RETAILING: Golden Rule Merchant

James Cash Penney's first venture as a retail proprietor—a butchershop in Longmont, Colo.—opened in 1899 and failed almost immediately, after he refused to bribe an important local hotel chef with a weekly bottle of bourbon. "I lost everything I had," said Penney, "but I learned never to compromise."

Penney's unwavering faith in the copybook maxims of his youth roused skepticism in a mercenary age, but his credo underlay his success. At his death last week after a heart attack in Manhattan, Penney, 95, left a 1,660-store empire that he built without compromising the stiff principles he had absorbed from three...

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