By JOHN T. WARD
Laureano “Larry” Garmany, a high-end clothier whose sizable investments in downtown Red Bank helped fuel its recovery from economic torpor back to prosperity in the 1990s, died Saturday.
No cause of death was given in an obituary published late Monday, but friends said the 62-year-old Colts Neck resident suffered a stroke early on the day he died.
Garmany, a Cuban immigrant-turned-retailer, bet heavily on Red Bank when it was widely derided as “Dead Bank,” and continually upped his stake in the town. His crowning achievements: transforming the vacant former Steinbach’s department store on Broad Street into a 40,000-square-foot clothing store bearing his name, and luring Tiffany & Co. to be its next-door neighbor.
Closing existing stores in New York City and Summit, “he took all his marbles so to speak and put them into one basket at a time when things weren’t looking so good for Red Bank,” former Mayor Ed McKenna said Monday. “His faith in our ability to resurrect the town was, for me personally, a real show of confidence, and made me feel better about the vision we had for bringing Red Bank back.”
Though opened in what was then still a blue-collar town, the Garmany store is now one of a handful serving carriage trade customers, some of whom don’t think twice about dropping $50,000 in shopping for a season’s wardrobe.
“It doesn’t take a lot of customers to make a good day here,” Garmany told redbankgreen in a 2007 interview. Customers were doted on with offers of coffee, champagne and more.”When a customer walks in here, we own them for life,” he said.
Born in Vazquez, Oriente, Cuba, Garmany came to the United States with his father and a sister by boat – they were transported by a fisherman to Florida – temporarily leaving behind his mother and two other sisters. The family, eventually reunited, settled in Brooklyn, Garmany told redbankgreen.
In 1974, at age 21, he borrowed $10,000 and opened a haberdashery on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Fifteen years later, with two stores, he turned his attention to Red Bank.
From the 2007 redbankgreen profile:
He bought 17 Broad Street, the former Colorest store, and then drove down with his architect and accountant to show them the new home for his own high-end men’s clothing shop.
“We get out of the car, and my architect looks left, and he looks right,” Garmany recalled last week. “And he says, ‘Larry, this is ghost town. What the hell have you done here?’ Only he didn’t use the word ‘hell.'”
Undeterred, the recent transplant to Monmouth County forged ahead. Making money in Dead Bank was “tough” early on, he says, but the store survived and added some momentum to a nascent recovery along Broad Street.
Then, in 1997, with the town’s bounceback in third or fourth gear, he decided to buy the former Red Bank Post Office and Roots department store building opposite Red Bank Catholic High School. Some people thought Garmany was truly nuts: he was more than tripling the size of his store while at the same time retaining ownership of the building he was vacating. His aim: to attract a tenant with customers from the same upper-income demographic he catered to.
He held out for several years until he got what he was after: the women’s clothing store CoCo Pari.
Garmany reprised his high-wire act yet again [in 2005], when he bought the former Steinbach and Bon-Ton department store building at 117 Broad – a giant, featureless cakebox of a structure that he spent millions to refurbish – and in the process went from 10,000 square feet to 40,000 of selling area, adding women’s clothing to boot.
“That,” says former Mayor Ed McKenna, “was the biggest leap of faith of all.”
But continuing the pattern, Garmany upped the stakes himself, setting out to lure Tiffany, which regards Greenwich, Conn. and West Palm Beach, Fla. as the kinds of small towns best suited for its needs, to set up shop at his last address.
McKenna, who considered Garmany a close friend, said he never doubted that Garmany would land Tiffany, which opened in 2007.
“That was something he worked on for a long time. He had his mind made up: ‘I’m going to get them to come to Red Bank, and I’m going to get them to come to my building,'” McKenna recalled. “You’ve got to give the guy credit. He held out. He had many many offers for that space, but he held out.”
McKenna called Garmany “the finest human being I’ve ever known” and “a model for what a person should be in every aspect.”
According to the obituary, published by the Asbury Park Press, Garmany is survived by his wife, Angeles; his son, Johnell, with whom he owned the store, and Johnell’s wife, Stefanie; his daughter, Vanessa, and her husband, Rafael; five grandchildren, three sisters and his mother, Blanca Garcia Amado.
After services Tuesday at Holmdel Funeral Home, in Holmdel, a Mass of Christian Burial is planned for 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at Saint James Roman Catholic Church in Red Bank, across Broad Street from the Garmany store.
According to a post on its Facebook page, the store will close at 5 p.m. on Tuesday and reopen on Wednesday at 1:30 p.m.