Leon Levine, discount store pioneer, dies at 85

Levine built Family Dollar into a discount retail giant catering to America's lower-income and middle-class shoppers.

Leon Levine, discount store pioneer, dies at 85

New York CNN

Leon Levine died aged 85. He was the man who turned Family Dollar into an American discount retailer that catered to lower- and middle-class consumers.

In an online announcement, The Leon Levine Foundation (the philanthropic organisation Levine founded later) confirmed that he had died on April 5, 2019. The cause of death was not given.

Levine was a college dropout who founded several stores that sold low-cost products. In recent decades, discount stores have flourished as the income divide in the United States has grown. Dollar General, Dollar Tree, and Family Dollar are the three dollar store chains that have grown fastest in the US.

Levine, then 22, opened his first Family Dollar Store in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1959 with his cousin. The store sold essentials, such as cleaning supplies, clothing and other items for less than $2.

Family Dollar expanded in the rural South, and by 1969 there were 50 Family Dollar stores. In 1970, Walmart and Family Dollar went public.

Levine found an appealing niche for customers with lower incomes in rural areas.

He would drive around and check supermarket parking lots to find new store locations. The Charlotte Observer reported that in 2004, fresh oil spots on pavements meant locals had older cars, and were not able to afford repairs.

Levine's Family Dollar went against the trend of the time, which was to build large stores in fast-growing suburbs. The company chose to build smaller convenience stores near the homes of shoppers.

Family Dollar opened small stores in strip malls in the 1970s and 80s as Walmart began to build superstores.

The stores were usually 6,000-8,000 square feet in size and easy to visit.

George Mahoney, Family Dollar's president, told the Associated Press that in 1993: "We are the exact opposite of a Wal-Mart." Our customers do not want to deal with the hassles of a large store or lack the money for it.

In 1993, Family Dollar operated 2,000 stores. Levine retired a decade later from Family Dollar with around 4,500 locations. Today, there are over 8,000 Family Dollars. Dollar Tree purchased the chain for almost $9 billion in 2015.

Levine, who retired from Family Dollar in 1997, became one of the most generous philanthropists of the South. He donated hundreds of millions to hospitals, universities and Jewish organizations.