James Gee Sr., an early pioneer of the home center concept in the Chicago area, died at his home on March 9, according to an obituary in the Chicago Tribune. He was 93 years old.
Gee and his brothers built a retail lumber and hardware business that included a large home center in the late 1940s. The model drew attention from entrepreneurs and retailers from across the country, including Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart, who once called Gee to inquire about his store.
In the late 1950s, Gee and his brothers parted ways and Gee opened Gee Lumber and Hardware. His first branch was in Richton Park. Other stores followed, including locations in Glen Ellyn, Hinsdale, La Grange, Broadview, Plainfield, South Holland and Joliet.
Under competitive pressure from national chains, Gee eventually liquidated his business, closing his last store in the early 1990s.