Stanley Goldstein, who helped build CVS drugstore empire, dies at 89

<p>Stanley Goldstein, who helped turn a single store of health and beauty items - with a bag-your-own-purchases option to save a few cents - into the CVS retail and health-care empire whose annual revenue now surpasses companies such as Exxon and Microsoft, died May 21 at his home in Providence. He was 89.</p> <p>CVS Corp., based in Woonsocket, R.I., announced the death but did not provide a cause. Goldstein had been diagnosed with cancer this year.</p> <p>The idea that launched CVS was an experiment in early 1960s shopper psychology. At the time, items from shaving cream to Band-Aids to razor blades could be found in drugstores and, increasingly, on the shelves in groceries stores. Goldstein and his brother, Sidney, wondered whether people would come to a store with only health, beauty and grooming products - sold at discounted prices and set up like a self-serve supermarket.</p> <p>Goldstein looked at the concept from two angles. He had a business degree from the University of Pennsylvania and was well versed in studies on competition and consumer behavior. He also had direct experience in the marketplace. He had left a stockbroker job to join his brother at the helm of a struggling family business, which included selling health and beauty wholesale to retailers.</p> <p>Goldstein and his brother recruited a third partner, Ralph Hoagland III, a budding entrepreneur with Boston roots who had worked in sales at Procter &amp; Gamble. “It’s as simple as listening to your customers,” Goldstein once told the Providence Journal. “Don’t think, ‘Let’s make a profit this way or that way.’ You satisfy your customers, you’ll do fine.”</p> <p>For the first store, the founding trio picked a city facing hard times, the 19th-century mill hub of Lowell, Mass. The doors opened at Consumer Value Store in 1963. The layout was airy and bright. There was a self-service bag station with the sign: “Help yourself. Save money!”</p> <p>The store logo was a shield with the initials, CVS. The co-founders soon adopted that as the name. The initials made putting up signs a lot cheaper. “All those letters cost a lot of money,” Goldstein said. “So we shorted it to CVS.”</p> <p>The second store was opened in Haverhill, Mass., about 25 miles northeast of Lowell. More locations began to pop up across New England. By 1988, through acquisitions and expansion, CVS had 750 locations, according to a company history.</p> <p>A pivotal moment came in 1996. Goldstein was chairman of Melville Corp., which had purchased CVS from the co-founders in 1969 and included other holdings such as Thom McAn shoes, K-B Toys and the Marshalls clothing chain.</p> <p>CVS, however, accounted for nearly half of Melville’s sales revenue by the mid-1990s. Goldstein led an effort to sell off each division, leaving only CVS. “We were fortunate in that the restructuring went according to plan,” Goldstein told the industry journal Chain Drug Review.</p> <p>No longer tethered to smaller brands, CVS had more freedom to grow. When Goldstein retired as chief executive in 1998, the company had more than 4,000 stores.</p> <p>Today, CVS has over 9,000 outlets across the United States and territories to anchor a heath-care conglomerate with revenue of more than $350 billion in 2023, placing CVS among the top-10 publicly traded U.S. companies and ahead of other giants including Ford, General Motors, ExxonMobil and Microsoft.</p> <p>In one of the CVS group’s most transformative deals, CVS Health acquired the Aetna insurance network in 2018 in a $69 billion merger that created a major alliance linking patient care, prescription drugs and other services.</p> <p>Across Rhode Island, the CVS corporate influence was on display in dozens of philanthropic initiatives and fundraising projects such as a $54 million sports arena that opened in 2002 at the University of Rhode Island. In 2004, disclosures of back-channel meetings between CVS and state officials over corporate regulations led to the resignation of the state Senate president and revisions that sought to bring more transparency to state government.</p> <p>Once retired, Goldstein fully shifted gears. He was sometimes spotted digging for clams or on his boat off Martha’s Vineyard bobbing in the harbor and listening to Red Sox games on the radio. He remained on the CVS board until 2006.</p> <p>“So he wasn’t fancy?” Providence Journal columnist Mark Patinkin wrote, recalling a question posed to Goldstein’s son, Larry.</p> <p>“That’s a capital N and a capital O,” the son replied.</p> <p>Stanley Phillip Goldstein was born in Woonsocket, R.I., on June 5, 1934. His father ran the wholesale goods company, and his mother was a homemaker.</p> <p>Goldstein graduated from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business in 1955 and then served in the Army. He planned to make a career as a stockbroker, but his brother persuaded him in the late 1950s to help run their father’s company.</p> <p>After CVS was acquired by Melville in 1969, co-founder Hoagland was pushed out by the Melville board after they learned he made personal donations to protest and activist groups including Students for a Democratic Society. Goldstein replaced Hoagland as CVS president.</p> <p>“Ralph was the wild man who’d push the envelope,” Goldstein said, recounting the three CVS founders’ work during the early years. “Sid was quite conservative. And I was in the middle.”</p> <p>Survivors include his wife of 64 years, the former Merle Katz; two sons, Larry Goldstein of Providence and Gene Goldstein of Miami; and four grandchildren. His brother, Sidney, died in 1995; Hoagland died in 2020.</p> <p>In Providence, stories abound about Goldstein’s unpretentious manner. The Providence Journal columnist Patinkin shared one incident he witnessed at a party at Goldstein’s Providence home. Goldstein took a grilled shrimp from the hors d’oeuvres tray but was unsure of what to do with the tail. When no one was looking, he dropped it into a decorative vase.</p> <p>“I later tattled on him to his wife,” Patinkin wrote, “who laughed and said yes, that sounded like her husband.”</p>