Family Dollar opened its first store at 1510 Central Avenue in 1959. It is one of the largest companies to come out of Charlotte, North Carolina, and was a part of the business boom in the city in the 1960s. But how did Family Dollar and founder Leon Levine use its success to support so many institutions in Charlotte?
Family Dollar’s story begins with its founder, Leon Levine. Entrepreneurship ran in the Levine family as they owned and operated a Rockingham, North Carolina store called The Hub. Levine worked in his family’s store, learning to sell and run a business. At seventeen, Levine was captivated by a New York store called Filene’s, which sold its lowest-priced items in the basement. Levine realized that if that could be done in New York, it could be done in his family’s store. Levine convinced his mother to let him open his own bargain basement and stocked it with items people wouldn’t buy. He heavily reduced the price and began learning how to sell.
When he was eighteen, he and his brother Sherman purchased a stake in Union Craft Company based in Wingate, North Carolina, which made chenille bedspreads. When a young Leon Levine was placed in charge, he knew nothing about factories, so he sought the necessary skills and knowledge. Levine went to school at Wingate College in the mornings to learn business and then headed to the factory to practice what he had learned. He learned a very valuable lesson: factories sell their products at a much lower price during slow periods.
By age 22, Leon Levine was ready. He had pulled together $6,000 and put that money into a store on Central Avenue. After thinking through all the possible names, he settled on Family Dollar, with the name describing the customers he wanted and the price he wanted things to be. Levine got a list of all the factories in North Carolina that sold the products he wanted to carry in his store and learned who to talk to get what he needed.
In November 1959, the first Family Dollar opened on Central Avenue in Charlotte, North Carolina. Family Dollar multiplied by the end of the 1960s; there were over 27 stores in four states, with annual sales reaching over 5 million dollars. Family Dollar grew over time into a multibillion-dollar retailer with over 8,000 stores nationwide. Leon Levine would remain CEO and Chairman until 2003, passing the reigns to his son Howard Levine. In 2015, Family Dollar was acquired by Dollar Tree.
Leon Levine was not only a well-known businessman but also a philanthropist. He and his wife, Sandra Levine, started The Leon Levine Foundation, which supports programs and organizations that improve human development through investments in human services, healthcare, education, and Jewish values. Based in Charlotte, North Carolina, the Foundation invests in nonprofits throughout North and South Carolina with a track record of success, a plan for financial stability, and strong leadership.
Today, you can find the Levine name all over the city of Charlotte. Levine philanthropic support has created important institutions across many sectors, including the Levine Jewish Community Center, Central Piedmont Community College’s Levine Campus, Levine Children Hospital, UNC-Charlotte’s Levine Scholars Program, Levine Center for the Arts and Levine Museum of the New South. The Museum of the New South was founded in 1991 and was renamed after museum patrons and funders Leon and Sandra Levine in 2001.