Stew Leonard Sr., grocery store genius whose unique store has fared well in Paramus, dies at 93

Stew Leonard Sr., whose folksy tone and gravelly voice on radio and television ads could overshadow the retail business genius that he was, died earlier this week at the age of 93.

Leonard, of Westport, Connecticut, was best known for his Stew Leonard’s stores in Connecticut and New York, but he took New Jersey by storm in the fall of 2019, when he expanded to New Jersey with an 80,000-square-foot store near the Paramus Park Mall.

The opening, which drew huge crowds — including Martha Stewart — showed why the chain had earned the distinction of being the “Disneyland of Dairy Stores,” as it was filled with various animatronics, including a singing Chiquita banana, and an augmented reality game for shoppers.

Behind the fun was a serious shopper’s paradise, as it features a butcher shop, Bethy’s Bakery (named after Stew Leonard’s daughter), a seafood center (which features fresh lobsters seasonally) and an in-store kitchen that will prepare a variety of eat-in and take-home meals.

The company also moved the existing Stew Leonard’s Wines & Spirits location into the store.

The Stew Leonard’s chain, which started in 1969, now includes seven locations — all of which are based around an easy principle: Sell high-quality products, but fewer of them. Each store sells only approximately 2,000 items.

The chain has been named Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” for 10 years in a row.