Price a pioneer of ‘big box’ concept

La Jolla entrepreneur Sol Price, the founder of FedMart and Price Club (now Costco) who died at age 93 last week, was a pioneer whose business model revolutionized the retail trade.

“He invented an industry,” said Gary London of Price’s contributions. London is a real estate economist and strategist who owns The London Group. “The warehouse concept called the ‘big box’ was established by Price and literally everybody followed his lead.”

London noted that the big box revolution has been adapted over the years and now forms the foundation of retail operations big and small, from Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club to neighborhood shopping malls.

“Retailers — sporting goods, electronics, etc. — have morphed their operations into big boxes,” London said. “Big boxes are where we go to buy our things for value: And it all circles back to Sol Price.”

“He was a legend, not just locally but nationally and internationally,” said Jack McGrory, former San Diego city manager who managed real estate for Price Entities for a dozen years, of his former boss. “The whole concept of membership-driven, loyalty based retail with a warehouse with large packaging and very low pricing driven by high volume and low margins was real unique in its time and became a model for how other retailers began to think.”

Price donated $2 million for the construction of UCSD’s Price Center, which opened in 1989 and houses the university’s main student bookstore, food court, movie theater, ballrooms and meeting rooms.

Gary Ratcliff, UCSD’s assistant vice chancellor of student life, said Price’s construction donation came at a watershed time and was a transformative event in the university’s social history.

“When the Price Center opened, UCSD was a growing campus and the physical center of the campus was shifting from Revelle College to where the Geisel library was,” Ratcliff said. “Then this $18 million Price Center came and it was a place where students could purchase their books, eat, and it became a place where students congregated.”

“The retail dimension Sol Price brought with the Price Center actually became a prototype for other college campuses. It blazed a new path for a shift in the design and thinking behind these kinds of facilities,” Ratcliff said.

Price is also responsible for injecting money and aiding the renaissance being experienced in the San Diego midcity neighborhood City Heights, where he resided in the 1930s.

McGrory said Price’s vision extended into his philanthropy. “It was his idea not to be reactive but proactive in going into an inner-city neighborhood, City Heights, and leveraging that philanthropy by bringing in public agencies to improve the quality of life, changing the face and shape of that community and making it a safer place for people to bring up their families.”

London added Price’s contributions are enduring. “Sol Price’s vision will remain on the retail horizon really forever,” he concluded.

Robert Price, Sol Price’s son, said anyone wishing to make a donation in his father’s memory should “donate to an organization that provides food and social services to people in our community who are in need.”

In addition to his son Robert, Price is survived by another son, Larry, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.