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The year was 1944 and victory in World War II was in sight for the Allies.
With the war a year away from winding down, life in the U.S. was changing. The economy was on the upswing and city dwelling Americans would soon be on the move. And as they traveled, increasingly by air, but also on land and sea, they would need luggage.
So, it could be said that when Morris Izenson and his two brother started their business, Specialty Luggage, the timing was impeccable.
But now, after 76 years, Specialty Luggage, Pittsburgh’s last multi-brand luggage and travel store, is going out of business.
On Thursday the last of its stores, located in the Waterworks Mall, began a going-out-of-business sale. Owner Jeff Izenson, Morris’s grandson, said by the middle of September, it will close its doors for good. He cited the coronavirus, which has brought travel to almost a complete stop, as the chief culprit.
“I would have kept this store open but we’re just a victim of covid-19,” said Izenson. “There’s no traffic. We’re all operating at about 15% or, if you’re lucky, you’re getting about 20% of your old volume.”
Izenson also lamented he could no longer compete with luggage brands selling directly to customers online.
At its peak, Specialty Luggage operated four stores in the Pittsburgh area. Last summer it closed its Downtown store on Liberty Avenue leaving the Waterworks Mall as the last location.
“We operated for 32 years at Waterworks. We had a good run,” said Izenson.
When Morris Izenson opened Specialty Luggage at the corner of Smithfield and Liberty Avenue in 1944, the store’s specialty was manufacturing industrial cases for mine safety. The cases were made of wood and contained an oxygen tank and a full mask inside. They were mainly sold to firefighters.
In the 1970s, Irwin Izenson, Jeff’s dad, decided to focus on retail and sold popular luggage brands such as Tumi, Samsonite and American Tourister, among others. He also brief cases, leather goods and pens.
“We were pretty well known for unique gifts back in the day,” said Jeff Izenson.
But now, as they say, everything must go. Izenson said he will miss running the store but he feels even worse for his five employees.
“We knew this was coming a long time ago and it has now come to pass. So, I feel bad for my employees who stuck around for a long time – 35 years, 22 years, 15 years – because they loved it. They loved the customers, they loved the product, and they liked helping people travel because if you’re going to travel it’s kind of a fun thing.
“On the other hand, it’s a sense of relief because there was no way we were going to survive.”
Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected]
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