Remembering the Culver City Store's Opening and the Man of Gold
August 1, 2019
It was a ritual for the late Dave Gold, the founder of 99 Cents Only Stores to have his vendors there before the Culver City store opened the first time. I was Publisher of the Culver City News then. Dave had me and other vendors stocking shelves and preparing the store for customers who were waiting in line. As I recall the first 9 customers could by a television for 99 cents. The next 99 customer could buy another expensive item for 99 cents, and so on and so on. The line of waiting customers spilled out onto the sidewalk and around the corner. A man with no pretense, no suit, no tie, he would remind you of an ordinary guy.
His story began as a young man working in his parent's store in downtown Los Angeles. One of his responsibility was to mark down items that weren't selling. He noticed that if he marked an item at 99 cents it cleared the shelf off almost immediate. Then the idea his him, what if we had a store where nothing was over 99 cents and thus his first store in Ladera Heights. The chain grew and grew to over 300 stores grossing $1.6 billion.
Many years later Dave took the company public to raise money for future expansion. There symbol on the New York Stock Exchange was NDN for ninety-nine.
If you saw Dave and his wife Shelia on the street you wouldn't think they had 99 cents in their pocket. Dave never "dressed for success," he just was success. I watched him build an empire from a small warehouse where executive meetings were held on the floor of the warehouse showroom. He had an uncanny knack to figure things out. I once heard him comment in a meeting that he knew a store manager was stealing because all the bank deposits from that store where in even amounts.
He loved the vendors who sold to him. The sign as you entered the corporate offices read "Through these portals walk the finest Vendors in the World. I would watch him negotiate over pennies on both small and large purchases for his stores. It didn't matter if it was one pallet or 20 semi truckloads of merchandise, he wanted the best price and they knew what he was willing to pay. Then when the deal was done, he would send the salesman off to accounting to pick up his check. He lived by the old motto, "bargain like a gypsy but pay like a gentleman."
In 1989 Jack Lemmon and Ted Danson made the movie "Dad," I was asked for a copy of the Culver City Newspaper for a prop so Lemmon could be seen cutting coupons out of the local newspaper. We asked the studio for a still with the newspaper in it. The photo showed Lemmon and Danson sitting at the table with the 99 Cents Only Stores ad showing. I had two copes enlarged and framed and presented one to Dave. The last time I visited him it adorned a wall in the corporate boardroom.
When Wayne Gretsky came to the play for the L.A. Kings his jersey was number 99. Dave took out a full-page ad announcing that 99 Cents Only Stores was proudly welcoming number 99 to Los Angeles. He did the same when George Burns turned 99 years old. One ad even congratulated the Dodgers on losing 99 games.
Probably the best advice he ever gave me, which I have passed on to my daughters was, "when your daughters go out on your first date with a boy, tell them to pay no attention to how he treats you, pay attention to how he treats the "little" people like the waiter, the bus boy or the guy who parks your car," because Dave said, "that is how they will treat you someday."
He remains one of my mentors in business and life. I sometimes ask myself, "what would Dave Gold have told me to do."
Eventually the Wall Street investors force the company to be sold and went private and Dave was out.
They told me that Dave died of a heart attack in 2013, but those of us who knew him best knew that wasn't true. We believe he died of a broken heart when the 99 Cents Only Stores were sold.