Let’s be honest: A lot of rich guys sound awful. They’re reclusive (Howard Hughes) or partisan (the Koch brothers and George Soros) extravagantly out of touch (Larry Ellison, docking his yacht a block away from homeless encampments) earn billions of dollars while shrugging responsibility. That’s why the obituary for the founder of the the billion-dollar 99 Cents Only chain is so refreshing: He was married to the same woman for 55 years, he drove a Prius he bought 13 years ago, and had lived in the same modest house for five decades. Delightfully, the modest mogul’s name was Dave Gold.
“You would never think in a million years that he was a wealthy man,” his daughter tells the LA Times. But he was.
The concept of a “dollar store” wasn’t new, but as the Times points out, most were thought of as “retail graveyards for expired or broken products.” One of Gold’s innovations was to make his stores large, brightly lit, and organized — a happy place to be. Think K-Mart vs. Target.
His other innovations was to knock the dollar store concept down to 99 cents. “Whenever I’d put wine or cheese on sale for $1.02 or 98 cents, it never sold out,” Gold said in a 2003 interview. “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?”
There was one more thing that made Gold special, and that makes him a role model: He loved his job, and he loved his product. As his daughter tells the Times, ”My dad really loved the merchandise. He would come home at the end of the day when we were younger and say, ‘Look at this beautiful shampoo.’”