The scrappy company of William, Charles and Jonathan Freedman began in 1991, when the brothers peddled liquidated J. Crew denim jackets from the back of the family sedan.
"We are — in the core of our beings — value shoppers, discounters," William Freedman said. "Discounting shopping for us is a sport."
Today, the clothes are displayed in more stylish settings. Some 40 stores in Utah, Idaho, Washington and Arizona, in fact, are part of the brothers' company, Down East Outfitters. In addition to selling liquidated clothing, the company sells furniture and modest clothing on the private label Down East Basics.
On Friday night, the Freedman brothers received an award in the retail and consumer-products category of the 2009 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year contest for Utah and southern Idaho. Awards were given in a total of eight categories. About 1,200 people attended the black-tie event at the Salt Palace Convention Center.
Utah Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert, the keynote speaker, noted that small businesses fuel the state's economy, with about 57,000 "small employers" representing 97 percent of the state's employers.
Utah's economy favors free markets, which is why a handful of national business publications have rated Utah's economy as No. 1.
"I fear, at least in some ways, (the importance of free markets is) being forgotten in Washington, just a little bit," Herbert said as the audience applauded in agreement. "Capitalism is becoming a dirty word. I'm here to tell you that's not going to happen in Utah."
New this year in the awards competition was a social-entrepreneur category, described as being for well-managed organizations that solve problems in the community with strong leadership. Matt Minkevitch of The Road Home received the award.
Minkevitch said The Road Home's clientele are people who live in the margins and have one setback that ruins them financially. They end up homeless.
"One of the significant transitions that has taken place over the last eight years is we've focused on the other end of homelessness," he said, "to help people move into housing."
The Utah award recipients will next compete against other companies for national awards. The Deseret News was one of the sponsors of the awards.
Award recipients in the local competition were:
Technology: Matthew Heaton — BlueHost
Retail and Consumer Products: Jonathan Freedman, William Freedman and Charles Freedman ?— DownEast Outfitters
Emerging: David Flynn and Rick White — Fusion-io
Contract services: Douglas Sayer — Premier Technology Inc.
E-Commerce: Ryan DeLuca — Bodybuilding.com LLC
Social Entrepreneur: Matt Minkevitch — The Road Home
Services: Andrea Anaya — Career Step
Distribution and Manufacturing: Dallin Larsen — MonaVie