William D. Modell, Seller of Sporting Goods, Is Dead at 86
By Dennis Hevesi
Published: February 15, 2008
William D. Modell, who as chairman of the Modell’s Sporting Goods chain
oversaw its expansion throughout much of the Northeast, died Thursday in
Manhattan. He was 86 and lived in Hewlett Harbor, N.Y.
The cause was complications of prostate cancer, his wife, Shelby, said.
Mr. Modell joined Modell’s, a 118-year-old family-owned business, at the end
of World War II and became chairman in 1985. But he had effectively run the
corporation since 1963, working alongside his father, Henry, who was
In 1975, the chain consisted of 10 stores in New York City and on Long
Island, with annual revenue of about $10.5 million. There are now 136
Modell’s stores in eight states and Washington, with revenue last year of
approximately $635 million.
The business was started in 1889 by Mr. Modell’s grandfather, Morris, an
immigrant from Hungary who opened a general store on Cortlandt Street in
Lower Manhattan. It thrived after World War I by stocking up on Army surplus
merchandise and selling it at low prices.
The store also made innovative use of the surplus, creating, for example,
children’s snowsuits out of khaki blankets and lamps using shell casings as
bases. Modell’s now sells casual clothing, work clothing and 400 styles of
footwear in addition to sporting goods.
William Modell’s expansion strategy involved buying locations from failing
rivals. In 1996, for instance, the chain grew to 67 stores from 52 by paying
$2.5 million for 15 outlets in New Jersey and in the Baltimore and
Washington areas of the bankrupt Herman’s World of Sporting Goods, a chain
that had been one of Modell’s biggest competitors.
Born on May 13, 1921, Mr. Modell grew up in the Manhattan Beach section of
Brooklyn. He attended New York University and served in the Army during
World War II.
Besides his wife, the former Shelby Zaldin, he is survived by his sister,
Doris Tipograph of Hewlett Harbor; a daughter, Leslie Modell, of Manhattan;
a son, Mitchell, of Alpine, N.J., who is president of the company, and nine
Mr. Modell’s son Michael, who had Crohn’s disease, an inflammation of the
digestive tract, died in 2001. Among other philanthropic works, Mr. Modell
was a founder of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America.