Ken Gjemre, 81, who dropped out of corporate life to found the successful Half Price Books chain, died Monday) of prostate cancer at his home in Ojai.
Half Price Books, which has locations in 11 states, including several in Northern California, began in 1972 when Gjemre quit his job as a Zale Corp. executive and borrowed $4,000 to launch his own business.
He and his partner, Pat Anderson, opened a used-book store in an abandoned laundromat in Dallas with 2,000 books from their personal libraries. Customers flocked in, buying books before they could be placed on the shelves.
The company now reports annual revenues of more than $100 million. It has 73 stores around the country and also sells books and other used items on the Internet through a partnership with Amazon.
The Indiana native and graduate of Purdue University and Southern Methodist University left the corporate rat race after rising quickly through the ranks at Zale because, he said, he grew "tired of selling people things they didn't need and couldn't afford." He became an activist, supporting literacy and environmental causes. He donated his body to the UCLA medical school.