“CRAZY EDDIE—his prices are insane!” If you remember that line from the famous Crazy Eddie electronics store commercials, you probably lived in the New Jersey/New York metropolitan area in the 1980s. Those TV ads were hard to miss, and today they produce a certain amount of affectionate nostalgia among Baby Boomers and Gen Xers—despite the massive fraud that eventually took the company down.
The company was started in 1971 by Eddie and Sam M. Antar in Brooklyn, and rose to prominence throughout New Jersey, New York and Connecticut for its cut-rate prices on TVs and other electronics, as well as for its notoriously frenetic TV and radio commercials, featuring a character played by radio DJ Jerry Carroll. The chain had 43 stores in four states, with more than $300 million in sales, before it all came tumbling down when the pair’s colossal fraud scheme was revealed.
The saga is detailed in Retail Gangster, a new book published by Hachette this month, and written by investigative journalist Gary Weiss.
Weiss, who previously wrote two books that critically examine the ethics and morality of Wall Street, in Born to Steal, and Wall Street Versus America, was contacted by Sam Antar on his blog, after Antar read one of his books.
“Sam was very interested in a character he read about in Wall Street Versus America (Patrick Byrne, a conspiracy theorist and the former CEO of Overstock.com)—he saw traits in him that he had when he was a crook,” says Weiss, adding that Sam wrote a sarcastic open letter about it on his blog.
Weiss got to know Sam, who it turned out wanted his story told. Weiss was happy to oblige.
What made an electronics store so popular that it became a cultural phenomenon?
“It was the commercials; their ads were amazing. Now they seem retro and corny,” explains Weiss. “They very successfully appealed to the youth market. It was cool. People loved to have something to hate.”
But if you did go into one of their stores because you liked their kooky commercials, or because you thought you might find a bargain, you were immediately going to be ripped off, says Weiss.
Behind the scenes, Eddie Antar was stealing from everybody: “He stole from his wife, he stole the sales tax; he stole from every single person he came into contact with. He even stole the crazy logo from R. Crumb (the cartoonist). The fraud was a gateway drug for him,” he says.
What drew Weiss to write the book was that it was an amazing story with fascinating characters.
“Every time you go into one aspect of their lives, you find something new. Every character has a hidden life with a secret. It’s just a great yarn with amazing subplots.”Click here to leave a comment