Dollar $tore Owner Russell Smith Remembered

Published Feb. 16, 2012 by Imperial Beach Patch.

Russell Smith, who owned Dollar $tore in the Promenade Shopping Center near 9th Street and Palm Avenue, passed away Jan. 31.

He was 52-years-old.

Though she didn’t know the owner’s name, Irene Callahan was a regular customer and a big supporter of the store.

Smith referred to her as the “red hat lady” because she is a member of the Red Hat Society.

“He was such a nice man,” she said. “I was so hopeful he would be successful.”

When the store closed unexpectedly at the start of the month, Callahan went out of her way to find out what happened to him, checking with the city department that issues business licenses.

“I belong to the Senior Center here in town and we sent a lot of people over there. We have worked so had to keep his business going,” Callahan said.

Among people sent to the store by Callahan was Larry Flaherty.

“I would come in to get something simple, greeting cards or ice cream, just to say hi,” said Flaherty, who enjoyed Smith’s company and made it a point to visit the store weekly. “He had a fantastic attitude and he was very helpful and personable.”

After graduating from the New York State Police Academy, Russell was stationed in Massena, New York near the U.S.-Canada border. There he met his wife of 17 years Jan Smith.

“He was a city boy from Brooklyn so it was actually kind of funny they put him up there in the middle of nowhere,” she said.

Jan described Russell as a tender, caring husband and devoted father.

“I mean when I think about the whole trooper thing, it’s sort of an aura of scary authority, but he was totally a teddy bear with a really good sense of humor and uninhibited in ways, like he would come home and watch cartoons,” she said, as a way to wind down after a day at work.

“He wasn’t afraid to be silly, and that was part of what made him a great dad. Cause he just was always willing to be a big kid with our daughter,” she said.

After opening Dollar $tore in spring 2010, Jan said Russell started to come home with stories about customers who he got to know. He ran the store by himself for the most part, and customer service was emphasized. For regular customers, that evolved into an intimate friendship.

“He knew about their challenge and triumphs,” she said. “He helped a lot of people get through the death of a loved one or hard times, and good stuff; babies and weddings and inflating balloons for parties.”

Rebecca Anton was a regular customer who enjoyed Dollar $tore’s selection, low prices and Russell.

“I miss him a lot. I look at his store and it’s all dark in there and its sad,” she said. “He’s going to be missed. I tell you.”

Last year, Anton’s daughter Tavi Wilkinson died.

“He always lent me a kind word when he knew you were going through tough times, and he remembered like a hawk. He had a very sharp memory,” Anton said.

“He was always trying to help somebody. We need more of him in the world and less evil people,” she said.

When he wasn’t in the store, Jan said Russell liked to go to the gym, ride his Harley Davidson Road King Classic or cheer on his New York Giants and Mets.

Russell is survived by his wife Jan Smith, daughter Morgan Smith, sister Shawna Harrison, brothers Christopher and Beverleigh Smith, mother Joselynn Smith and father Joseph Smith.

Jan said she doesn’t know if the store will remain open, and if it does when it may reopen.

Funeral services are still being planned. Check back with IB Patch for more details as they emerge.


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