C-store Industry Loses a Pioneer

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C-store Industry Loses a Pioneer

By Melissa Kress, Convenience Store News - 12/07/2011

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Julian Jackson loved to box. Nights and weekends were spent training, while he worked days as a meat cutter at the A&P. But he was more than just a champ in the ring; he was a champ in the convenience store industry as well.

Jackson, founder of Jackson's Minit Markets and Lil' Champ Food Stores, passed away in Jacksonville, Fla., last month at the age of 98. According to his son Victor Jackson, he lived a "full" 98 years.

"He was ahead of his time," Victor told CSNews Online. He couldn't help but chuckle recalling a time when one of his father's Jax Meat Stores burned down. Friends and neighbors drove from Jacksonville to St. Petersburg and bought a circus tent from Ringling Bros. They erected the tent on the store's property, put up shelves and once again set up shop.

During his early days at grocery giant A&P, Julian Jackson and his friend Trollie Cowart saved their money. Combined with the $2,000 that each of them had borrowed, the two co-workers opened their own grocery store. The pair grew the Jax Meat Co. business, and Julian Jackson never looked back.

In the late 1950s, they sold the business and signed a no-compete agreement for North Florida. Since the grocery business was essentially off the table, Julian Jackson turned to the c-store industry, opening Jackson's Minit Markets.

Convenience stores back then were different than today's versions. Jackson's Minit Markets were open-front stores with no heat or air conditioning, Victor explained. The front sliding doors would slide from side to side and were secured by a giant padlock at night. The drink cooler would even have to be unplugged and rolled off the sidewalk into the store at closing, he added.

At one time, Jackson's Minit Markets ranked third among the largest chain-store companies behind 7-Eleven Inc. and J.C. Penney Co.

After expanding to 525 stores, Julian Jackson once again sold his business and signed another no-compete pact. However, as Victor explained, his father challenged the no-compete agreement in court and won. The result was Lil' Champs -- his third retail endeavor and second c-store business.

Lil' Champs went public in 1976 and over the next 20 years, it was bought out by two different companies, first becoming part of the Docks de France family of retail businesses and then coming under the Auchan Group's umbrella. The Pantry Inc. eventually bought the Lil' Champs stores from Auchan.

"He was a pioneer in the convenience store business," Victor said of his father. "He believed you do what you know how to do."

Victor and his older brother, Eddie, grew up working alongside their father in the industry. They were later joined by a younger brother, Julian Jackson IV. Two other brothers worked in related fields: Robert worked for a supplier and Lester worked for a security company that supplied the security for the family business.

In addition to the convenience store business, Julian Jackson was a known philanthropist who was a big supporter of the Police Athletic League. The PAL facility in Arlington, Fla., bears his name, according to his obituary in the The Florida Times-Union.

Julian Jackson is also survived by his wife, Lolly, 89, of Jacksonville; eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.