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Sunday, August 25, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Bernard Brotman Was Innovator In Retail Business

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Remember Bernie's Mens Wear? Penguin sweaters? Bottoms women's store?

How about PriceCostco?

Bernard Brotman, one of the Northwest's most innovative retailers, had a hand in these and more.

His death Friday (Aug. 23) of heart failure at age 84 signals the end of an era.

Stories about his humor, business savvy and forthrightness abound. So do accounts of his public generosity and private thrift.

"One time, some guys stole a pair of pants and a clerk ran after them and brought them back to Bernie's," said former employee Gary Donion. "Bernie read them the riot act on honesty. Then he gave them the pants. That says a lot."

On more than one occasion, Mr. Brotman also helped pay employees' college tuition.

"If I questioned a few of his charitable gifts, he'd tell me he'd never missed a meal because of the donations he'd made," said his wife of 20 years, Sally Brotman of Seattle.

"But he hated me to go shopping. He didn't like to hear the word, `shopping.' I wore the same dress that I wore for his 70th birthday, but redone, for his 80th. That's the best gift I could give him."

Born in Belgoni, Saskatchewan, Mr. Brotman moved with his family to Tacoma and was a star athlete at Stadium High School. He joined with his brothers in operating a men's apparel store before striking out on his own to form Bernie's Mens Wear in Tacoma in 1950.

He also joined with one of his brothers to help pass a bond issue

that built the Tacoma Dome.

Mr. Brotman moved his family and offices to Seattle in 1965.

Seeing the coming denim-wear trend for women, he opened the Bottoms store for young women in 1970. Also an owner of Seattle Knitting Mills, he helped invent the long, skinny, button-front "penguin sweater."

Bernie's stores numbered 18 in Washington and Oregon by the 1970s. They met the needs of baby boomers moving into college and careers. The stores were among the nation's first young men's specialty stores.

"He also was the originator of the Costco idea," said son Jeff Brotman, PriceCostco chairman, of Bellevue. "I wasn't even in retailing. But he . . . convinced me it was the opportunity of a lifetime. He'd seen the Price Club wholesale operation in California, and we expanded to wholesale and retail combined."

Mr. Brotman, who kept a summer home on Vashon Island, liked to fish and garden. He also followed the Seattle SuperSonics. His twinkling eyes and young attitude were appreciated by many, his wife said:

"One friend told me Bernie was the only person he knew who was 60 for 20 years."

Other survivors include his son Mike Brotman, Mercer Island; his stepchildren Kim Kipling, La Canada, Calif., and Kurt Krasne and Ken Krasne, San Diego; his sister, Meta Williams, Olympia; and 12 grandchildren. His first wife, Pearl Brotman, died in 1975.

Services are scheduled for 1 p.m. tomorrow at Temple de Hirsch Sinai, 1511 E. Pike St. Remembrances may be made to any charity.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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