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Vermont retailer Louis R. Mazel dies at 99

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Louis R. Mazel, who developed Vermont’s first local, discount department store, and who was a longtime prominent member of Burlington’s business and philanthropic communities, died March 28 at 99.

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One of that relatively rare breed, a native-born Jewish Vermonter, Mazel began working in the family-owned department store, Mazel’s, in Burlington, as a teenager. Mazel’s father, Morris, had arrived in Burlington from Russia in about 1880 and became a peddler. By 1914 he opened his first store.

Louis Mazel left Vermont only briefly for retail experience in New York and then European service during World War II. In 1959, taking a risk on building a store in a suburban shopping strip, he and his brother Sid, opened Gaynes Shoppers World. The store’s advertising played on their personalities, and invited shoppers to meet, “Sid and Lou, the brothers two.”

The Eulogizer, a former resident of Burlington, remembers buying numerous items at Gaynes, especially, cheap winter gear, including boots, necessary for surviving Vermont winters in poorly insulated houses and on a young reporter’s modest salary. Current Burlington residents have waxed nostalgic about Gaynes, which closed more than a decade ago, on a local blog.

The Burlington Free Press said there was “no stopping Gaynes or Mazel, who became a one-man walking chamber of commerce promoting the area. Mazel became involved in almost every philanthropic and fraternal organization in Burlington area.”

Over the years, Mazel won virtually every local award possible in the Burlington area, including an honorary degree from St. Michael’s College, where he later helped establish the Rabbi Max B. Wall Endowment for Jewish Studies. Mazel served on boards promoting the United Way, YMCA, Medical Center Hospital of Vermont, St. Michael’s College, Champlain College, Fleming Museum, and Burlington’s Ohavi Zedek Synagogue, home for many years to Rabbi Wall.

The Eulogizer highlights the life accomplishments of famous and not-so-famous Jews who have passed away recently. Write to the Eulogizer at eulogizer@jta.org. Follow the Eulogizer on Twitter @TheEulogizer

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