Living Legends: FRANCES LEWIS
PHILANTHROPIST; CO-FOUNDER, BEST PRODUCTS CO. INC., RICHMOND
National retailer Best Products helped pioneer the shopping experience, and it started with a swap with pop artist Andy Warhol. Lewis and her late husband, Sydney, founded their mail-order catalog business in 1957, turning it into a Henrico County-based empire, with hundreds of stores across the nation and annual sales of up to $2 billion before the chain went into bankruptcy and shut down in 1997.
In the early 1960s, Sydney Lewis spotted an ad placed by Warhol seeking “anything” in exchange for art. A color television and vacuum from Best Products netted a silkscreen portrait of Frances made by Warhol. The exchange put the couple on a path to amass a contemporary and decorative arts collection unrivaled by many. They donated more than 1,500 pieces — and $6 million — to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts during the 1980s. The Lewises also made significant donations to Virginia Union University, Eastern Virginia Medical School and Sydney Lewis’ alma mater, Washington and Lee University.
The couple’s connection to the art world also turned Best Products’ showrooms into architectural showstoppers; they commissioned facades for store locations that fused art with advertising.