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Leonard Rodman, who died April 13 at the age of 80, was an uncommon man: a boxer and pharmacist, a local philanthropist, a legendary marketing innovator. But his legacy is built on common thingsthe things on sale at Rodman’s Discount Food and Drugs.
Rodman’s chain of stores, founded in 1958 and anchored by the flagship on Wisconsin Avenue in Friendship Heights, is a monument to the possibilities of retail. “Between Harrison and Garrison, there’s no comparison,” went the well-known jingle, referring to the upper Northwest streets that straddle the store.
Back in the ’80s, my parents and I would schlep all the way from Baltimore for Rodman’s loss leaders, especially the 99-cent bars of Lindt bittersweet chocolate that my mom used for making truffles, mousse, and other desserts. And even when Rodman’s didn’t have it on special, managers would sell them to her for 99 cents anyway.
For all those who journey out to Alexandria and Greenbelt each weekend in search of the lowest price on everything from toilet paper to sun-dried tomatoes , I have good news: A four-pack of Charmin is 97 cents right now at Rodman’s. And a 6-ounce jar of Ferrara marinated artichoke hearts is only two cents more.
Mayor Anthony A. Williams has spent five years luring national retailers such as Whole Foods and Target to town. Perhaps Williams might stop by what I like to call the District’s own urban Target…and Best Buy, Trader Joe’s, and CVS (though D.C. has no shortage of the last). Where else can you walk in one door and purchase Perugina Baci Chocolates, a Fly-Weight Wheelchair, Dom Pérignon, and a Norelco Quadra Action Shaver, as well as get your prescription filled? And it’s all Metro-accessible.
Long before Mark Dayton turned his Target fortune into a U.S. Senate seat, Leonard Rodman vertically integrated the D.C. retail market with his eclectic mix of imports and incontinence. “We specialize in items people need. The question we ask ourselves is, ‘Are people going to get off the toilet for it?’” Rodman told the Washington Post in 1990.
That unpretentious approach to retailing explains a sign next to the Depend undergarments found on Rodman’s lower level: “Attention customers: Please do not open any bag of briefs. If you are not sure of the size, please ask someone at the pharmacy counter for help.”
Rodman’s Wisconsin Avenue store features two levels of shopping and two escalators. The ground floor has beer and wine, every Sons of Italy product imaginable, and numerous other gourmet finds. On Rodman’s lower level, shoppers can snag a stainless-steel fondue set with four stoneware ramekins for $19.99, a box of Emerald Latex gloves for $4.79 (available in small, medium, large and extra large), a 15-pack of Bounty for $14.99, and an Aiwa portable CD player for $49.96.
Try and smile about that, Wal-mart price chopper!
After hearing of Rodman’s death, I paid homage to the flagship store. (Leonard Rodman’s son, Roy, now serves as the company’s president.) I poked through the dairy aisle packed with crème fraîche and Mousse Truffée, the wine aisle that separates wines from Rhone, Alsace, and Southern France, and, of course, the imported-chocolates section. Yet Rodman’s isn’t only for food snobs. In the Italian section, jars of sauce from New York’s famed Rao’s restaurant sit right alongside Chef Boyardee beef ravioli.
I left with two $1.99 cans of Bookbinder’s New England clam chowder, a $2.99 6-pack of San Pellegrino Limonata, a 97-cent four-pack of Charmin, two $1.59 wine glasses, and a $5.99 jar of that Rao’s tomato sauce, just because I was feeling adventurous. CP