NEW YORK (AP) — Lillian Vernon, creator of a multimillion dollar catalog business that sold specialized gifts and home goods, has died in New York. She was 88.

Fred Hochberg, president and chairman of the Export-Import Bank, says his mother died Monday. He described her as a "force of nature" who was fiercely creative and competitive.

Vernon came to the United States from Germany as a Jewish immigrant fleeing the Nazis.

She began her mail order business in 1951, selling inexpensive gifts and household organizers. Her company went public in 1965 and by 1970 she had her first million-dollar sales year.

In 1987, Lillian Vernon was the first woman-owned company to be listed on the American Stock Exchange. Vernon sold her business in 2003 for $60.5 million.