Albert Boscov, longtime chairman of Boscov's Department Stores, has told employees he has late-stage cancer.

Boscov related the news in a letter to the Berks County-based retail chain's 8,000 employees Wednesday morning, said Boscov's nephew, Jim Boscov, who was promoted to the company's third-generation CEO in 2015.

Jim Boscov declined to release a copy of Albert Boscov's letter out of respect for the family, but said in a statement: "In typical fashion, the first thing he did was thank [employees] for the outstanding results for 2016. Our year-end results were far ahead of other retailers. He then encouraged them to find the best possible bargains for the next sales event.

"All of us who worked closely with Albert for many years have been infused with the spirit, the drive, and the ethic it takes to succeed, and our best compliment to Albert is to continue doing what we do. That's what made us successful and unique in the retail industry."

Albert Boscov, who celebrated his 87th birthday in September, succeeded his father, Solomon, as head of the company in 1950. He emerged from a nearly three-year retirement in late 2008 to lift the then-struggling chain out of bankruptcy by buying it back from family members. He has remained active in the growing company's day-to-day operations as chairman ever since.

So active, in fact, that Boscov worked Thanksgiving night in 2014 to show his employees that in a rapidly evolving retail environment where being open on Turkey Day had become a necessity to compete, he wasn't going to take the day off, either.

In a challenging retail climate where department store chains such as Sears and Macy's — which announced plans in January to close 68 stores — are struggling and closing stores, privately held Boscov's has continued to grow.

For example, Boscov's opened a new store at a shopping mall near Utica, N.Y., in October and, in December, announced it would open its 46th location in Erie in 2017.

Boscov's, which bills itself as the largest family-owned department store chain in the nation, has opened one store in each of the last six years.

"It's one of the last remaining regional department store chains, and in some ways it's still a thriving regional department store chain, which is even more unusual," said Neil Stern, a senior partner at Chicago retail consulting firm McMillan Doolittle. "It's clearly a testament to the leadership of the company."

Or, as Albert Boscov told The Morning Call in mid-2015 when Jim Boscov's promotion was announced: "We're a little nobody, but we're able to compete with the biggest guys."

And that competition between the family-owned regional retailer and the large chains will continue with a Boscov in charge.

"As I promised Albert, I'm personally committed to lead, and our families are solidly behind our very capable team to continue long into the future, doing what we've done successfully," Jim Boscov's statement read.

Morning Call reporter Jon Harris contributed.