Drug Emporium veteran Frank Shanower, off-price merchant and mentor, dies at 71

CUMMING, Ga. Frank Shanower, an intuitive merchant, retail mentor and outsized personality who helped define the principles of deep-discount drug store retailing in his years with Drug Emporium, died Sept. 16. He was 71.

Shanower was VP vendor relations for Drug Emporium, a pioneering off-price drug chain that operated more than 230 corporate-owned and franchised stores in many major U.S. markets at its peak in the late 1980s. He joined the chain’s corporate headquarters during a reorganization and merger after running a franchised division of Drug Emporium in Atlanta, and helped propel the fast-growing company to short-lived dominance as the nation’s top deep-discount drug chain.

Shanower proved adept at applying the “stack it high, watch it fly” principles that defined deep discounting from the 1970s to the early 1990s, before intense competition and the ascendancy of Walmart brought a close to the off-price drug store concept in all but a few markets. (One standout exception is Cleveland-based Marc Glassman Inc., which continues to thrive in a strong niche.) Shanower was known as a skillful dealmaker, negotiating with a host of vendors for the best prices on large quantities of overstock and closeout merchandise that Drug Emporium would move in big volumes at discounted prices through its stores.

Among Shanower’s many fans and friends was Rich Landers, principle with Landers & Associates, a Worthington, Ohio-based brokerage firm that supplies drug stores, mass merchants, supermarkets and other retail outlets. Landers, who worked for five years in the 1980s with Shanower at Drug Emporium headquarters, remembered him as “a memorable character” and “motivator” who was “always upbeat and always positive” in his relations with colleagues and suppliers. “If I had to sum up, he was so unique and such a character, and every day was such an adventure with Frank,” Landers recalled. “He knew retail so well, and I learned a lot of things about retailing from him. And he was the one who really built that Atlanta franchise.”

Shanower is survived by his wife, Joyce Shanower of Cumming, Ga.; daughters and sons-in-law, Lori Klimach of Connecticut, Lisa Shanower of California (a former area sales representative for The Drug Store News Group), Alisa and Bruce Sedacca, Lee and Allie Webb, Ralph Klimach; sister, Bertie Gressman; and grandchildren, Michael Diamandakis, Hampton and Harper Webb, and Matt and Ben Sedacca.

In lieu of flowers the family suggested that a donation be made to a charity of the donor’s choice.

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