So, Just Who Were Manny, Moe And Jack?

Posted: September 30, 1996

Here's how much Leonard Davidson loves the Pep Boys - Manny, Moe and Jack.

A few years ago, the Fairmount neon artist and his wife, Judy, dressed up as Manny and Jack for Halloween.

But where was Moe?

There ain't no Moe, they said.

``They are Philadelphia icons,'' Davidson said. ``When you grew up in Philadelphia, you grew up under Manny, Moe and Jack.''

Davidson remembers going with his father to a neighborhood Pep Boys auto-supply store when he was a youngster and seeing giant statues of the trio looming above him. ``From my perspective as a 5-year-old, it was very impressive.''

Not only that, but, as a native Philadelphian, he learned, as many have, the lewd trick that can be performed with a pack of Pep Boys matches, although you won't find out about it here.

These days, Davidson, who collects Pep Boys neon lights and figures and owns an eight-foot-tall Manny, Moe and Jack statue, is not too happy with Pep Boys.

He's annoyed that they no longer put Manny, Moe and Jack statues above the stores and that, in fact, you don't even find a Manny, Moe and Jack sign on the storefront. (There are statues of the three men inside the stores, however.)

To Davidson, the changes are an example of the way corporate homogeneity stifles what is unique about a product or a city. The contemporary Pep Boys logo with its streak of red, he said, is both boring and meaningless.

Mitchell G. Leibovitz, chairman of Pep Boys - Manny, Moe and Jack, said the 1990 logo change corresponded with a change in the company's approach to doing business, which included upgraded equipment and more knowledgeable service personnel. ``The company has gone through a metamorphosis. We didn't want history to get in the way of what we wanted to do in the future.''

Indeed, the threesome are noticeably missing from Pep Boys television commercials - all humorous, slightly warped visions of nightmare auto-repair situations cleared up nicely by a visit to Pep Boys. The advertisements are done by Cliff Freeman & Partners, the New York agency famous for its ``Pizza, Pizza'' campaign for Little Caesars.

``These are wonderful characters with a great deal of positive equity,'' Freeman told Bloomberg Business News. ``However, we recommended against using them in broadcast advertising because they are limited in their ability to truly represent the powerful entity that Pep Boys has become.''

So who are the Pep Boys anyway?

In 1921, four young men, Maurice ``Moe'' Strauss, Emanuel ``Manny'' Rosenfeld, Graham ``Jack'' Jackson, and another Moe, Moe Radavitz, each chipped in $200 to start an auto-parts supply company.

At first, there was no Pep Boys icon. In fact, the four founders couldn't even figure out what to call their business.

Sitting around their store, drinking nickel sodas, the four partners tried to come up with a name. It had to be short, because the storefront at 63d and Market Streets was so narrow that a lot of letters wouldn't fit.

One of them spotted a shipment of Pep Valve Grinding Compound in the store, which inspired the name ``Pep Auto Supplies.''

The Boys came courtesy of a Philadelphia policeman stationed near the store. When he stopped motorists for not having their oil wick lights burning at night, he'd send them over to the ``boys'' at Pep.

In 1923, on a trip to California, Moe Strauss noticed that businesses there used first names. One dress shop, he noticed, was called Minnie, Maude and Mabel's. So the company became The Pep Boys - Manny, Moe and Jack.

Moe's the one in the middle, with the waxed mustache. The other Moe never appeared on the famous logo. Manny's on the left with the black glasses and whisk-broom mustache.

But the relatively ordinary-looking bloke isn't really Jack, despite the name. He's Izzy, Moe's brother, Isadore Strauss, who replaced Jackson, when Jackson left the company. (Jack's face was only briefly part of the logo.)

Later, Izzy left. He went to New York and started an automotive business. Through a series of corporate jump steps, including a bankruptcy, the company now operates stores in Philadelphia and elsewhere under the name Strauss Discount Auto.

When Izzy left, Manny's brother, Murray, came, but Izzy's face stayed on the logo.

Now, says antiques dealer Noel Barrett, Manny, Moe and Jack items can command a pretty penny from collectors. They're popular among those who collect automobile memorabilia and exceptional advertising and commercial graphic art.

Barrett, for example, owns a headlight-bulb-changing kit worth $125 that features the threesome dressed up as cadets.

``The thing that makes Pep Boys so fascinating for the collector is that the graphics were so incredible, the images of Manny, Moe and Jack,'' said Barrett, of Carversville. ``They were just strong characters.''

He remembers going into a Pep Boys store as a child and asking the clerk if Manny, Moe or Jack worked in the store. The clerk laughed: ``They're in Miami.''

``These are greasy guys,'' Barrett said. ``You know they are mechanically oriented. But you also know they are Manny, Moe and Jack and they are all probably in Miami.''

Wherever they are, their like-nesses live on in, of all places, the King of Prussia mall, where Pep Boys has set up a kiosk in the Plaza to sell T-shirts, mugs, baseball caps, belts and other items.

Last week, Lenny Davidson stopped by the kiosk and spent $74.02 on a pair of boxer shorts for his son and two sets of playing cards, a Pep Boys T-shirt and a Pep Boys polo shirt for himself.

A little shopping therapy did manage to mollify Davidson - at least somewhat.

Oh, by the way, the kiosk doesn't stock Pep Boys matchbooks.

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