New book chronicles life and legacy of Sol Price
Sol Price — founder of Price Club and other ventures, and namesake of the USC Price School of Public Policy — was too humble to think that a book should be written about his life. His son and business partner, Robert Price, author of Sol Price: Retail Revolutionary & Social Innovator, shared this insight into his late father’s character at a book signing held at Lewis Hall on Feb. 7.
“I did ask my father once whether he thought it would be a good idea for me to write a book about him,” Robert Price recalled. “He asked, ‘Why?’ And I said, ‘Well, maybe it would be nice for other people to share some of the ideas you had.’ ”
At the signing, Robert Price and the book’s editor, Iris Engstrand, introduced the audience of USC students, faculty and staff to the story of a remarkable man who changed the way people shop — first with FedMart in 1954, then with the Price Club in 1976. These retail concepts inspired Target, Walmart, Kmart and eventually Costco, which merged with Price Club in 1993. As a business entrepreneur, Sol Price never wavered in his commitment to providing value for his customers, good wages and benefits for his employees, and dividends for his stockholders.
Robert Price’s book also delves into the personal events that shaped his father’s values and philosophy. Sol Price was born in the Bronx in 1916. His parents, Jewish Russian immigrants, cared deeply about labor issues and were involved in helping organize female garment workers in New York.
“I always describe my father’s approach to life this way: His parents were the kind of Jews who had not a strong religious affiliation but had a very strong social conscience,” Robert Price explained.
Sol Price moved to San Diego in 1929 and later attended San Diego High School, where he met his future wife, Helen Moskowitz. They both earned undergraduate degrees from USC, and Sol Price went on to graduate from what is now the USC Gould School of Law. He began practicing law in 1939 and also worked nights in Consolidated Aircraft’s engine maintenance department during World War II.
“He loved to work hard,” said Robert Price, “and that was just the way he thought it should be.”
Later in life, Sol Price brought this same social conscience and work ethic to his many charitable endeavors. In the early 1990s, he directed most of his philanthropy to causes honoring the memory of his grandson, Robert Price’s eldest son, Aaron, who died in 1989 at age 15 from a brain tumor. Sol Price established the Aaron Price Fellows Program, which exposes high school students to local government, business and cultural institutions. He also made gifts to support pediatric end-of-life care through San Diego Hospice, and brain tumor research through Duke University and the University of California, San Francisco.
In all of Sol Price’s efforts to give back, he focused primarily on three areas of public policy: tax equity, immigration and children from challenged communities. In keeping with this spirit, the Price Family Charitable Fund and Price Charities have spearheaded the redevelopment of the economically challenged City Heights neighborhood of San Diego.
In 2012, the Price Family Charitable Fund gave a $50 million gift and endowment to USC’s public policy school, which now bears Sol Price’s name. Robert Price’s son, David, graduated from USC with a bachelor’s degree in policy, planning and development in 2011.
“Sol Price’s whole idea of making money was so that he could give it away; Robert has carried on the tradition,” Engstrand told the audience. “And you obviously know that because you’re here at the Sol Price School of Public Policy.”
After the book signing, Master of Public Policy (MPP) student Jennifer Moore felt a more personal connection to her school’s namesake.
“I’m passionate about immigration policy,” she said. “So to hear that the family and Sol Price himself were also very passionate about it, I really appreciate that.”
Fellow MPP student Stephanie Gomez added, “After hearing Robert Price speak, it made me feel genuinely proud to say that I’m a student of the USC Sol Price School of Public Policy.”
Master of Public Administration student Henry Chu also left the event with a better understanding of Sol Price, whom he called “a really good example of how to continually try to better the world in any way that we can.”
USC Price Dean Jack H. Knott was encouraged by how Robert Price gave the students a new perspective on the school and on public service.
“Sol Price’s life and work truly exemplify our mission — to improve the quality of life for people and their communities,” Knott said. “I am enormously proud to be part of a school that bears his name and carries on his great legacy.”