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Sol Price, 93, father of warehouse superstores

Sol Price, then Chairman of the Board of The Price Company, speaking to a meeting of the National Association of Accountants in 1985.
Sol Price, then Chairman of the Board of The Price Company, speaking to a meeting of the National Association of Accountants in 1985. (James Skovmand - San Diego Union-times)
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After high school, the elder Price's mother decided to take the children back to New York. They traveled by car, and Sol Price, who did the driving, got a firsthand look at the results of the Great Depression. "I saw with my own eyes farmers standing with guns pointed at the sheriff, keeping them from coming on the land and foreclosing the land," he recalled.

Mr. Price received undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles in 1938. By that time, he and his girlfriend, Helen Moskowitz, had eloped and married in Las Vegas and after law school eventually moved back to San Diego for good.

His wife died in 2008. Survivors include two sons, Robert and Larry, both of San Diego; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

At the start of World War II, Mr. Price was classified 4-F because of an early infirmity -- a drooping left eyelid that eventually caused blindness in that eye. He began working for Convair, the predecessor of General Dynamics, training maintenance workers to service engines on B-24 airplanes. He described working 12-hour afternoon shifts at the San Diego airport, Lindbergh Field, during the war, while keeping up his law practice in the mornings.

At times he worked pro bono for Jewish organizations and also obtained work with pawnshop dealers and other local businessmen. His rates were low, but his legal work taught him life lessons about business. He learned about taxation, corporate structure and the fine points of negotiating a deal.

In addition, Mr. Price had an uncanny ability to leverage real estate deals. "He bought the worst locations in the country and made money by making the properties viable and attractive," Loeb said. Mr. Price created Price Legacy REIT, one of the first real estate investment funds, and it was fabulously successful.

Politics and philanthropy

In 1994, Mr. Price created one of his best-known philanthropic projects, after he negotiated with San Diego on a plan intended to reduce urban blight and crime in a neighborhood known as City Heights. He invested millions of dollars in what was widely called a renaissance in housing, including schools, a new police station, library and recreation center.

He established the Aaron Price Fellows Program for teaching high school students about government and civic involvement in honor of a grandson who died of cancer in 1989.

His Price Charities also provides school supplies to thousands of children in Central America and conducts philanthropic programs in Israel.

Among his many political and government activities, Mr. Price was a board member of the Washington-based Urban Institute, which advocates good government and civic responsibility, and the Center on Budget and Policy, also in Washington, which studies budget and tax policies and advocates the needs of low-income people in the United States.

Mr. Price was active in Democratic Party politics. He was an early backer of the late California Gov. Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, as well as Brown's son Jerry, another former governor. A visit with Mr. Price was standard for Democratic presidential candidates, from John F. Kennedy to Barack Obama.

Mr. Price was referred to at times as tough, even tyrannical, by his employees. But many also said that he masked his deep compassion and kindness behind a cantankerous demeanor. Recently, he recalled a request from a young African American woman who needed money for college. Giving the young woman a pencil and paper, he encouraged her to map out her daily tasks at school and recreation time and showed her she had free time to work and pay her school obligation.

"It's really depressing when I see people like this living on the edge," Mr. Price said. But in the end, "I loaned her the money."

Peter Eisner, a former editor for The Washington Post, is writing a book about Sol Price.

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