A few years after graduation, he was hired by the Rexall drugstore chain, which tasked him with establishing a chain of convenience stores called Pronto. When Rexall lost interest in the stores, he bought them and had grown the chain to about a dozen outlets when the huge 7-Eleven company made a major push into Southern California.


“So I had to do something different,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2014. “Scientific American had a story that of all people qualified to go to college, 60% were going. I felt this newly educated - not smarter but better-educated - class of people would want something different, and that was the genesis of Trader Joe’s.”


His wife’s parents had introduced him to a world of foods previously unfamiliar to him, including fine olive oil, fresh seafood, and inexpensive quality wine, and he figured things like that would be perfect for the younger audience he was seeking.


As he bargained for those products, he’d sometimes come across a particularly exceptional olive oil or vintage wine, never to find it again, and he wouldn’t stock an inferior product in its place.


He eschewed promotional gimmicks like loyalty clubs or loss-leader sales, getting the word out with brief radio spots and the Trader Joe’s “Fearless Flyer” newsletter, whose old-style appearance was inspired by another money-saving effort. He wanted to dress up the newsletter’s stories with illustrations he cut out of magazines, but he made sure he only took ones on which the copyrights had expired.


He passed such savings on not only to his customers but employees, which Trader Joe’s boasts are among retail’s best compensated, with medical, dental, vision and retirement plans and annual salary increases the company says range from 7% to 10%. Many workers have remained with Trader Joe’s for decades.


“He just had a visit yesterday from employee No. 1,” his daughter Charlotte said shortly before her father’s death.


He and his wife also became well known in Southern California philanthropic circles, contributing time and money to such causes as Planned Parenthood, the Los Angeles Opera and the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.


Stories differ on how the name Trader Joe’s came about, with some saying it was inspired by a ride on Disneyland’s Jungle Cruise boat or a book he read called "White Shadows in the South Seas" or his favorite college hangout being a Trader Vic’s bar near Stanford.


Coulombe, who loved to travel, did acknowledge over the years that he had a fascination with the South Seas and put Trader into the name and a nautical theme inside the stores to lend that exotic appeal to customers.


In addition to his three children and wife of 67 years, Coulombe is survived by six grandchildren.


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