Trivia: Rise and fall of New Bedford’s discount stores
Posted Monday, July 30, 2018 08:26 PM

Trivia: Rise and fall of New Bedford’s discount stores

 Arlans was New Bedford’s first discount department store. Brothers Lester and Herbert Palestine and their associate, Hyman Feinstein, founded the business in 1948.

From a modest beginning it expanded rapidly into a nationwide chain store, selling general retail merchandise. By 1970 it had 119 stores, most of them located in the Northeast and Midwest. During that year, it began to suffer from a recession that saw unemployment reach 1 million nationwide.

As sales fell, Arlans experienced heavy losses. From 1970 to 1973, it lost $65 million, despite closing 40 percent of its stores and laying off more than 4,000 employees. The situation worsened, and by the 1974 Christmas season, only 10 stores remained. In 1975, those, too, were liquidated as part of the company bankruptcy proceedings.

Mars Bargainland was a small chain of full-range discount stores headquartered in New Bedford. Most of its stores were located in eastern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire. Matthew Tatelbaum opened the first Mars Bargainland in August 1962. Other stores soon followed, including one in South Dartmouth. By 1971, Tatelbaum’s 16-store chain had expanded into western Massachusetts.

However, the economic recession of the early 1970s led to five straight years of losses. The chain managed to survive by either closing or selling nine stores and reducing inventory in the others. The respite was short-lived. Mars Bargainland was liquidated in 1990. Only the Dartmouth store, renamed and transformed into Big Value, survives as a Tatelbaum family holding.

The Page Mill Discount Center opened in 1956 at the corner of Cove and Bonney Streets. It provided space to independent specialized merchants who offered a wide range of low-cost goods. Shortly thereafter, after having been renamed the Cove Discount Center, it began to aim at a wider public. When Louis Queen and James Falk bought it in 1972, they used their retail experience, gained at New Bedford’s Arlans and at Mars Bargainland, to expand the store. They stressed meeting customers’ needs with items not readily found elsewhere; for example, immigrant families, often unaccustomed to washing machines, could buy washboards there. Cove Discount served its mostly South End customers until 1998, when building problems including a leaking roof, spotty heating system and derelict air conditioning forced it to close. An extended going-out-of-business sale ended in November 1998. The building was demolished in 2000.