Shanower, off-price drug store visionary, dies at 71

CUMMING, Ga. —Frank Shanower was known as much for his outsized personality and offbeat sense of humor as he was for his skills as a drug store merchant. But his energy and abilities as an intuitive merchandiser, buyer, retail mentor and aggressive but fair negotiator helped define the best principles of deep-discount drug store retailing in his years with Drug Emporium.

Shanower died Sept. 16 at the age of 71, after spending the last years of his life in Cumming, Ga., a community on the far northern edge of Atlanta’s suburbs.

At the apex of his retail career, 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 being Cleveland-based Marc Glass-man, which continues to thrive in a strong niche. Shanower was known as a skillful deal-maker, negotiating with a host of vendors for the best prices on large quantities of overstock and closeout merchandise for Drug Emporium to 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 several 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 retailing so well, and he was very intuitive about it. Man, could he get stuff out of vendors and negotiate and make sales happen,” he added. “I learned a lot of things about retailing from him. And he was the one who really built that Atlanta franchise.”

Shanower’s survivors include 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, and 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.