Robert Zarin, dedicated family patriarch, businessman, and community leader, passed away on Saturday, January 13, 2018. Born February 27, 1946, to Miriam and Harry Zarin on New York’s Lower East Side, Zarin traveled the globe, while never straying far from his roots. He was a devoted husband to his loving wife Jill, and they were each other’s soulmates and best friends.
Zarin is also survived by his adoring, and adored children from his first marriage to Eileen J. Zarin (Schwartz), David (Jill Cohen), Jennifer and Jonathan, and stepdaughter Allyson, grandchildren Micah, Lila and Asher. Zarin was loved by all, including his sisters Lenore and Zina, his sister-in-law Lisa, his brothers-in-law Marty and Bill, numerous nieces and nephews, and legions of devoting and loving friends.
As Chairman of Zarin Fabrics, a company founded by his father Harry Zarin in 1936, Bobby expanded the business to attain worldwide distribution while keeping its Lower East Side presence, which has become a landmark in NYC, and is recognized around the world. Zarin made his mark in commercial real estate as a value add investor, with properties from coast to coast. Zarin also served on the Mayor’s Business Advisory Board for the City of New York in the prime of his career.
Zarin fought his brave battle with cancer with characteristic good humor, and grace. He and Jill truly enjoyed every moment of every day together, creating special occasions, and memories whenever, and wherever possible.
Zarin was generous and kind and touched the lives of many. He was patient, and considerate, selfless, and altruistic. His presence will be greatly missed, but never forgotten.
The Zarin family takes comfort in their faith, and in knowing that they will one day be together again.
Donations in Bobby’s memory can be sent to:
International Thyroid Oncology Group, A 501(c)-3 corporation
5166 Commercial Drive
Yorkville, New York 13495
HISTORY OF ICONIC NYC FABRIC STORE ZARIN FABRICS
As a teenager, Zarin Fabrics founder, Harry Zarin, went to work in the fabric business on NYC’s famous Orchard Street, before venturing out on his own in 1936. He opened a tiny shop at 173 Orchard Street where he only had room for his inventory of fabrics and ready made curtains, so he had to make sales on the sidewalk. He built a reputation for providing great pricing and service and before long, he and another tenant in the building saved up enough money to purchase the property. The tenement, located on the northwest corner of Orchard and Rivington streets, remains in the Zarin family today. As the business prospered, he expanded to another building across the street (where the Hotel Indigo is now located), using it mainly for storage.
Zarin’s operated from that little shop on Orchard Street for decades before the company went into expansion mode. In the 1970’s, the business acquired a much larger space at 292 Grand Street, where Hong Kong Furniture is now located. It spread out over two floors, plus the basement, and began introducing new product lines. Robert Zarin started working in the store as a kid. He’d watch over the merchandise lined up on the street, and make a few sales. Robert Zarin told Hamptons.com, “All of Orchard Street was lined up as far as the eye can see with these pushcarts selling stores’ wares.” In later years, he’d come down to work in the store after getting off work (Bobby Zarin was a special education teacher during the Vietnam War) After the war, Zarin joined the business full time.
In 1974, Bobby Zarin opened a side business, making the store a distributor for drapery hardware and upholstery supplies. The business was so successful that Zarin’s needed more space. Bobby purchased another building, 105-107 Eldridge Street, where Fontana’s Bar was located until earlier this year. Building owners at the time were anxious to unload their properties in a neighborhood that was anything but desirable. Bobby Zarin made a handshake deal with the owner, Hank Sobel to acquire the building for $135,000 and pay it off over 25 years. The drapery hardware and upholstery supplies business operated out of the ground floor and then, in the 1980s, Zarin’s began manufacturing vertical blinds from the second floor, which became another enormous success for the company.
In November of 1987, the business suffered a big setback. One day, a worker using a blowtorch to fix the security gate at 292 Grand Street inadvertently set some fabric ablaze. The building was engulfed in flames and much of the inventory ruined. In the aftermath of that disaster, Zarin thought he’d go out of business, but it did not take him long to come up with a plan. Zarin took the fabric he could salvage over to a second floor space at 72 Allen Street, which he had rented a few years earlier for storage. At the time, it did not seem like a promising move. Stores in those days were located exclusively on the ground floor, where the hordes of shoppers visiting the Lower East Side “bargain district” could easily find them. So Zarin got a friend with a convertible to drive him around the neighborhood, while he shouted into a bullhorn, cajoling shoppers to venture upstairs. But there was a problem; local police did not take kindly to the bullhorn, which was being used for a purely commercial purpose. Only public service announcements were permitted, they said. That’s all Zarin needed to hear. The next day, he got back in the car, bullhorn in hand, broadcasting a new message: “Please visit Harry Zarin Company at our new location, the second floor of 72 Allen Street and don’t forget to vote!” Zarin kept up his unconventional marketing campaign for months, and it worked. There were many decorating stores on the Lower East Side at that time, but they were primarily focused on the manufacture of window treatments and upholstery. The concept of having a huge warehouse that displayed thousands of bolts of Fabrics was new. The Grand Street store eventually reopened, but it was never as successful as the new warehouse. Zarin’s eventually closed it, consolidating all parts of the business in to the warehouse building, where they currently occupy three floors.
Like his father, Zarin’s beloved son, David Zarin, stared working at Zarin Fabrics as a kid, eventually taking the reins of the company in 2007. David continues to successfully lead, and build the iconic family business, as he carries on the Zarin family legacy, a distinguished honor that surely made his father proud!
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