George Henry Boone Sr., founder and owner of Boone Furniture & Appliance Co. Inc. in Baltimore, died Monday of cancer at Chapel Hill Nursing Center in Randallstown. He was 86.
Born and raised in Memphis, Tenn., Mr. Boone attended high school through the 11th grade, when he left to help support his family. In 1942, his family moved to Baltimore, and he took a job as a crane operator in Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point shipyard.
Mr. Boone's business acumen began early in life. While working at the shipyard and to make extra money, he collected empty soda bottles from his co-workers and cashed them in at the grocery store.
"Because of that, he got the nickname of 'Bottle Man,'" said a son, George H. Boone Jr. of Crownsville, retired director of the Federal Drug Administration's Northeast Regional Laboratory.
In 1948, Mr. Boone opened Boone Furniture & Appliance Co. in the first floor of a Pulaski Street storefront, while his family lived in an apartment above the store.
Mr. Boone sold furniture, refrigerators, appliances and television sets, which were gaining popularity in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
"He had top-of-the-line furniture such as Thomasville, Lane and America of Martinsville. He also sold Maytag washing machines, Admiral television sets, and RCA and General Electric products," said Mr. Boone, who began working in the store as a 12-year-old with other family members.
"It was the first minority-owned furniture and appliance store in Baltimore," said Mr. Boone, who recalled his father as a "demanding boss."
"However, he taught us how to treat people fairly and the value of hard work," he said.
Not only did Mr. Boone provide top-quality merchandise to his customers, he also extended them credit.
"Many of our customers were the young and the elderly who had never established credit, so he opened up credit for them and charged no interest. He'd take no money down and would personally deliver their products to their homes. It was remarkable: Every week, they'd come in and make a payment. He just loved people, and they loved him," he said.
With business booming and outgrowing the Pulaski Street store, Mr. Boone moved to a larger store in 1955, taking over a former Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Co. store on Brighton Street in West Baltimore.
Deliveries were made in two former bakery delivery trucks that had Mr. Boone's picture on the side.
He retired in 1997 from the business, which is now operated by two of his sons.
"He was a gentleman, always a gentleman," said Raymond M. Cain of Baltimore, a friend of 40 years.
"He was congenial, helpful and the kind of man who believed in people, not just making money," he said.
J. Martin Capehart of Reisterstown got to know Mr. Boone in 1948 when he purchased a Muntz television from him. "He made sure you got it and took care of the financing, too," he said.
Mr. Capehart also recalled his friend's interest in helping others.
"He was a friend to all mankind. As a black entrepreneur, he tried to make people's dreams a reality. He'd help other black merchants with their businesses and he helped those who had dark days. He'd do his best to carry them over the rough roads," he said.
He enjoyed traveling and eating Southern cooking, family members said.
"His only regret in life was that he never finished school, so he always placed a great deal of value on getting an education," his son said.
Mr. Boone was a member of New Shiloh Baptist Church.
Services will be held at noon Saturday at Vaughn C. Green Funeral Home, 5151 Baltimore National Pike.
He is survived by his wife of 67 years, the former Lena Cannon; two other sons, Edward L. Boone of Baltimore and Maurice L. Boone of Suitland; 11 grandchildren; 21 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.