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‘Mr. Jay’ Lebowitz, Dead at 78

White-goods retailing veteran Jay “Mr. Jay” Lebowitz died last month following a short illness. He was 78.

Lebowitz, a respected and beloved figure in the major appliance business, was instrumental in the formation of the NECO Alliance, the Northeastern buying group that operates under the umbrella of Nationwide Marketing.

Lebowitz founded his Long Island TV and appliance dealership, Mr. Jay Appliances, in 1961, and later served as president/CEO of regional buying group Intercounty Appliance Corp. for nearly 30 years. He was awarded the Torch of Liberty award in 1992 and the Patricia Rienzi Legacy award in 2003 from the Anti-Defamation League’s Consumer Technology & Appliance Division.

Lebowitz helped create NECO eight years ago by bringing Intercounty together with area rivals Appliance Dealers Co-op (ADC), The Boston Group, Dynamic Marketing Inc. (DMI) and Nationwide of Connecticut. “All the chapters were fighting one another,” Lebowitz once recounted for TWICE. “We neutralized each other’s ability to get better pricing from vendors. So I called my archrival, Vinnie Capuano of DMI, and I said if we don’t come together, we’re going to die.”

Today, the billion-dollar collective, headed by executive director Mel Hunger, boasts 450 members and 600 storefronts.

Lebowitz is remembered fondly by his peers. “He was a visionary, a leader and the gentleman of the appliance industry,” recalled distributor Marty Friedman, president of Eastern Marketing Corp. “He understood that the 450 retailers in the Northeast would be put out of business by the big appliance retailers if they didn’t join forces to buy, learn, teach and work together.”