Biz & Tech // Business

Charles Fry, who started a grocery chain in the Bay Area, dies at 92

Charles Lindbergh Fry, who started Fry’s Food Stores with his brother in 1955 in Contra Costa County, and whose sons would go on to start the San Jose chain Fry’s Electronics, died Monday. He was 92.

Fry died in his sleep at his Paradise Valley, Ariz., home, which he shared with Alice Fry, his wife of 68 years, his family said.

The cause of death is unclear, though doctors have said it could have been heart failure, son Randy Fry told The Chronicle. Fry said that his father was the go-to guy for everything, whether sports, business or family matters, and “he loved to stay in the game, which he did until the end.”

“As a child, I remember, he didn’t put a lot of emphasis on homework,” said Fry, who is the second oldest son and president of Fry’s Electronics. “He was more interested in teaching us about sports because he felt it was a better teacher of life.”

Charles Fry joined his brother Donald and grew a Bay Area grocery chain in the mid-1950s when the saying, “Your best buys are always at Fry’s,” was born. The slogan would be adopted by his sons for their Fry’s Electronics stores, which they started in 1985. The electronics company, once a must-stop for techies, is rife with empty shelves with many speculating either bankruptcy or closure for the chain. Randy Fry refuted rumors that the company was in trouble and said it was shifting to a consignment model, meaning suppliers are paid after their products are sold in stores. He declined to comment further about his company.

Charles Fry was born May 31, 1927, in Stigler, Okla., to Leela Mae and Dalquist Dalquin Fry. He was one of five children. Like many families of that era, the Frys endured the hardships of the Great Depression. After graduating from high school in 1944, Charles briefly served in the Navy during WWII. He played basketball at East Texas Baptist College, graduating in 1949.

He married Alice Jean in 1951, and the couple headed to Wichita, Kan., for work, ultimately pooling enough money to head out West and work on a business of their own. Four years later, Fry’s Food Stores, in partnership with Charles’ brother Donald, came into being. Charles settled his family in Martinez, raising three sons — John, Randy and Dave — while expanding the company from one store in Richmond to 42, before Dillons purchased it in 1972. He helped his sons financially in starting Fry’s Electronics in 1985. Fry’s Electronics stocked gadgets and hardware and became a favorite hangout for techies as the Silicon Valley boom got under way.

Dillons became a division of Kroger and the Fry’s division is now called Fry’s Food and Drug. The stores are mostly located in Arizona today.

Memorial services will be held at 11 a.m. on Monday at Oakmont Memorial Park in Lafayette.

Shwanika Narayan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: [email protected] Twitter: @shwanika

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