Building on family tradition, the Freedman brothers have created a successful retail enterprise.
A business that began in the trunk of a car, expanded to the back of a delicatessen, and advanced to a spare apartment bedroom has kept three brothers connected for the past two decades.
For the three Freedman brothers, the last thing their mother wanted was for them to get involved with the entrepreneur retail business. But with three generations on both sides involved in such enterprises, it’s all in the family.
“It’s not as predictable in income as a professional, like a doctor, a lawyer, or an accountant,” says William A. (Bill) Freedman (BA ’94), one of the three brothers who together created DownEast Outfitters, a discount home and clothing retail chain.
But 21 years and 51 stores later, Mom is the biggest fan of DownEast Outfitters, a name derived from a rafting company as well as a tie to the Freedmans’ eastern, New York roots.
It began in 1991 when young Jonathan Freedman (BA ’98), now vice president of furniture, bought brand-name apparel and sold it out of the back of his car while still in high school in the suburbs of New York City. His older brothers Charlie Freedman (BA ’90, JD ’93), now the company’s general counsel, and Bill, now vice president of home furnishings, decided to bring this concept to Utah, where they were attending BYU. After the brothers and their father each invested $500 in the products, Bill and Charlie piled into Bill’s blue Isuzu with the products and headed for Utah, handwriting price tags along the way.
After doing business in a car, restaurant, and bedroom, they opened a store three days a week. But for the brothers, business in the early 1990s was nothing serious. As college students, they just enjoyed the extra cash.
“I can remember thinking if I can get a season pass at Sundance and a few dinners at Chili’s, then I got what I wanted out of this,” says Charlie.
“It was date money,” Jonathan adds.
“Yeah, we used to have a sale and then go to Sizzler,” recalls Bill.
Though friends thought they were wealthy, the brothers reinvested most profits into the company. “A lot of people believe they have to raise a million dollars to start a business,” says Jonathan. “We took the opposite approach and started with as little money as we possibly could.”
In 1996 Bill had the idea to buy off-price furniture from popular companies and resell it, opening furniture stores alongside clothing stores. When layering became a popular fashion trend, Jonathan and DownEast created DownEast Basics in 2005, which sells basic T-shirts and camisoles for women, along with other clothing and accessories.
Throughout the company’s growth—now with stores across the western United States—the Freedmans have followed one specific rule set by their father: If business interfered with their personal relationships, they would close the doors. Adhering to this rule, they have brought more personal friends into the business: COO Richard V. Israelsen (BA ’97), Bill’s old mission companion, and CEO Klane P. Murphy (BA ’90), Charlie’s former classmate.
The Freedmans believe BYU influenced their company’s success. “We are very grateful for the Y for a great education and a great experience,” says Charlie, who is an avid follower of BYU sports. “It provided an environment that was fertile to form our company. It’s impossible to tell the founding of our company without including BYU as an active participant in us succeeding.”
— Courtney M. Feinauer (’13)