LEIGH PERKINS, WHO BUILT ORVIS INTO A LIFESTYLE BRAND, DIES AT 93

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In 28 years at the company’s helm, he turned a small mail-order fishing tackle shop into a sporting brand with stores all over the country.

Leigh Perkins, right, in 1992, with his sons David, left, and Perk fishing in Vermont’s Battenkill River.
Leigh Perkins, right, in 1992, with his sons David, left, and Perk fishing in Vermont’s Battenkill River. Credit…Keith Meyers/The New York Times

By Brian GallagherMay 15, 2021

Leigh H. Perkins, who built Orvis from a modest mail-order fishing tackle shop in Manchester, Vt., into one of America’s largest and most distinctive sporting lifestyle brands, with stores all over the country, died on May 7 at his home in Monticello, Fla. He was 93.

The cause was complications of a fall, said his grandson Simon Perkins, who now runs the company.

Founded in 1856 by Charles F. Orvis, the company is the oldest mail-order business in the United States. It was sending out catalogs before the Civil War and predated Sears, Roebuck by more than 20 years.

When Mr. Perkins bought Orvis for $400,000 in 1965, the company had 20 employees and had $500,000 in annual sales. When he stepped down 27 years later, in 1992 — turning the company over to his sons — Orvis had more than 700 employees and had sales of $90 million a year. Since then, Simon Perkins said, annual sales have quadrupled, and more than 2,000 people work for the company, which has a flagship store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan.

Leigh Perkins was a model of his own ideal customer, hunting and fishing more than 250 days a year, and traveling to places like Iceland, Argentina, Botswana and Wyoming’s Star Valley, where he owned land with a trout stream running through it.

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