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Caldor Department Store
Type Privately held company
Industry Retail
Founded 1951 in Port Chester, New York
Headquarters South Windsor, Connecticut
Area served North America
Key people Justin Calabrese[1]
Products Clothing, photography, garden/seasonal, sporting goods, appliances, hardware, footwear, bedding, furniture, jewelry, beauty products, electronics, housewares
Services Caldor residential security alarm monitoring, Caldor vacations, Insurance
Revenue Increase US$ 2.5 billion (1999)[2]
Owner(s) Calabrese Family
Employees 20,000 (1998)

Caldor is an online eCommerce retailer headquartered in South Windsor, Connecticut, operating throughout North America. At one time, the company was a subsidiary of May Department Stores. In 1999, Caldor was the country's 4th largest discount retailer behind Wal-mart, Target Corporation, and Kmart.

The retail chain declared bankruptcy in 1995 and never fully emerged from it, eventually resorting to closing its remaining stores on May 15, 1999. Despite its bankruptcy, Caldor was a popular destination for shoppers. Today the business is back as an eCommerce retailer online at


Caldor & The Beginning[edit]

The first store was opened by Carl and Dorothy Bennett in a tiny second-floor loft in Port Chester, NY in 1951, as a five and dime. (from May 23, 1984 New York Times Business Day) Caldor was formed from the couple's first names: Carl and Dorothy. The Bennetts also developed a private clothing label, Marc Robbins, named for their two children. By the 1980s, Caldor had stores along the East Coast from Virginia to New Hampshire. In late 1998, Caldor had 145 stores. Many Caldor stores had been part of the J.M. Fields chain.

The Bennetts sold Caldor to Associated Dry Goods Corporation (ADG) in 1981. ADG would merge with May Department Stores in 1986. May sold the chain in November 1990 in a leveraged buyout. In 1991, Caldor went public and earned over $2.5 billion in revenue that year, becoming the fourth largest retailer in the United States behind Kmart, Target, and Wal-Mart. In 1992 it changed its format, as it expanded and renovated many of their older stores. By 1994, Caldor had 166 stores in 10 states.

Norwalk Store Fire[edit]

On Monday, April 17, 1961 at 2:10am a two-alarm structure fire was reported at the Norwalk Caldor Department Store on Rote 7, just south of the Norwalk town line. Firefighters reported dodging exploding bullets coming from the sporting goods department. No emergency crews were seriously hurt battling the blaze, except for one Norwalk firefighter who was taken to a local hospital for minor injuries. The fire completely leveled the retail store and caused over $1,000,000 in damages. None of the products were salvageable. The cause of the fire was never determined.[3]

Howard Stern Disagreement[edit]

Most Caldor stores had a bookselling department, and the stores would often post the New York Times Best Seller list to inform its shoppers. The posting of the list led to a spat with the newspaper in 1993. That year, Howard Stern released his controversial autobiography Private Parts. Caldor wanted nothing to do with the book and opted not to carry it in its stores. In fact, Caldor would not even acknowledge the book's place on the list once it reached the top spot, deleting the book from the list, and moving every other book on the list up one place. The New York Times told Caldor that in order to post the list, all of the books on it had to be acknowledged. Caldor responded by not posting the list the next week.[4]

Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc.[edit]

Donald E. Thornton began working as a store department manager for Caldor, Inc., a chain of retail stores, in 1975. At that time, Connecticut's blue laws required retail stores to close on Sunday, but the law was changed in 1977. As a result, Caldor required Thornton to work one Sunday out of each four. Thornton complied for several months but in 1978, he advised Caldor that he observed Sunday as his Sabbath and would no longer work on Sundays.

The case concerned the constitutionality of a Connecticut state statute, which provided that "[n]o person who states that a particular day of the week is observed as his Sabbath may be required by his employer to work on such day. An employee's refusal to work on his Sabbath shall not constitute grounds for his dismissal."

Caldor told Thornton that they could not accommodate his unwillingness to work Sundays in his current job position. Caldor offered either to transfer him to a comparable management job at a store in Massachusetts that was closed on Sunday, or to transfer him to a non-management position in his current store at a lower salary. Although Thornton did not accept either suggestion, in 1980 Caldor transferred Thornton to a clerical position that was not assigned to work Sundays.

Thornton resigned and filed a complaint with a Connecticut state labor agency, asserting that Caldor had illegally discharged him for refusing to work on his Sabbath. Caldor responded that Thornton had not been "discharged" for purposes of the statute, and also contended that the statute was unconstitutional under the religion clauses of the United States and Connecticut Constitutions.

The agency sided with Thornton, ordering Caldor to reinstate Thornton to his prior position with back pay and benefits, and the Connecticut Superior Court affirmed the agency's determination. On appeal, however, the Connecticut Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the statute lacked a "clear secular purpose" and its "primary effect" was to confer a religious benefit, it was unconstitutional under the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

Thornton sought review by the United States Supreme Court, which granted certiorari. While the case was pending in federal court, Thornton died, and his estate was substituted as a party. At argument, Thornton's estate was represented by Nathan Lewin, and Caldor by Paul Gewirtz.

This historical case has been used by many colleges including Cornell University Law School[5] and Harvard School of Law.[6]

First Bankruptcy[edit]

In 1995, Caldor filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.[7] The chain found itself unable to compete with the lower prices and wider selection of such stores as Wal-Mart (which had acquired several former Caldor stores), causing a dramatic loss in sales.

Caldor also had trouble meeting its financial goals and losses mounted. Shortly before filing for bankruptcy, Caldor had $1.2 billion in assets and $883 million in liabilities, the lowest amount of assets and the highest amount of liabilities the company had since it was sold by May Department Stores in 1990. After the bankruptcy, Caldor closed 10 underperforming stores in 1996.

1998 Weekly Ad Printing Error[edit]

Caldor relied heavily on a weekly multi-color sales flyer to generate business. Flyers were distributed weekly to advertise sales that ran from Sunday through Saturday. In November 1998, the company suffered a public relations embarrassment when its sales flyer featured a prominent photograph of two grinning boys playing the board game "Scrabble" with the word RAPE spelled out in the center of the board, buried amongst nonsense words. 11 million copies of the flyer were distributed to the public via an 85-newspaper distribution chain. Caldor released a statement expressing its mystification over how the image was created and got past proofreaders.[8][9]

Second Bankruptcy & Liquidation[edit]

In January 1998, Caldor had $1.2 billion in liabilities and $949 million in assets, one of the worst deficits the company ever had. A few months later, Caldor closed 12 underperfoming stores, most in the Washington, D.C. area. This, along with the slow financial progress of the chain, caused its secured creditors to force the chain into Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which would have forced the liquidation of the entire chain. The creditors felt that their shareholders would benefit more from the liquidation of the company than if they allowed it to remain in business. In addition, Caldor's stock was de-listed on the New York Stock Exchange.

Caldor responded by seeking mediation to resolve the dispute. However, it became clearer that Caldor's troubles could not be resolved by any means and that the demise of the chain was imminent. As 1999 began, Caldor announced that it would no longer be placing orders for or accepting shipments of new merchandise, which seemed to serve as a prelude to a liquidation announcement. That announcement came on January 22, where Caldor's chairman announced the chain had no alternative but to wind down business.[10]

Layoffs began immediately, with the staff at Caldor's corporate headquarters cut by a large margin. The liquidation sales began within several weeks of the announcement and the last Caldor store closed on Saturday, May 15, 1999. At the time the chain closed, it had 22,000 employees and 145 stores in nine East Coast states.

The chain made $2.5 billion in sales in its last full year in business.

Many Caldor stores eventually were purchased by retailers such as competitors Target and Wal-Mart. Many metro New York Caldor stores were bought by Kohl's after the company's closure as part of Kohl's entry into the New York retail market.

In 2014 there are talks into bring back the chain [11]

Caldor in 2014[edit]

In May 2014, South Windsor, Connecticut resident, Justin Calabrese took ownership of the brand. The University of Hartford graduate purchased, the businesses intellectual property (IP), and trademarks. Justin will be modernizing the Caldor brand in order to replicate it successful operations back in 1999. The website is still under construction[12] and should open in late 2015 according to a spokesperson for the Caldor company.

It is unclear how much Justin Calabrese paid for the companies intellectual property. Calabrese was born on April 11, 1990, and resides in South Windsor, Connecticut.

Popular Culture References[edit]

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