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Commercials of YesterYear: Nobody Beats the Wiz!

Commercials have a way of transporting me back to when I was a kid.  When I think back on older commercials, besides the fact that most of us skip over them today, they just don't put in the effort making them they once did.  Back then, we had limited channels and the inability to skip commercials with a DVR, so we were forced to watch these ads.  Therefore, they were more effective in worming their way into the permanent recesses of our brains.  I'd be more willing to watch commercials today if they weren't seemingly just advertisements for pills, local political campaigns, or some other such nonsense. 

In the past, a large collection of local advertisements, especially from the New York area, received widespread success.  By success, I mean more than just watercooler conversation.  I'm talking about multiple pop culture references that spanned the nation; mentions on sitcoms, jokes on late-night talk shows, or appearances in movies or songs.  You can visit the "Collections" page to see some of the ones I've already written about. 

When I was a kid, I liked to watch channels that loaded their schedules with syndicated content, like FOX or UPN, or early cable channels like TBS or USA.  Frequently, these stations played the same advertisements over and over again, like the articles you can read on this website about such early 90s commercials like "Beautiful" Mount Airy Lodge, the ill-fated Kiwi Airlines, or the catchy tune of "Catch the Spirit" of Spirit Airlines.

My Dad has always been a big New York Rangers fan, but as a wee one, I was a giant Pittsburgh Penguins fan.  Why?  I'm not entirely sure, but they had orange as one of their colors.  Ok, it was Pittsburgh yellow... but an orangey yellow, if I may, and Super Mario was my favorite.  Mario Lemieux led the team to several Stanley Cups in the early 90s, and admittedly, I was a bandwagon fan.  

Then, when I "had" to choose a local team, I became a New Jersey Devils fan.  Since it was easier, closer, and cheaper to get to the Meadowlands instead of Madison Square Garden, my parents took us to a handful of Devils games when my brother and I got a little older.  I loved the early team colors of green, red, and white and hopped right on that bandwagon.  

But in 1994, after losing 3-2 in the series against the Devils, Rangers team captain Mark Messier guaranteed victory over the Devils in game 6.  They won, and game seven was even more dramatic when a double overtime victory sent the Rangers to the Stanley Cup Finals.  The excitement in the whole thing made me a Rangers fan from then on, anyway.  Of course, after moving to Long Island for college and then finding myself spending nearly 20 years there, I sort of morphed into a part-time Islanders fan.  What can I say?  My allegiance is fleeting.  Unfortunately, I have no time for hockey these days.  I haven't paid close attention to professional sports for a few years, but maybe again someday.

Why was I talking about hockey?  

Right.  Nobody Beats The Wiz.  

One of the main sponsors of the New York Rangers, and nearly every NY metro sports team, was "Nobody Beats the Wiz." Seemingly every commercial break featured an advertisement or at least sponsorship mention.  Every pre or post-game show or intermission interview was brought to you by The Wiz. 

I remember going into the Nanuet, New York, location with my parents several times after church when they needed a new appliance or some type of cable or remote control or something.  I always preferred The Wiz to Service Merchandise, which, if I remember right, was a few doors down.  The Wiz, at least, had items on the shelf to look at and play with, unlike the catalog-backroom style of the latter.  The Nanuet location is now a PetsMart for those interested.

Speaking of sports, one of the other reasons so many from my generation look back fondly on the days of The Wiz's repeated commercials is their most famous (of many) spokesman: Hall of Fame Quarterback Joe Namath.  When my wife was pregnant with our daughter, her doctor was a pretty good friend of old Joe's, and his office was littered with memorabilia and photos of himself with the football legend.  He also was quick to mention, on every visit, that he was friends with Mr. Namath, so much so that, in a way, I feel like I know Joe myself!

Watching these old commercials bring back many fond memories.  Not just for The Wiz but for some of the electronics brands showcased in the ads.  Some brands I've long forgotten, and others are still going strong.  My first laptop, when I went away to college, was a Compaq.  The thing probably weighed about 25 pounds and had 1/83rd of the computing power of my smartphone.  Still, it provided me many hours of entertainment during the early days of wifi.  By the way, this was so early in the wifi era that I still had to plug an antenna into the laptop to get the internet!  

The Wiz was everywhere in the early to mid-90s, and then it seemed like it just disappeared one day.  What happened to them?  It's one of the many stores that everyone looks back at fondly for one reason or another, yet nobody really remembers what happened to it.  It just faded into the history books as our lives got busier and busier after the turn of the century.

Let's take a look at some great old commercials and find out what happened to the now-infamous chain of electronic stores called "Nobody Beats the Wiz!" 

The Wiz, officially Nobody Beats the Wiz, was a chain of electronics stores in the New York metropolitan area. Most stores were in New York and New Jersey, with several in Pennsylvania and Connecticut and a handful in the Washington DC and Baltimore areas.  

Douglas Jemal and his younger brother Lawrence opened a store in Washington, D.C., called Bargaintown in the mid-1960s. The two returned to New York in 1976 to join his father, Norman, in a new venture.  

In 1977, the reclusive Norman Jemal and his four sons, Douglas, Lawrence, Stephen, and Marvin, opened an electronics store on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, New York in 1977. Reportedly, the store was called The Wiz, named after Norman's favorite Broadway show. Eventually, as the store expanded and grew citywide, the name was changed to Nobody Beats the Wiz.  

Lawrence was the business' President, and his younger brother Marvin would become Executive Vice President. Stephen's primary role was store construction. Douglas left the family business in 1993 to focus on his real estate career in Washington, D.C., and Buffalo, New York.  

Little is known about Norman, or the early years of the business, as the entire family maintained an extremely secretive, low profile. Norman seems to have left the company fairly early on. In 1993, his sons introduced an annual "Founder's Day" sale event without ever mentioning his name. Current and former employees were always reluctant to discuss the Jemal family with anyone, especially reporters, and details on the family and the privately held business are scarce.  

By 1986, Nobody Beats the Wiz had expanded to 11 stores, and industry estimates placed the company at $200 million in annual sales. The chain expanded past the city boundaries into New Jersey and Long Island that year by purchasing six Lafayette Electronics locations. It opened its first superstore in 1987 in Scarsdale, New York, before introducing even larger stores in 1991, like the one in Lake Grove, Long Island.  

During the late 80s and early 90s, several big players in the New York metropolitan area's consumer electronic field went bankrupt, including brands like Crazy Eddie's, Newmark & Lewis, and Trader Horn. Nobody Beats the Wiz took full advantage by expanding rapidly, having opened 14 new stores between 1988 and 1992, for a total of 36 locations. They expanded into Connecticut for the first time during this period, opening 5 stores in the Nutmeg State. They also opened a flagship, 25,000-square-foot superstore on Broadway and Eighth in Manhattan.

In 1994, the company began selling personal computers and associated products to counter rising competitors like CompUSA and Computer City.  The Wiz also established a home shopping and business-to-business division that year to boost sales further. The Wiz also placed booths at concert venues, including the 25th-anniversary Woodstock Festival, to sell music CDs. That year alone, the chain's sales rose to $775 million from an estimated $500 million the year prior.

The Wiz moved further from its hometown in 1995, opening stores near Philadelphia, western Massachusetts, and upstate New York near Albany.  

Not all changes were good ones, as the chain began to lose steam for the first time when in October of 95, suppliers and competitors made it public that 9 of the 13 music-only Nobody Beats the Wiz outlets around Washington, D.C., and Baltimore were closing or had already closed.  Despite this, the company's sales rose to $950 million for the year, the third largest in the nation for an electronics retailer.  Not bad for a still regional chain.  

One of the many reasons The Wiz grew so fast was television ads. Celebrities like Joe Namath or Patrick Ewing attached their name to the brand, which would, in turn, flood the market with ads featuring those big-name stars.  The chain would also change up the ads frequently so that they stayed fresh for the viewer.  Below, I'll include some of the more memorable ones with decent video quality still out there on YouTube.

This one from 1996 stars John Franco and some of the 1996 New York Mets.  It's a personal favorite of mine, as I was a HUGE Mets fan from about 1995 to about '98, and Franco was always one of my favorites.  

From 1990, Joe Namath endorses The Wiz' music selections

This 1994 ad is memorable because it's just plain awful.  Who doesn't enjoy spending a nice, romantic date night talking about the moral values of their favorite appliance store?

Another Joe Namath ad, this time for Christmas.  I'm going to say this one is from anywhere between 1990 and 1993.  My parents had a camera very similar to the Minolta featured here.

This is definitely one of the more remembered commercials from around the internet.  New York Knicks Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Charles Oakley, Anthony Mason, and Derek Harper play poker using "Wiz Bucks."  Kind of funny to see wealthy athletes clipping coupons while playing poker!

Lastly, this one from 1994 features "Boomer" Esiason, some of the Knicks, and Joe Namath pitching for the relatively new invention... cell phones!

That's just a sampling of The Wiz's ads.  If you're so inclined, you can spend hours on YouTube watching the many television spots from yesteryear.  Nobody Beats the Wiz was such a heavy advertiser that, at one point, they were running a reported 180 radio and television commercials on any given day.  In 1992, the company spent $45.6 million on advertising and found itself owning a nice-sized 17 percent of the consumer electronics market share in the New York area.  The company spent $85 million in advertising in 1995.  

Along with television advertising, professional sports sponsorships were vital to the success of the company.  During the early-to-mid 90s, "Nobody Beats the Wiz" was a major sponsor for its hometown sports franchises, including the Yankees and Mets of baseball, the Knicks and Nets in basketball, and the Rangers, Devils, and Islanders of hockey.  They also were a major sponsor of the Baltimore Orioles and minor sponsors for teams in other areas, such as the Philadelphia Flyers, the Hartford Whalers, and the Montreal Canadiens.  

The connection with so many high-profile sports teams also allowed them to access major sports stars for their advertisements.  While Nobody Beats the Wiz had several local athletes in their ads, their most notable and longest-running pitchman was Joe Namath.

Joe Namath, nicknamed Broadway Joe, is an NFL Hall of Famer who made his name playing football in the New York area.  After leading Alabama to a national championship in college, he joined the New York Jets of the American Football League in 1965, where he was a two-time MVP.  Following the 1970 merger between the AFL and NFL, Joe played another 7 years for the Jets.  He finished his career playing one last season in another city that seemed very fitting for the outlandish Broadway Joe:  the Los Angeles Rams.  

Namath cemented his legacy in 1969 by famously guaranteeing that his underdog Jets would defeat the Indianapolis Colts in the Superbowl, much like Mark Messier of the New York Rangers did 25 years later.  The Jets won in what is still considered one of the biggest sports upsets in history.  

Namath's business acumen and antics off the field made him the perfect pitchman for any business seeking endorsement.  After briefly hosting his own talk show in 1969, Namath would guest appear or act in countless television programs throughout the 70s and 80s.  When Richard Dawson left Family Feud, Namath was offered the job that eventually went to Ray Combs.  Namath also appeared in television advertisements during and after his football career, most notably for Ovaltine and Noxzema (in which he was shaved by a then-unknown Farrah Fawcett.)  Perhaps, his best-known advertisement was for Hanes Beautymist pantyhose, which he famously wore during the commercial.  Check out the ad on YouTube below to see how ridiculous he looked.  But, as my wife says, he looked ridiculous all the way to the bank!

However, for those who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s in the New York area, Joe will always be known as "The Nobody Beats the Wiz guy." Joe pitched electronics for The Wiz from the late 80s through the mid-1990s, when The Wiz decided to hire a consulting firm to "streamline" their endorsements.

In August of 1996, Sports Business Journal magazine wrote that Nobody Beats the Wiz hired Integrated Sports International (ISI) as a full-time sports marketing consultant.  ISI was tasked with creating in-store and sponsorship opportunities for The Wiz, as well as managing their relationships with athletes.  They were also hired to evaluate the "return-on-investment" of the current portfolio of athletes, which according to Sports Business Journal, included Patrick Ewing of the Knicks, and former and present New York football stars Joe Namath, Phil Simms, Dave Brown, and Boomer Esiason.  

Just over a month after Sports Business Journal wrote about hiring ISI, The Wiz earned themselves millions in free publicity through sheer luck.  During the "Jeffrey Maier Incident" of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, Nobody Beats the Wiz was featured in newscasts and sports reports across the entire country.  On October 9, 1996, the Yankees trailed the Orioles in the bottom of the 8th inning when Derek Jeter hit a deep fly ball into right field.  Baltimore right fielder Tony Tarasco backed up near the fence and appeared to have the catch made when 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier reached over the wall and caught the ball.  The umpire immediately ruled the play a home run (not fan interference), and the game tied 4 to 4.  Today, many fans see this moment as the starting point in the Yankees dynasty of the late 90s.    

In any event, Nobody Beats the Wiz received untold amounts of free advertising as Jeffrey Maier was seated directly above a giant billboard for the company.  Every time the play was repeated on newscasts like ESPN SportsCenter, millions of Americans were exposed to the eye-catching signage.  The brand and the New York Yankees are still linked together in many fans' eyes to this day.  So much so that portions of the research for this article were found on Yankees fan message boards and blogs.   There, Yankees fans commiserated with one another on the demise of a beloved sponsor from their team's heyday.  

On another sports-related point, in 1996, when Major League Soccer opened its doors, the Jemal brothers threatened one of the inaugural franchises with legal action.  The Nobody Beats the Wiz company felt that The Kansas City Wiz was trying to capitalize on the store's popularity.  Rather than fight a legal challenge, the team chose to rename themselves The Wizards in response.  

The Wiz reached such heights of popularity during the 90s that it appeared several times in popular culture, most notably during a 1997 episode of Seinfeld titled "The Junk Mail."  In the episode, Elaine Benes falls into "love at first sight" with a man named Jack, feeling like she's known him for quite some time.  Finally, she and Jerry discover that Jack is really the (fictional) "Wiz" in the Nobody Beats the Wiz commercials.  In this case, Jack was played by Toby Huss, who my generation may remember better as "Artie" on Nickelodeon's The Adventures of Pete and Pete.  

Elaine would paraphrase the real Wiz commercial in the episode, saying "He's not idiotic.  He's the Wiz.  And nobody beats him. Nobody!"

In the 2013 film The Wolf of Wall Street, Jordan Belfort suggests answering classified ads in the paper looking for stockboys at The Wiz. In the episode "Veiled Threat" from The King of Queens, a flashback to Doug and Carrie's wedding day finds Doug wanting electronics from Nobody Beats the Wiz as wedding gifts. New York Yankees broadcaster John Sterling, famous for his home run catchphrases, began to exclaim, "Nobody beats the Rizz!" after home runs scored by first basemen Anthony Rizzo.  
Rapper Biz Markie's hit "Nobody Beats the Biz" interpolates the store's jingle into the song, replacing "The Wiz" with "The Biz." A long-standing rumor claims the company sued him for infringement, but that was never the case.

Seinfeld would also spoof another New York electronics chain called Crazy Eddie's.  On Seinfeld, the store was named "Leapin' Larry's," and Jerry was hired as a television pitchman for the store. However, his foot kept falling asleep, and the owner of Leapin' Larry's thought Jerry was mocking his limp. The real-world Nobody Beats The Wiz and the Jemal brothers had a connection to Crazy Eddie's, and not just that they worked in the same business and were made into jokes on Seinfeld.  

Crazy Eddie's started in 1971, also in Brooklyn, New York, but Eddie and Sam Antar, a Syrian-American family like the Jemals. The Jemal brothers grew up in the same Syrian-immigrant neighborhood of Brooklyn as Eddie Antar. Originally named ERS Electronics for Eddie, Rose, and Sam (Rose and Sam were Eddie's parents.) The chain rose to prominence for deep discount prices and its memorable radio and television ads that featured a "crazy" frenetic character played by radio DJ Jerry Carroll. At its peak, Crazy Eddie's had 43 stores in four states and had over $300 million in sales.  

From the beginning, Eddie engaged in fraudulent business practices, including under-reporting income, skimming sales taxes, and paying employees off the books. In conjunction with his aggressive sales tactics, his fraud enabled the chain to significantly undercut competitors. Unable to sustain such fraudulent business practices in lieu of actual losses, Eddie Antar cashed millions of dollars worth of company stock and resigned from the business in December 1986. The company was sold in 1987 and was liquidated in 1989.  

However, in February of 1987, the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey commenced a federal investigation into the business's financial activities. In September, the SEC also investigated federal securities laws violations by certain company officers and employees. Eddie was eventually charged with a series of crimes and, after fleeing to Israel in 1990, was forced to return to the U.S. to stand trial in 1993. He eventually pled guilty in 1996 and, in 1997, was sentenced to eight years in prison and subject to several fines. He was released from prison after only two years in 1999 and died in 2016.  

Why is this important in an article about Nobody Beats the Wiz? 

The Jemal brothers, who grew up in the same neighborhood and were rumored to have been friendly (and regularly made back-room deals) with the Antar family, also found themselves in hot water with the government later in life.  

More on that later, though.

Sam Antar once described the two companies as friendly rivals. The Jemals would ship certain brands of merchandise to the Antars that manufacturers wouldn't sell to Crazy Eddie's because of his aggressive discounting. Eddie's father once claimed Eddie and Marvin Jemal were "joined at the hip" and that Marvin once bought Eddie a dog. Eddie refuted those claims, saying he was not friends with Marvin Jemal. Eddie confirmed that he once purchased a German Sheperd puppy from Douglas Jemal and denied any business dealings with Nobody Beats the Wiz. However, his father Sam maintains the personal and business relationships he described are accurate.
In 1996, The Wiz entered the Boston metro area for the first time with heavy advertising that promised deep discounts. The chain's 62 locations brought in over $1 billion in sales that year, earning $30 million in net income. Shortly before the end of the year, the company, which had always devised its own ads, hired Bozell Worldwide to introduce a sophisticated approach. The agency claimed to focus more of the company's advertising budget on television ads while going for a different "quality over quantity" approach. This was also about when they hired the consulting firm to review their sports sponsorships and celebrity and athlete spokesmen. Seemingly this is the time the Joe Namath ads stopped, too. 

In 1996, the chain introduced Internet access at its New Jersey stores by adding custom-built personal computers to its line of products. By 1997, however, the chain was in financial trouble because of increased competition and general weakness in the nation's consumer electronics sector. Overspending on advertising and an "over-generous return policy" was also pointed to by industry analysts.

Soon, vendors began receiving late payments or no payment at all. Some ceased making shipments altogether until they finally received compensation from The Wiz.  

Crain's New York reported that between 1996 and 1998, the store expanded rapidly, opening up huge 50,000-square-foot stores that were expensive and often unnecessary. By 1997, The Wiz reached a size of 94 locations across 6 states, including 15 music-only stores in Washington, D.C. Despite their large network and pop culture success, some stores were in poor locations with no foot traffic or not visible from main roads and performed very poorly.  

The company's weakest link was New England, where commercials featuring New York sports stars like the Yankees' Derek Jeter were akin to kryptonite to Boston fans. The "slam-bang, push-it-in-your-face" style of promotion, common in New York, was considered distasteful in New England, according to Boston marketing professors in a 2003 article in Newsday. The chain announced in 1998 that, based on losses, it would be closing stores in Framingham, Holyoke, and Saugus, in Massachusetts, as well as Meriden and Newington, Connecticut.  

Soon, the store faced numerous lawsuits from unpaid landlords and equipment suppliers, forcing Nobody Beats the Wiz to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December 1997. It closed 17 of its roughly 50 remaining stores and received court permission to draw a $150 million line of credit in order to pay $132 million worth of debt.  

Listed in court filings, the company had $354.6 million in debt and $318.2 million in assets. The largest creditor was Congress Financial of Manhattan, which was owed $140 million. The three largest electronics makers listed as creditors were Sony Electronics, which was owed $18 million, L.G. Electronics (the majority shareholder in Zenith) had a claim for $9 million, and Mitsubishi was owed nearly $8 million.

The 17 locations closed during bankruptcy were said publicly to be those farthest from the New York City base of operations. In reality, one store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan was on the list, as well as many in the surrounding New York suburbs. Four of the 17 were in the Washington, D.C. area.  

With an average of 84 employees per store, the closings would cost about 1,420 jobs from the 4,200-strong workforce. The company did not publicly make any effort to retain displaced workers. Sales clerks at the Fifth Avenue store learned from news reporters that their store would be among the closing. According to the New York Times, the anonymous employee stated he was not surprised, given the company had a much larger store blocks away. He also speculated that the store's appearance may have been a factor, stating that customers want a high-tech atmosphere and that The Wiz looks like a store stuck in the 1970s.  

With Nobody Beats the Wiz publicly "on the ropes," Richmond, Virginia-based Circuit City, the largest competitor to The Wiz, had previously opened 13 stores in the New York area but said it would quadruple its presence in the region by 2000.  Circuit City, and The Wiz, would face stiff competition from mass merchandisers and warehouse stores, with stores like Best Buy and Office Depot for electronics and Virgin Records and Blockbuster for movies and music.  

The cyberspace sector was expanding as high-speed internet became available in more households around the United States. Walmart had already been selling computers, video, and software in-store, but around The Wiz's bankruptcy, it planned to boost its online sales presence to about 80,000 products.

Seemingly doomed for dissolution, Nobody Beats the Wiz was saved when in February of 1998, cable TV giant Cablevision purchased the electronics store out of bankruptcy for $80 million. Cablevision planned to use the electronics retailer to market its own products, such as cable modems and digital set-top boxes for its cable television systems, and promote its sports and entertainment division. Cablevision owned the Madison Square Garden arena and the New York Knicks and Rangers sports teams. It had also taken a controlling interest in the famed Rockefeller Center's Radio City Music Hall.  

Cablevision worked quickly to restore the chain's reputation. The first act was to officially rebrand the store as only "The Wiz," as it had been called unofficially for years. In May of 1998, Cablevision had persuaded many vendors to resume shipment of goods and signed a three-year agreement to offer Bell Atlantic Mobile service to any customer buying a mobile phone. In-store kiosks also sought to sell Cablevision's own Optimum Online internet service to purchasers of cable modems at The Wiz. The store also pushed Cablevision's Optimum Cable service through Sony-built digital set-top cable boxes and tickets to events at Madison Square Garden and Radio City.

Bill Marginson was appointed the new CEO in December of 98. Previously the founder of a Dallas-based chain of appliance and furniture stores, Bill moved the company's headquarters from Carteret, New Jersey, to Edison, New Jersey. He consolidated the warehouse and dropped marginal merchandise such as toys, watches, and sunglasses. In the fall of 1998, a new survey found that nearly 20 percent of all Long Island residents had visited a Wiz store in the preceding three months, ranking the chain second in its category only behind P.C. Richard & Son, causing hope for the future of The Wiz.  

The Wiz resumed heavy print and television advertising, and the directive from Cablevision was to change the emphasis from price discounting to product features, warranties, or in-store financing. Renovation plans for 15 stores were implemented at the start of 1999, planning to bring The Wiz into the new century.

Retail analysts still wondered if The Wiz would flourish as anything other than a deep discounter. In an interview with a New York Times journalist, a trade journal editor claimed that they "are a big chain, not an upscale boutique. They need to offer entry-level products at low prices to respond to what Circuit City or P.C. Richard is doing." He claimed that focusing on customer service requires better quality sales clerks and vast improvements at the "store floor level."

By the end of 1998, the chain consisted of only 40 retail stores and one warehouse. Revenue from the date of the acquisition came to $465 million for that year, of which audio equipment accounted for 40 percent.  

In October of 1999, Newsday reported that The Wiz would likely end the year with $20 million in losses because of problems with a new inventory system and the chain's deemphasis on pricing competition. Earlier that year, Cablevision executives had publicly hoped The Wiz would return to profitability in 1999.

By the end of the year, there were only 39 locations left. 17 in New York City, 13 in New Jersey, 6 on Long Island, and one each in Westchester and Rockland Counties in New York and one in Connecticut. It wasn't all bad news, as Cablevision planned for as many as 25 new locations, including three "concept" stores designed to better market Cablevision's goods and services. One of the three concept stores was a 25,000-square-foot outlet in Bay Shore, New York, set to open in November 1999.

Five years later, on February 10, 2003, Cablevision announced that it would sell or close its remaining 17 Wiz brand stores, all in the New York metro area. The announcement came just a day after competitor Circuit City, who had promised to pounce on The Wiz' bankruptcy in 1998, announced a significant cutback of its workforce and eliminated sales commissions. Cablevision had already closed 26 Wiz stores during the last year in an effort to stem the losses, having lost a whopping $500 million during the five years it operated the Wiz chain, not including the $80 million used to purchase the brand from the Jemal brothers. 

Cablevision, itself debt-saddled, had been under growing pressure from Wall Street to rid itself of the retail business. A slow holiday sales season in 2002 was the final nail in the coffin for The Wiz. The company reported a 21% sales drop for the year and a 33% decline in sales for the fourth quarter alone, with total losses reaching $21 million.  

Days after announcing the closure of all stores, the cable giant issued a press release on February 16 stating that "Continuing to operate the stores is no longer a viable option for Cablevision as business conditions at the retailer erode due to a weak retail economy and other factors." Major competitors such as Best Buy and Circuit City had taken much of The Wiz's market share.

In September 2003, New York-based electronics and appliance giant P.C. Richard purchased The Wiz's assets, mainly for its name and logo. As of this writing in January 2023, you can still see Nobody Beats the Wiz branding on P.C. Richard's website, as you can see below. Until fairly recently, the company also owned the web domain, but as of writing, that link redirects to a DNS Error page.  

Once the chain closed, the four brothers that ran the business seemingly went their separate ways but could not keep their names out of the press for long.  

Almost immediately following the demise of The Wiz, Marvin Jemal opened a new chain of electronics stores that he called "The Zone."  He even went as far as trademarking "Nobody Beats The Zone!" to capture the old fanbase of his previous stores.  The new brand, which also heavily marketed itself as "from the creators of The Wiz," went out of business in less than two years when creditors began suing for lack of payments.  In one such case, a creditor demanded payment within three days.    On the third day (February 15, 2005), The Zone filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.  

Marvin himself wound up filing for personal bankruptcy protection, as well.  During that period, he came across Nelson Brandt, a pilot in the Coast Guard and the heir to a $20 million Broadway Theater fortune.  Lonely and misguided, Mr. Brandt searched for a friendly face to help him double his family fortune.  Marvin Jemal was all too happy to help.  

Mr. Brandt soon provided funding to several of Mr. Jemal's "sure-fire" ventures, including a joint venture with Stephen Jemal called TecnoZone International, which sold a device that claimed to block radiation waves from cellphones by creating a "zone of biocompatibility." The Federal Trade Commission said the claim was false and ordered the two Jemal brothers to pay up to $85,000 in fines.  The brothers did not contest the FTC suit.  

Next, Marvin Jemal asked for $1.8 million from Nelson Brandt for a prepaid phone card scheme and an investment in early-generation videophones.  Both ventures lost money and ended rather quickly.  Next came Marvin's newest idea, a luxury luggage business that he called ENE (Excellence Never Ends) Group.  

Marvin requested $12 million from Mr. Brandt to fund the ENE Group, and Nelson handed over the money.  The new luggage company showed early success selling handbags and other small items.  Still, before too long, Marvin Jemal was being sued by two suppliers for failing to pay for the materials and final product.  In response, Marvin shut down ENE Group, destroying Mr. Brandt's $12 million investment.  Shortly after that, Marvin opened a brand new luggage business.  According to court documents, he gave his 92-year-old mother a 99% ownership stake in the new company as a failed effort to shield himself from further legal trouble. 

Mr. Brandt fell for Mr. Jemal's sales pitches so quickly that he even pledged his mother's Florida condo as collateral for a $7 million loan.  That loan would later become the basis of the government's fraud case.  Once the loans defaulted, Mr. Brandt's mother had to pay the original lender, Israel Discount Bank, with her own money to keep her home.  Marvin Jemal declared personal bankruptcy for the second time in 2011.  When he filed his bankruptcy paperwork, Marvin told creditors that he only owned a 1972 Volvo worth less than $1,000.  He probably should have mentioned the Porsche parked in the garage. 

Nelson Brandt was so angry that he admitted he considered murdering Marvin but went to the FBI instead.  The government then brought forth a case in which Marvin Jemal was indicted on charges of defrauding a bank by providing fake invoices and shipping documents in exchange for the $7 million loan.  He pleaded guilty and became the second member of the Jemal family to be convicted of defrauding a lender.  Marvin would eventually serve three years in federal prison and was ordered to pay $2.73 million to Israel Discount Bank of New York and another $1.77 million to Nelson Brandt.
Marvin's older brother Douglas had left Nobody Beats the Wiz in 1993 and had been developing real estate in Washington, D.C., in the meantime.  Douglas was convicted during a 2006 trial for defrauding a lender by falsifying documents and using $430,000 in loan proceeds for a different real estate deal than the one specified in the loan.    Citing Douglas' contributions to the community, the federal judge overseeing his case sentenced him to five months probation.    Douglas has been well-known in the Buffalo, New York, real estate market (and media) since.

Stephen Jemal had helped oversee the construction of numerous Nobody Beats the Wiz stores.  When the chain went under, he attempted to build waterfront condos in Brooklyn before the 2008 financial crisis squashed his progress.  Lawsuits from his initial cadre of investors alleged he wasn't anywhere nearly as wealthy as he had claimed when he requested their financial backing.  He had promised the ability to foot most of the bill himself, given his falsified fortune of over $25 million. He didn't have the funds to do so.  He filed for bankruptcy in 2012 after facing two lawsuits over his overstated fortune.

Lawrence Jemal, the former President of Nobody Beats the Wiz, now runs a Manhattan-based clothing marketer named ICER Brands.  ICER stands for "integrity, customer, excellence, respect." Lawrence seems to have stayed out of legal trouble following the demise of the family business.  

Despite the less-than-legal issues that plagued the family after Nobody Beats the Wiz closed, the brand that the Jemals created will always be remembered fondly by many.  Whatever ultimately caused the demise of the Wiz brand, the store will always have a solid home in the "nostalgia" section of the cemetery for failed businesses.  

While I can't point to a single thing my family or I purchased in Nobody Beats the Wiz, I can definitively pick out memories of shopping there.  The commercials, often starring Joe Namath, will always stick out in my mind as a fond reminder of good times gone by.  

And for that thought alone, I submit this entry for your education and entertainment into my Commercials of YesterYear series.