Barry Bonoff was a venerable Twin Cities retailer who weathered difficult times with his humor and service to others.
Bonoff, who recently passed away at the age of 91, was a longtime owner of women’s clothing line Jackson Graves and has found a way to serve his community throughout his life. He was a witty, empathetic, witty dresser and business he was an informal pillar of the community.
His daughter, Terry Bonoff, who worked for Jackson Graves from 1979 to 1984, said, “He was always bright and cheery. My dad set an example. He worked hard and always cared about his team.” He had great fashion sense, but he let his buyers lead.”
Jackson-Graves was a family business, and Bonoff returned to Minneapolis in 1957 after serving as an Army officer, when asked by his father, Joseph. He led the expansion of the downtown flagship store and the expansion of Edina’s then-new Southdale store.
Barry Bonoff eventually took over the business and led a 30-year growth period. He led an initiative to strengthen downtown retail in his 1980s, and the problem continues today.
Life wasn’t perfect. There were personal and professional challenges.
Jackson-Graves struggled after its Nicollet Mall store closed in the mid-1980s for redevelopment at the south end of the mall. He moved his flagship to the then new City Center. The store never returned to its previous success.
Bonoff closed Jackson Graves in 1988 amid declining sales and pressure from domestic chains such as Gap and Limited. The surge in large suburban discount stores also played a role.
In a 1988 Star Tribune interview, Bonoff said he was “very sad” after closing the store and laying off dozens of employees.
Its economic decline and difficult period of divorce put Bonov to the test. In 1988 he became a consultant and adjunct business professor at St. Thomas College.
He also proved resilience and was always grateful for family, friends and life, recalled former Minnetonka Senator Terry Bonoff.
Barry Bonoff has remarried to former Jackson Graves store manager Roberta Bonoff. In 1992, the couple opened apparel stores in the Mall of America and Galleria.
In 1992, Barry Bonoff recalled, “I never thought about going back to retail.”
He was up at 2am again with business ideas.
UK-based Monsoon, Bonoff’s locally licensed retail franchisor, did not find much success. Barry and Roberta Bonoff closed his business by 1997. Barry is retired again.
Roberta Bonoff was CEO of Creative Kidstuff for many years.
Barry Bonoff remained in service and was known for his cause and generosity. His children remember him learning that someone was down, or seeing an apartment building fire on the TV news. He hastily gathered and delivered clothing, supplies, and encouragement.
“My father was kind to everyone, regardless of their position in life,” said Terry Bonoff, now CEO of Jewish Family and Career Services in Atlanta. Dorsey Whitney’s former attorney, her husband Matthew Knopf, serves as senior vice president and deputy general counsel for Delta Air Lines.
After 20 years of retirement, Barry Bonoff volunteered as a reading tutor for struggling students at Gatewood Elementary School in Hopkins. Bonoff’s Weekly Community His service ended after nearly 20 years of his school being emptied by COVID-19.
Teacher Amanda VanWye, who has become a family friend, and her students once created a community song and dance program, Reed Barry Reed, in Bonoff’s honor.
A lover of reading, Bonov knew that literacy was essential for educational and career success. Even when Bonoff was battling dementia in his late 80s, someone was driving Bonoff to his school twice a week. He worked patiently and happily with his students.
He was a positive and encouraging mentor both at work and at school.
In late December, hundreds gathered at Temple Israel in Minneapolis to say goodbye to Barry Bonoff. He gave business and community service a good name.