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CLEVELAND -- John MacDougall, founder and president of New York convenience store chain Nice N Easy Grocery Shoppes, passed away Saturday at the Cleveland Clinic surrounded by his family. He was 73.
MacDougall, who was inducted into the Convenience Store News Hall of Fame in 2003, opened the first Nice N Easy store in 1980. Today, the Canastota, N.Y.-based company operates 81 stores across central New York, known for their friendly customer service, high-quality fresh food and community involvement.
For the last 34 years, MacDougall's strong values defined Nice N Easy and its mission statement, “Be Nice, Have Fun, Sell Stuff and Be the Best.”
In addition to being a savvy and forward-thinking businessman with a successful company, he was widely regarded as a motivator, friend, father figure, a boss who created a loyal following among his employees, and a man who liked to have fun (he often joked about his love of beer, saying he was "built by Bud").
"I've learned that this industry remains, to this day, essentially a people business. I realized long ago that you had to build strong personal relationships with the 'holy trinity' -- your employee, your customer and your supplier," MacDougall told CSNews at the time of his Hall of Fame induction. "From the outside, we might appear to be all about moving product, but from the inside, I know that we are all about people -- serving their wants and needs."
Nice N Easy announced MacDougall's passing on Sunday. In a note to employees, Senior Executive Vice President Fran Duskiewicz said the best way to honor their leader right now is to "continue doing things the Nice N Easy way – 'people first' – the way he preached and lived. …It’s OK to be sad, but remember that John was always a happy, upbeat person and that is what he would want from us right now."
The chain also shared the news with its followers via social media.
"We have lost a great leader and visionary, John MacDougall," Nice N Easy wrote on its Facebook page. "John passed away Saturday evening at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Our thoughts and prayers are with the MacDougall family. Anyone who has ever met John knows him as a friend. Goodbye, dear friend."
Hundreds responded with comments expressing their condolences.
MacDougall's employees reflected on his influence not only in the company, but also in his community. They described him as an "unbelievably nice guy," a "gentle giant," a “great businessman” and a “father figure.” His influence was felt throughout the ranks of Nice N Easy employees.
"Proud to be an employee of this great company he built," wrote Tim Jaquay, an assistant manager at Nice N Easy. "His legacy will live on in every one of us. … We love and miss you, John."
Other convenience store industry leaders also shared their reactions on social media.
"R.I.P. John MacDougall. He was a nice guy and a class act," tweeted Gary Dake, president of fellow New York-based convenience store chain Stewart's Shops.
Derek Gaskins, chief customer officer at Pennsylvania-based chain Rutter's Farm Stores, also tweeted, "#RIP to a great merchant and man!"
MacDougall was one of three founders of the New York Association of Convenience Stores, where he previously served as chairman. He also was a former member of the board of directors of NACS, the Association for Convenience & Fuel Retailing.
Services will be held in Cleveland and New York State. Details are not yet available.
"This world is better because John MacDougall was a part of it. We need to keep it that way by remembering him. Always," Duskiewicz concluded.