1979 Crash Hurried Magic Mart's End

by Jack Whitsett  on Monday, Mar. 31, 2014 12:00 am  

“We were the only discount chain in the country that competed with Wal-Mart on a store-to-store basis,” Jack Grundfest said.

Dave Grundfest Sr. stepped aside as president in favor of Dave Jr. in 1971. He died in 1974 with Sterling Stores at its peak, including the rapidly expanding discount division.

The company ultimately opened 47 Magic Marts in the six-state Sterling territory. A new, larger prototype debuted in Little Rock, first at Geyer Springs and Baseline roads, then at 6428 Asher Ave.

“It was an attempt at a more upscale look instead of just bright colors,” Jack Grundfest said.

By that fateful December 1979, Wal-Mart was winning the battle for capitalization. Double-digit interest rates and inflation were eating away at Magic Mart.

In that interest-rate environment, Jack Grundfest said, the only way to offset fixed costs was by adding more stores to generate more revenue.

Still, the company aggressively sought its share of the Christmas trade. On Dec. 20, the Gazette featured a double-truck (two facing pages) Magic Mart ad, headed with a phrase worthy of the company’s ebullient co-founder: “There are five shopping days left ’til Christmas. That’s four more than you’ll need when you shop at Magic Mart.”

The next day, Gina Wilkins, who wrote training programs and advertising copy, was making Christmas preparations.

“I was helping decorate for the party, and I went to my mother’s office and the door was closed.” Wilkins’ mother, Beth Vaughn, had been Dave Grundfest Jr.’s secretary at the time of the crash.

As the reality of the crash sunk in, “we were all just totally devastated,” Vaughn said.

Pilot Jack Starr’s mother-in-law worked at Sterling headquarters. Vaughn gave her the news.

It also fell to Vaughn to speak for the company when Brummett called for comment on the tragedy.

 

 

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