Jack Luskin, who built a Baltimore-based chain of electronics and home appliance stores over nearly five decades with the help of his famous slogan “The Cheapest Guy in Town,” died Friday of complications from an infection at his home in North Palm Beach, Fla. He was 89.
The Baltimore native started Luskin’s in 1948 in Pimlico with his brother, Joe, selling refrigerators at a time when consumers stored food in iceboxes. The brothers would follow ice delivery trucks through neighborhoods, then knock on residents’ doors to persuade them to switch to the new appliance.
Luskin’s eventually expanded into televisions and other electronics, opening one of the larger-format stores of the time overlooking the then-newly built Beltway in Towson in 1964. Mr. Luskin gained fame as a TV pitchman, starring in commercials where he would appear to leap from televisions to washing machines. The chain grew to 56 stores in 11 states before shutting down in 1995 amid the rise of bigger-box retailers.
Mr. Luskin’s two sons, Kevin Luskin and Cary Luskin, worked with their father in the business and then continued the family’s retail tradition, launching The Big Screen Store chain in 1996.
Mr. Luskin’s daughter, Jamie McCourt, was recently named by President Donald Trump to be U.S. ambassador to France and Monaco.
Mr. Luskin and his wife, Jean, retired to Florida. The couple had been married 68 years.
“Our dad was, by anyone’s definition, a one-of-a-kind original,” Kevin Luskin said Saturday. “He started with literally nothing but vision, drive and incredible energy. His life is a true rags-to-riches story. Cary and I loved working with our dad, which started from the time we were little kids.
“Our family had an incredible run with Luskin’s, and the experience we gained from working with Jack laid the groundwork for the companies we have today,” Kevin Luskin said. “Our dad left his indelible mark on the lives of untold numbers of people he came in contact with through business and life. … Baltimore has lost an icon.”
Both Kevin Luskin and his older brother, Cary, helped out in the stores as children, then worked there full time after college. Other family members, including Mr. Luskin’s mother, also pitched in at the business. The two brothers now operate a dozen Big Screen Stores in Maryland and Virginia.
“We were so lucky, Kevin and I,” Cary Luskin said. “He included us in everything. … He was generous to a fault. He was generous to people with his time, and he always made people feel incredibly wonderful.”
David Nevins, president of the Nevins & Associates public relations and marketing firm, said he looked up to Mr. Luskin, whom he had known for nearly 40 years. Mr. Nevins said Mr. Luskin was a visionary both in the design of his stores and his approach to advertising.
“Luskin’s was really the inventor of the big-box store concept that Best Buy and formerly Circuit City and other retailers occupy today,” Mr. Nevins said. “It was a unique approach to retailing in which you would put all under one roof televisions and radios and washing machines and so forth.”
And the slogan “Cheapest Guy in Town” memorably communicated Mr. Luskin’s model of discount retailing, Mr. Nevins said.
“How many slogans can you think of that you remember 50 years later as if they were developed yesterday?” Mr. Nevins said.
Kevin Luskin said his father was so well known from his stores and commercials that when people see his last name — whether at a restaurant or a doctor’s office — they inevitably asked if he’s related to Jack Luskin.
Mr. Luskin was born in Baltimore, the son of Russian immigrants Nathan and Dora Luskin, who came to the U.S. with little money or knowledge of English and who eventually opened a small grocery store. The family lived above the store on Spalding Avenue near Pimlico Race Course.
Mr. Luskin graduated in 1945 from City College, which he long credited with giving him a foundation for success.
He was inducted into the high school’s Hall of Fame in 2014, which became “one of the proudest moments of his life,” Cary Luskin said. In a speech to City College students and alumni, “Jack brought the house down with these four words: ‘City College made me.’ ”
After graduating from high school, he served in the Army. He and his brother used their Army separation pay to start their business, at first just a small space to store refrigerators on Park Heights Avenue.
They opened an 8,000-square-foot store at 4900 Park Heights Ave. about a year later in 1949, then a second store in Eastpoint in 1956. When they added televisions, they were able to keep prices lower than their competitors by keeping overhead low.
They opened their third store in 1964 in Towson Overlook on Cromwell Bridge Road in Towson, now the site of a Big Screen Store. Cary Luskin said no banks would finance the construction of the Luskin’s overlooking the Beltway, so his father persuaded his TV and appliance suppliers to let him delay payments until after the store was built, which Mr. Luskin told them would boost their products’ sales. After building the store, he was able to obtain a loan and pay the suppliers, Cary Luskin said.
Cary Luskin recalled that his father considered his employees part of his family, but always said they worked for the customer, not for him.
“He would say, ‘The customer is the reason you’re here,’ ” Cary Luskin said, and “ ‘I sign the check, but you work for the people walking through that door.’ ”
Mr. Luskin’s philanthropy included supporting many Jewish causes. He helped fund the Baltimore Holocaust Memorial’s sculpture of victims engulfed in flames, created by artist Joseph Sheppard, in the 1980s.
Mr. Luskin was inducted to the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame in 2005.
A funeral is planned for 10 a.m. Monday at Temple Emanu-el, 190 County Road, Palm Beach, Fla., followed by interment at Star of David Cemetery, 9321 Memorial Park Road, West Palm Beach, Fla.
In addition to his wife and sons, who all live in North Palm Beach, and his daughter, who is relocating from California to Paris, Mr. Luskin is survived by eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.