The real Crazy Eddie, a.k.a. Eddie Antar, is not insane. Intense, yes, but not crazy. He doesn't even look anything like the madman from the legendary commercials. That was Jerry Carroll, a former disc jockey. Adages had lunch last week with the real Eddie at Ben's Kosher Deli, in New York's garment district. He arrived with Dave Jones, chairman-CEO of Crazy Eddie Inc., the interactive reincarnation of the famous electronics chain. Both men wore black, like a pair of hit men or funeral directors. They arrived from Rahway, N.J., the company's new home and the home of one of the state's more esteemed penal institutions.
Eddie resembles Al Pacino, only Kosher. He's small and dark, with jet-black hair combed straight back, a salt and pepper beard, smooth gleaming skin and deep-set penetrating eyes that have seen some pain. "I don't want to talk about the past," Eddie insists. "Let's talk about the future."
The past, for Eddie, included phenomenal early success in the '70s as an electronics retailer and then seven years in the stir for bilking shareholders of about $150 million. In between, Eddie lived on the run from the law, hiding out in Israel, while one of his beloved daughters suffered and died of cancer back in the states without seeing her father one last time. "I've paid my dues. I made mistakes. I hurt my family," said Eddie. "Now I want to redeem the family name."
Eddie got his reputation for being crazy from promising to beat the prices of all his competitors. Back in 1968, when he opened Sight and Sound, his first electronics store on Kings Highway in Brooklyn, Eddie was renowned for undercutting retail prices just shy of violating fair trade rules. His store became so popular that the nascent local FM radio stations browbeat him with sales calls. He caved in, bought some airtime and got so many calls he had to stop using the store's payphone and opened an account with Ma Bell. He eventually also opened a chain of stores around the Northeast.
Eddie recalls the past fondly and proudly. Like Nikolai Gogol's famous overcoat, Eddie used to wear the same sweater to work every day. "I was superstitious. It was my good luck charm." Eventually, the sweater and his luck wore out. He took too many chances and lost. But he's back now and he's wearing a tightknit, Italian sport shirt and looking like a million bucks. He often picks up the phone at the office and takes down an order. Once, a customer was not convinced he was the real Eddie and asked him about the old sweater. "I told him I don't have it anymore. It just fell apart. I gave a few threads of it to some guy who wanted it for good luck." Eddie laughs, and then stares out with his piercing, intense eyes. "But that's the past."
Crazy Eddie II
Ed Eskandarian fumbled the football, but the buzz in Boston is that the Arnold Worldwide Partners chairman-CEO might try pitching a baseball. Mr. Eskandarian sold his Arnold Communi-cations to Snyder Communi-cations in 1998 and saw his portfolio dip along with Snyder stock price when Snyder head Dan Snyder focused on his newly purchased Washington Redskins. Now it's Mr. Eskandarian's turn to dabble in sport. He is part of a group that wants to buy the Red Sox, which were put up for sale in the fall. "The Red Sox is one of the best brands in sports, and Arnold has always been attracted to great brands, so it's only natural Arnold would be attracted to the Sox," he says. And like the `Skins, both teams are red. Good luck, Ed.
Contributing: Hillary Chura
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