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Helene Fortunoff

Retail jewelry trailblazer Helene Fortunoff dies at 88 

by | Dec 6, 2021 | In The Media, Long Island Business News

Helene Fortunoff, one of the country’s most successful jewelry retailers and matriarch of the Fortunoff family, died in Miami Beach Monday from a non-COVID respiratory illness. She was 88.

Fortunoff was best known as a jewelry entrepreneur and shrewd businesswoman who started out with a few showcases in her family’s housewares store on Livonia Avenue in Brooklyn in the 1950s and grew the business into a multi-million-dollar chain anchored by a flagship store on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. 

Born in 1933 to Samuel and Tillie Finke in Paterson, N.J., she graduated cum laude with a degree in business administration from New York University, where she met her first husband, Alan Fortunoff, with whom she had six children. Her jewelry career began when she entered Alan’s family housewares business, started in 1922 by Max and Clara Fortunoff. 

Helene Fortunoff was instrumental in establishing Fortunoff Fine Jewelry and Silverware, the fine jewelry and housewares retail chain that had stores in Westbury, White Plains, Manhattan, Paramus, N.J., Wayne, N.J. and Woodbridge, N.J. She retired in 2005 after the sale of the company, which had been recognized by National Jeweler magazine two years earlier as the 24 largest jewelry retailer in the United States. 

Fortunoff was the first recipient of the National Jewelers Award for retailing excellence and received the same honor from the Women’s Jewelry Association (WJA) Hall of Fame in 1993. She was elected president of WJA and chaired the organization for more than 15 years. Fortunoff was also a recipient of the American Gem Society’s 2001 Triple Zero Award. 

Fortunoff served as the chair of the Board of Governors of the Gemological Institute of America and in Jan. 2006, she received a Gem Award for lifetime achievement from the Jewelry Information Center, presented by Lauren Bacall, a longtime spokesperson for the brand. 

Besides her numerous business achievements, Fortunoff was active in community and religious causes. A past trustee of the North Shore Family and Child Guidance Association, she was honored as their 1996 Woman of Achievement. Fortunoff was a past chair of the Board of Trustees of Hofstra University and a charter member of the UJA Women of Distinction and a Lion of Judah of that organization. She supported The Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University, The Lustgarten Foundation, and Mount Sinai Medical Center Foundation. 

Fortunoff is survived by her husband Robert Grossman, who she married in 2006.  She is also survived by five children, Esther, Andrea, Rhonda, Ruth, and David. Her son Louis passed away in 2012. She is also survived by nine grandchildren and one great-grandchild. 

Services will be held on Long Island on Wednesday. Donations in her memory can be made to the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies at Yale University, The North Shore Child and Family Guidance Center or The Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research. 

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