Jo-Ann Stores (Ohio) : The largest fabric and craft retailer in the United States


( Formerly known as Fabri-Centers of America, Jo-Ann Stores, Inc., is the country's largest fabric retailer, with sales of nearly $2 billion, 851 fabric stores in 48 states, and an estimated 6 percent of the $29 billion retail fabric and craft-supplies market.

The company's smaller "traditional" stores and 35,000 square foot superstores carry wide selections of fabric, notions, and craft goods. The chain boasts nearly double the sales and locations of its nearest competitor, Hancock Fabrics. Having survived a dramatic shakeout in the retail fabric industry in the 1990s and growth pains between 1998 and 2002, Jo-Ann made a strong recovery from its unprofitable years and looked to expand to 600 or 700 superstores in the early decades of the 21st century.

The chain was founded in 1943 by two German immigrant families, the Rohrbachs and the Reichs. The Reichs had an importing business dealing in Swiss cheese, anchovy paste and pickles, and they invited their friends to start selling fabric in their suburban Cleveland storefront. When Berthold Rohrbach died that same year, his 30-year-old daughter, Alma Zimmerman, went to work full-time at the store with Hilda Reich. Hilda's daughter, Betty, joined the family business in 1947, and she and Alma opened the chain's second store in Cleveland soon thereafter.

Betty married Martin Rosskamm in 1948, and he quit his upper-level management position at a knitting mill to join the fabric company. Cofounder Hilda Reich continued to supervise a Fabri-Center store until her death at the age of 87 in 1986. Alma, her husband, Freddy, and Betty continued to serve on the board of directors into the mid-1990s, but it was Martin Rosskamm who became a driving force behind the chain's continuous expansion throughout the Midwest. Seeking a less geographically exclusive name to take the chain into the Pittsburgh area, the families created Jo-Ann by merging two of their children's names: Jo from Joan Zimmerman and Ann from Jackie Ann Rosskamm. Fabri-Centers' small specialty stores, which were often located in the regional shopping malls that sprung up in the postwar era, competed well with the fabric departments of larger general merchandise stores. The chain incorporated as Cleveland Fabric Shops, Inc. in February 1951, changing its name to Fabri-Centers of America, Inc. in 1968 and going public the following year. In 1998, the company changed its name to Jo-Ann Stores, Inc.

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