Stew Leonard, the founder of the famous Connecticut grocery store chain that went by his name, died Wednesday at the age of 93.
The businessman succumbed to a “brief illness” during his stay at Lenox Hill Hospital.
“Yesterday, my dad passed away at 93-1/2 years old while holding my mother’s hand. They had been married for 70 years. I knew this day would come but I’m still trying to wrap my head around it. Just a month ago, he was swimming in a pool,” his son and successor, Stewie Leonard, Jr, said.
Leonard opened his first dairy store in his native Norwalk, Connecticut, in 1969 after serving as a milkman for his family’s dairy business for several years.
The 17,000 square foot store — which originally only carried just eight items — earned the “World’s Largest Dairy Store” title at Ripley’s Believe It or Not, as well as the place in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the highest dollar sales per square foot of selling space.
Leonard opened his second Connecticut location in 1991 and continued to expand until the chain popped up across New York and New Jersey. There are seven locations across the three states.
He earned various accolades throughout his life, including the 1986 Presidential Award for Entrepreneurial Excellence bestowed upon him by then-President Ronald Reagan.
The regional supermarket, valued at roughly $600 million, has enjoyed great success and was named as one of FORTUNE magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” ten years in a row — through recently suffered a 50% blow to Bud Light sales amid its controversial partnership with Dylan Mulvaney.
Outside of running his $600 million business, Leonard was an avid outdoorsman and water skier. He won the 1956 North American Water Ski championship and set a world and national record in point totals for trick water skiing in 1959.
Leonard stepped down as CEO in 2014 and handed the reigns over to his oldest son, Stewie.
He leaves behind his wife, Marianne; children Stewie, Tom, Beth, and Jill; 13 grandchildren; and over 2,200 employees.
“He always had an inspirational insight offering hope and a brighter future. Boy, am I going to miss that!” Stewie wrote.
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