Emil Carl Hess

Innovative retailer, Philanthropist

Parisian, Inc.

Emil Carl Hess, Chairman of the Board of Parisian, Inc., headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, has been described as a “person who looks beyond himself … a person who has a high regard for people,” both in his business and personal life.

In helping guide Parisian from a small women’s specialty store in Birmingham to Alabama’s leading fashion specialty store for men, women, and children with stores throughout the State, he has always felt that “we may not be all things to all people, but we try … it’s our responsibility.”

In his personal life, he has always exhibited “a constant desire to see a general improvement in the quality of life in the community,” and “a sensitivity to need and the challenge it presents.”

Emil C. Hess was born on April 6, 1918, in Memphis, Tennessee, to Carl and Nettie Schwartz Hess. In 1920, the family moved to Birmingham, Alabama, after Carl Hess and William Holiner of St. Louis, Missouri, had purchased The Parisian – then a 25-foot outlet specializing in lower-priced women’s apparel, millinery, and piece goods.

Emil Hess grew up in Birmingham. He attended South Highland Grammar School and Ramsay High School. After graduating in 1935, he majored in accounting and insurance at the Wharton School, the University of Pennsylvania, from which he graduated with a B.S. degree in Economics in 1939.

Returning to Birmingham, he assumed an active role at The Parisian which had moved to its present downtown location, and which had added men’s and boys’ apparel to its stock.

In 1941, Emil Hess married Jimmie Seidenman of Washington, D. C. In that same year, he began serving in the U.S. Navy, where he achieved the rank of Lieutenant Commander before his discharge in 1945. The Hesses subsequently had one daughter, Jo Ann, and one son, Donald.

Emil’s father, Carl, had been “minding the store” since before the war, for his partner William Ho liner had retired in 1940. In 1945, Emil Hess and Leonard Salit (Mr. Holiner’s son-in-law) began operating The Parisian. Though Emil’s father remained at The Parisian until his death in 1956, he gave these two veterans free rein to implement changes.

The young men decided that The Parisian would have to change its image if it were to grow. Instead of being known as a budget store specializing in lower-priced merchandise, it would have to become known as a brand name store offering quality goods and services. They built up its stock of brand merchandise while retaining its interest-free credit policy. This two-pronged attack, plus the “special” services such as free gift wrapping and free mailing to any place in the 50 states – were instrumental in moving Parisian toward becoming the primary family clothier in Alabama. The first branch stores of Parisian were built in 1963 in Birmingham and in Decatur; by 1984, there were stores in Huntsville, Montgomery, Mobile, Tuscaloosa, and Florence – making total square footage for Parisian almost 310,000.

In 1972, after the death of Lenny Salit, Emil Hess’ son Donald (a graduate of Dartmouth) became directly involved with the management of the company (he became active operating head, as President, in 1977). In 1976, the Hess family acquired the Holiner interest in the company and continued to operate it as a family-owned company until 1983. To finance the continuing, planned expansion of Parisian, the company went public, with its common stock first sold in the over-the-counter market in November of that year. By 1987, when Parisian celebrates its 100th anniversary, there will be more stores underway in Alabama and Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee.

“You’re Somebody Special” is the message that Parisian has been communicating to customers and associates in Alabama throughout its history. This business philosophy of management has been reflected not only in the increasing quality of goods and services in the stores but also in the company’s and its associates’ contributions to community life.

For example, Parisian, Inc. holds Diaper Derbies, the proceeds of which go to children’s charities. It has sponsored fashion shows for support of worthy projects, such as Linly Heflin Scholarships for Alabama girls who might not otherwise afford college.

Parisian has also provided funds for the Hess Institute of Retailing at The University of Alabama and The Hess Institute of Arts and Humanities at Birmingham Southern. Grants and contributions are made to UAB; Auburn, Montgomery; Auburn University, and other institutions of higher learning. Parisian also provides internships for 30 to 40 high school and college students each year. Parisian was the 1985 recipient of The University of Alabama Chapter’s Beta Gamma Sigma Firm Award, presented in recognition for the most outstanding in community service in Alabama.

For the last seven years, Parisian has recognized its associates on the selling floor and behind the scenes at a Standards of Excellence Banquet. And for the last seven years, the Emil C. Hess Humanitarian Award has been presented to associates who have given freely of their time and expertise to the community through volunteer work and civic involvement. As Emil Hess has said, Parisian is excellent because of its people – “our people are our most precious asset.”

Emil Hess, as an individual, has played an active role in improving the quality of life in the community. He has been “unselfish of his time, energies, and money,” perhaps because “he judges his happiness by the community’s success.”

He has served as president of the Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, the Jefferson County Community Service Council, and the Greater Birmingham Safety Council. He has served as co-chairman of various divisions of United Appeal, United Jewish Appeal, the United Way Drive of Jefferson, Walker, and Shelby Counties, and various other civic and community boards.

He has also served as president of the Birmingham Festival of Arts, the Greater Birmingham Arts Alliance, and the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He was Chairman of the “Goals for Birmingham” Committee. He was appointed by the Alabama State Superintendent of Education as Chairman of the Alabama School of Fine Arts for 1975-1979. In 1983, he and Mrs. Hess endowed the principal’s chair in the cello section of the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.

Throughout his life, Emil Hess has assumed certain leadership jobs in the community, because, as he has said, ‘Tm perceptive enough to see where I think there is a need and rally around the forces.”

Emil Hess has received many well-deserved honors. In 1978, he was named the Birmingham Young Men’s Business Club “Man of the Year.” In 1979, he was awarded a Doctor of Humanities degree by the University of Alabama in Birmingham; in 1984, a Doctor of Humanities degree by Birmingham Southern College; and in 1985, inducted into the Alabama Academy of Honor.

Parisian continues to contribute to the quality of life in Birmingham and the State. And, Emil Hess, the cheerful man who says almost everything with a smile, is still helping to make sure that the citizens, “see flowers and trees in the spring,” without tripping over the “cracks in the walks.” He is still helping to remove the obstacles to the best quality of life in the community.