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Pour One Out For Dave Gold, 80, The Founder Of The 99 Cents Only Stores

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Parking at the 99 Cents Only Store (Photo by m kasahara via the LAist Featured Photos pool)
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Dave Gold—the man behind the 99 Cents Only Stores chain which modernized the concept of a dollar store—died Monday at his home in Los Angeles at 80 from an apparent heart attack.

Gold began his career working at a liquor store, but he opened the first 99 Cents Only store in Los Angeles in 1982 after mulling over the concept for a decade. Gold described to the Los Angeles Times how he came up with the concept while working at his father's liquor store in L.A.'s Grand Central Market: "Whenever I'd put wine or cheese on sale for $1.02 or 98 cents, it never sold out. When I put a 99 cent sign on anything, it was gone in no time. I realized it was a magic number. I thought, wouldn't it be fun to have a store where everything was good quality and everything was 99 cents?"

Dollar stores existed before Gold came along, but the bright, modernized update of the concept took off (and the stores were so colorful and beautiful that one became the subject of Andreas Gursky's famous 99 Cent II Diptychon). The cheeky advertising—such as congratulating Joan Rivers on her 99th face lift—and 99 cent giveaways of high-priced items like TVs helped the company take off.

The store moved into middle-class and upscale neighborhoods—and recently pondered an expansion to Rodeo Drive. The company went public on the New York Stock Exchange in 1996, and it grew to 300 stores in California, Texas, Arizona and Nevada—many of them here in Los Angeles. The company itself is based in Commerce.

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Gold was a multimillionaire himself, but he never acted the part. The Los Angeles Times writes:

He lived in the same middle-class home for nearly five decades with his wife of 55 years, Sherry. He was known for wearing rumpled clothing and picking up trash around the parking lot in the mornings. An early adopter of hybrid cars, Gold drove the same Toyota Prius he purchased in 2000 (although he quietly bought Priuses for "hundreds" of friends over the years, Jeff Gold said).

Gold was the son of Russian immigrants, and he was born in Cleveland where his family owned a general store until they moved out west in 1945. Gold went to Los Angeles High School and Los Angeles City College, but he dropped out of school to take over the family's liquor business when his dad had a heart attack.Gold's children all worked at the 99 Cents Only chain in some way or another, and his son-in-law Eric Schiffer took over as chief executive. The family left the chain in January just two years after the equity firm Ares Management and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board acquired the company. The deal was valued at $1.6 billion. Gold worked up until the end of his life—and his wife said he actually died while on a work call.

Related:
99 Cents Only Store Looking Into Opening on Rodeo Drive
99 Cents Store Likely to be Sold for $1.6 Billion