Shoppers/Jumbo Founder Kenneth Herman Dies At 92

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One of the Washington area’s retailing pioneers, Kenneth Herman, co-founder of Jumbo Food Stores and later Shoppers Food Warehouse, passed away on June 21 after a long illness. He was 92.

The company’s roots actually date back to 1929 when Kenneth’s older brother, Irving, started Herman’s Cut-Rate Market on U Street NW in the District. By the late 1930s, Kenneth and another partner, Sam Levin, joined Irvingin the growing company which by then operated several stores. By the early 1950s the name of the company was changed to Jumbo Food Stores when it opened a larger unit on Benning Road NE. 

By 1960, there were four Jumbo Food Store locations in the DC area and the retailer continued adding locations, operating nine stores by 1978, when the last new Jumbo Food Store opened in Annandale, VA.  At that time, Irving’s son, Michael, was an integral executive in the operation.

Seeing the success of discount-style supermarkets in other regions of the country, the Hermans believed that a no-frills, warehouse type concept would also be successful in the DC area. So, in 1978 they opened their first Shoppers Food Warehouse supermarket in Alexandria, VA.

The Shoppers formula clicked almost immediately, and over the next nine years the company began to convert all of its Jumbo stores to the new warehouse format. In 1986, the company dropped the Jumbo name entirely in favor of Shoppers. At that time the company operated 13 Washington area stores and commanded 5.7 percent of the Greater DC market.

In 1988, upon the completion of the sale of a 50 percent interest in Shoppers to Dart Group for approximately $17 million, Irving Herman retired as chairman and son Michael resigned as executive vice-president.

Shoppers was then co-chaired by Kenneth Herman and Herbert Haft, founder of Dart, which owned Dart Drug, Trak Auto and Crown Books. Kenneth remained at the company as president and CEO, his son Robert, then executive vice president, took over as chief operating officer, son Mitchell retained his post as senior vice president of operations, and Kenneth’s daughter and company spokesperson Sandra Perkins retained her position as senior vice president of marketing and advertising. Dart was expected to help the chain grow internally by using its knowledge and connections in drugs and cosmetics to bolster sales in those areas, help in improving the look of the stores, and use its real estate expertise in the selection of new locations.

Over the next four years, Shoppers operated with Dart and the Herman family each owning 50 percent of the company. But, in the deal with Dart and Haft, Kenneth had retained an option to reacquire one share and regain control of the company and in June 1994, after a contentious period in the Dart-Shoppers relationship, he elected to exercise that option and wrested back control of the chain.

In December 1996, Dart triggered a buy-sell provision and set a $210 million price for a 50 percent interest in Shoppers. At that time, Shoppers operated 32 stores and commanded 9.36 percent of DC’s supermarket sales. The Herman family agreed to sell its stake, and the transaction was completed in February 1997. Two months later, Dart settled its differences with Haft, who agreed to a $41 million settlement to relinquish control of the company and step down as CEO and chairman.

In 1998, Shoppers was sold to Richfood and just a year later, Supervalu acquired Richfood, in part to acquire the Shoppers brand, which was by then the third largest supermarket chain in the Washington, DC region in sales and volume.

Kenneth Herman was the beloved husband for 33 years to Rhoda Herman; devoted and loving father of Sandra Jean (Jeffrey S.) Perkins, Robert Norman Herman (Ann Gerber), Mitchell Dana Herman (Patti Berman) and Laurence Scott Herman; adored grandfather of Taryn, Todd, Matthew, Douglas, Scott, Andrew, Tyler and Justin; great-grandfather of Jacqueline, Michelle, Kayla, Ella, Ryan and Eli; step-father to Eileen Lehrer (Peter), Nadine Levin (Alan) and Donni Rappaport. He is survived by his sister Florence Kossow. Memorial contributions may be made to the American Cancer Society or to B’nai B’rith.