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Published: Thursday, 7/8/2004

Retailer opened Bargain City

Hyman R. Swolsky, 88, a pioneer in discount retailing who built a regional chain of 44 Bargain City stores, died of cancer yesterday in his West Toledo home. He had been in poor health the last year, daughter Sarna Dorf said.

Mr. Swolsky "worked well into his 80s," his daughter said. "He was still dabbling a little bit with wholesale, but he didn't have a storefront. He loved it. It was in his blood."

He was operating Famous Dollar Plus in Maumee in the 1990s. Earlier, he ran King Liquidators, which specialized in distressed merchandise before the firm went bankrupt in 1985. He was best-known for Bargain City.

Mr. Swolsky's first Toledo-area venture came in the early 1950s when he sold merchandise from under an Army surplus tent on Telegraph Road. He moved indoors, to a shuttered gambling hall next door, and named it Bargain Barn.

Bargain Barn eventually was renamed Bargain City and, by the early 1960s, was part of a national discount boom that included the creation of Kmart. Mr. Swolsky was on the cover of Discount Merchandiser, a retail trade publication, by 1965.

"He tried to make the stores well-rounded, the same concept that Target operates on today - quality merchandise that he bought in large quantities," his daughter said. "He always felt committed to bringing merchandise to people who couldn't really afford a lot."

He was heralded as one of a generation of postwar discounters who changed the way Americans shopped by challenging pricing arrangements between manufacturers and established retailers, opening stores on the outskirts of town, and keeping Sunday hours.

"I got real rich," he told The Blade in 1995. "I lost millions."

He sold Bargain City to Gray Drug Co. of Cleveland in 1967. He became an executive vice president with the chain and was a company director. The stores became known as Rink's Bargain City after a merger that he oversaw. He left the company in 1976.

Gray sold the stores to Cook United Inc., which renamed the stores and closed them by 1987.

Mr. Swolsky had been a board member of Congregation B'nai Israel and of Maumee Valley Country Day School.

He grew up in Columbus, the son of Russian immigrants.

Mr. Swolsky's wife of 47 years, Martha, died Dec. 22, 1998.

Surviving are his daughters, Pennie Sack and Sarna Dorf; sons, Joseph and Mark Swolsky; 11 grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Services will be private.

The family suggests tributes to Congregation B'nai Israel or Maumee Valley Country Day School.

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