Milton Waldoff, 90, Famed Mississippi Retailer

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Milton Waldoff, who ran the Waldoff’s family-owned department store in Hattiesburg, Mississippi for many years, died at his residence on July 17 at the age of 90.

Waldoff was a quintessential retailer who combined Southern charm with a flair for bringing theatrics to the store.

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Milton Waldoff
Milton Waldoff

The first Waldoff’s store was opened by Waldoff’s father in 1924 on Batson Street in downtown Hattiesburg. Waldoff’s eventually had locations in Hattiesburg and Biloxi, Mississippi, but by 1994, the business was shut down and Waldoff started a second career in consulting.

According to his website, after attending the University of Alabama and serving in the Army, he took over his family business. Waldoff’s expanded the 3,600-square-foot downtown store to 10,000 square feet. Waldoff also opened Milton’s, considered the first “traditional shop” for young men and women in Mississippi.

Later, Waldoff’s opened a 12,000-square-foot store in the Edgewater Mall in Biloxi. By 1974, Waldoff’s had also opened a 16,000-square-foot store in Cloverleaf Mall, Hattiesburg’s first regional mall. Five years later, Waldoff bought the stores adjacent to his store and expanded it to 20,000 square feet of selling space. In 1989, Waldoff’s moved into a new, state-of-the-art, 60,000-square-foot anchor store in the Cloverleaf Mall.

An obituary on Waldoff appearing on the Moore Funeral Service website indicated: “Though Milton’s alma mater was the University of Alabama, he was a huge supporter of Southern Miss, his hometown college. He often held pep rallies, replete with band and cheerleaders, before home football games in the parking lot at Waldoff’s. When Southern Miss was raising money to expand its football stadium in the early 1970s, Milton was enlisted as publicity chairman of the fundraising drive.”

Waldoff was a leader in the Hattiesburg community, serving on the boards of several organizations, including the Hattiesburg Area Chamber of Commerce, The United Way, Boy Scouts of America and American Red Cross. He was also active in the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Federations of North America.

Hattiesburg lawyer Bud Holmes, a close friend of Waldoff for more than 80 years, was quoted in the obituary, saying, “Milton was a retail and advertising genius who knew how to treat his customers. As a friend, he was solid as they come. I don’t think he ever told me no, no matter what I asked. Milton didn’t look down his nose at anybody. He was a people magnet. People loved him.”

Carol Puckett-Palmer, founder of Everyday Gourmet and Everyday Gardener in Jackson, worked at Waldoff’s on summer breaks. “Milton created the magic of retail. When Waldoff’s doors opened in the morning, it was like the curtain rising in a theater. The counters gleamed and the staff smiled. The departments were tightly organized with everything in its place, and the salespeople — like me — were expected to always be busy when not helping a customer,” Puckett-Palmer said in the obituary.

Milton is survived by his wife, Rita Mitchell Waldoff; a son, Paul Hunter Waldoff; a daughter, Lauren Waldoff Runnels; a brother, Leon Waldoff; a sister, Fay Botnick; two grandchildren, as well as a nephew and three nieces.

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