Louis Fortunoff, ex-retail executive, dies at 47

Louis Fortunoff, a former executive of the Fortunoff Louis Fortunoff, a former executive of the Fortunoff department store who played a key role in rallying community support for expansion of the home furnishing and jewelry business, died Oct. 20, 2012, at St. Francis Hospital in Manhasset. He was 47. Newsday's obituary for Louis Fortunoff
Photo Credit: Joel Cairo, 2004

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Louis Fortunoff, a former executive of the Fortunoff department store who played a key role in rallying community support for expansion of the home furnishing and jewelry business, died Saturday at St. Francis Hospital in Manhasset. He was 47.

He died of pancreatic cancer, said his brother, David Fortunoff, 43, of Old Westbury.

The son of Helene and the late Alan Fortunoff, Louis Fortunoff, also of Old Westbury, worked alongside his father and cousins to expand the company throughout the tri-state area. The business was founded in 1922 by Alan Fortunoff's parents Max and Clara, in Brooklyn and moved to a superstore in Westbury in 1964.

Louis Fortunoff began working at the company in 1988, after graduating from Yale University with an English degree, and from New York University's Stern School of Business with a MBA. He held roles in operations, finance, public relations and merchandising, before the family sold the business in 2005.

"After the business was sold, he actually spent a lot of time catching up on his family," his brother said. "He had sacrificed a lot for the business, and for the past couple of years, really focused on being the best father and husband."

In the early 1990s, Louis Fortunoff played a key role in developing The Source, a shopping center in Westbury, and then The Source in White Plains around 2002. Both required approvals from community members, and Louis was tasked with getting it.

"He rallied support of diverse people -- community leaders, union leaders, financiers," David Fortunoff said. "It was very difficult . . . He had to work at it."

Louis Fortunoff was accustomed to working a lot, especially from the crucial Thanksgiving to Christmas retail season.

"The only holiday that we got to celebrate was Christmas, even though we were Jewish . . . that was our only day off during the fall," David Fortunoff said. "Every Christmas we would get together and toast the season and watch movies all day long."

Fortunoff obtained certification as an investment manager in 2003, and managed the family's investment portfolio.

He also served on the boards of Israel Discount Bank and the foundation for SUNY College at Old Westbury.Jan Burman, president of the Association for a Better Long Island, of which Fortunoff was a longtime member, described him in a statement as "almost Old World in his courtly demeanor."

"He was a genuine gentleman who would combine wonderful insight and a dry wit with a demeanor that respected opposing points of view," she said.

"His loss is a tragedy on so many levels."

One of Louis Fortunoff's proudest philanthropic activities was the Fortunoff Holocaust Archive at Yale University, which the late Alan Fortunoff established while Louis attended the school. The repository of oral testimonies from Holocaust survivors, just celebrated its 30th anniversary.

After Louis received his pancreatic cancer prognosis, "he was fond of telling me not to sweat the small stuff," said Fortunoff.

Besides his brother, Fortunoff is survived by his wife, Jennie Esterow, and two young children; and four sisters: Esther Fortunoff-Greene of Old Westbury, Andrea Fortunoff of Syosset, Rhonda Hampton of Grant Pass, Ore., and Ruth Fortunoff-Cooper of Old Westbury.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Monday at Temple Sinai, 425 Roslyn Road, Roslyn. Donations can be made to the Fortunoff Video Archives for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University or the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research.

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