavering trust that retailers had in him.”
Surely no one knew Michael as well as his children. To his son David, Michael was both his role model and his inspiration. “His work ethic was impeccable: never taking shortcuts, always doing things the right way. The caring way he treated people was legendary: always with tremendous respect and kindness, always going out of his way to make someone happy.”
And from Michael’s daughter Stacy, “I don’t think my dad would have been able to retire: his work was his passion, almost as much as family. I feel so lucky to have benefited from a lifetime of love, and a home always open to all kinds of people. I loved how my dad would text before calling me to make sure the call wouldn’t disturb me. I loved watching Eagles and Sixers games with him, and cooking family dinners together. It didn’t matter where we were or what we were doing, when he was with family, he was genuinely happy. I mean, he was six foot five yet perfectly content to sleep on the little sofa in my apartment!
“Dad, we would have done anything to keep you here with us where you belong. Everything David and I have become is thanks to the way you and Mom raised us. Thank you is not nearly enough.”