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Zippy Mart Founder Passes Away at 90

Helow built 370-store chain, served as 1977 NACS president

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- George Helow, 90, who turned seven Jacksonville convenience stores into a chain of 370 Zippy Marts in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama, died on January 17.

"He was a very, very smart businessman," his son Joseph Helow told the Florida Times-Union.

At one point, Zippy Mart was the largest solely owned convenience store chain in the country, according to the report. In a 1976 interview with the Times-Union, Helow credited much of his success to the fact that revenues could be used for expansion rather than stockholders' earnings since it was solely owned.

His c-store career began in 1960 when he invested in Paks stores with Ed Pack, for whom the chain was named. By 1965, they had six locations in Miami and seven in Jacksonville.

"He was frustrated because he thought they were growing way too slowly and saw a real opportunity to expand these stores," his son said.

So Helow bought out the Jacksonville stores and changed their names to Zippy Mart. He increased fast-food and sandwich service as well as self-service gasoline dispensers, long before most chains. His stores also were about 400 square feet smaller than most, and he was one of the first to use four-foot shelves so clerks could view the layout.

He served as president of the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) in 1977.

Helow became president at the 1976 annual meeting in Atlanta, the first meeting with a full-fledged exposition and the first meeting to draw more than 2,000 attendees, the association said in a tribute.

His president's address a year later was considered one of the best ever delivered at a NACS closing banquet, the group added. As NACS entered its 16th year, Helow's speech, "Sweet Little Sixteen," compared the maturation of the industry to that of a person, which was a prescient look at the industry's future.

Helow later told NACS: "I began to realize that we had some issues that were probably paralleled to what an average child or girl or person would have at that age. It was a beautiful age; however, it's an age when people are now looking to be more responsible than they have been. And then I thought, isn't that something similar to what we're going through? The first 10 to15 years, we've gone helter skelter to open stores like there's no stop to it, and all of a sudden we've reached a point where we're reaching maturity in many markets. … That was an ideal time to, in retrospect, begin to [look at] our internal operations."

Helow sold his chain to Sun Oil Co. (Sunoco) in 1981, the Times-Union said.

Helow also was a philanthropist who started the Margaret and George Helow Family Foundation, which helped the needy, Catholic Charities and the Catholic church.

He was preceded in death by his father Peter, mother Mary, brothers John, Joseph and Philip, and sisters Jennie and Rosie and survived by his sister Evelyn Leinaar. He is also survived by his loving wife of 54 years, Margaret Ossi, son Joseph (Julie), daughters Mary Pritchard (Jim), Anne Darling (Jim), Diane Parker (Steve), Katherine Gilligan (Brian) and Theresa Ryan (Andrew), among other grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, nephews and extended family.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Catholic Charities or the Diocese of St. Augustine.

CSP sends condolences to his family, friends and colleagues.

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