COOKS / UNCLE BILL'S / ONTARIO / CLARK'S

The Cleveland-based Cook Coffee Company was formed in 1921 and incorporated in 1925. In the early years, they sold grocery and household merchandise on a door-to-door basis. In the 1950s, they entered grocery retailing, with the acquisition of two large supermarket chains.

In August 1961, Cook Coffee bought the 5-store Uncle Bill's Discount Department Store chain, also based in Cleveland. During the 1960s, and into the early '70s, several retail companies were brought under the corporate umbrella. Ontario "super marts" were acquired in September 1964, a Clark's chain in June 1968.

A line of Cooks Discount Department Stores was in business by this time, as well as one known as the Consolidated Sales Company. Cook Coffee-owned operations ranged in size from 40,000 to 100,000 square feet. Some included a supermarket.

In April 1969, Cook Coffee changed its name to Cook United. The concern was rapidly diversifying into the pharmacy, food processing and hardware businesses. However, these efforts, and further mergers and acquisitions, made the company too big to manage effectively. By the mid-1970s, Cook United was in trouble.

One of the final take-overs, involving the Ohio-based Rink's Bargain City chain, was finalized in April 1981. At the height of operations, in 1983, Cook United had one hundred and thirteen discount stores under various names. By late 1984, this number had shrunk to fifty-three.

A chapter 11 bankruptcy was filed in 1984 and -again- in 1987. The last four Cooks Discount Department Stores closed, in Cleveland, in the summer of 1987.


RINK'S / BARGAIN BARN / BARGAIN CITY

A vacant skating rink in Hamilton, Ohio was acquired by Cincinnati's Coleman and Hyman Ullner. They reconfigured it as a discount department store, known as Rink's, which was dedicated in 1951. Branch stores soon opened in the Cincinnati suburbs.

Meanwhile, in Toledo, Hyman R. Swolsky had opened his first Bargain Barn in 1950. By 1956, there were four Bargain Barns in business in Toledo and Maumee. A short-lived Bargain Mart division, operating in a single store, had set up shop in East Toledo.

By 1960, Cincinnati-based Rink's and Toledo-based Bargain City had merged. Stores in the Bargain Barn / Bargain Mart chain were also being rebranded as Bargain City. This process was completed with the shuttering of the original Bargain Barn store, in Toledo, in March 1965.

In June 1967, Cleveland-based Gray Drug acquired the retail conglomerate; its combined stores numbering twenty-two at the time. Their physical sizes ranged from 40,000 to 90,000 square feet. Some locations included an adjacent Fisher-Fazio Foods supermarket.

Stores continued to operate under their individual Rink's and Bargain City banners until late 1971, when the universal Rink's Bargain City trademark began to appear. The first (and possibly only) Rink's Bargain City to be located in a shopping mall opened in March 1974, in Portsmouth, Ohio's WHEELERSBURG MALL.

Cook United Corporation of Cleveland acquired the assets of Rinks Bargain City in April 1981. The chain, consisting of forty-seven stores, had grown into Ohio's largest discount mart operation. However, the chain and its parent company were soon in a downward spiral.

Store closings commenced in late 1981. A chapter 11 bankruptcy was filed in October 1984. By this time, Cincinnati and Kentucky stores had gone out of business. The remaining locations in the Toledo market were rebranded as Cooks Discount Department Stores in December 1984. These had been shuttered by 1987.