Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009 | Charlie Goldstein was a company man.

When he was 19 years old, he took a job at a brand new auto supply shop on the corner of 2nd Avenue and C Street, downtown. The future for cars looked bright in this town, and a 15-year-old Philadelphia company with a funny name knew an opportunity when it saw one.

Goldstein did too. The Depression was taking its toll in 1936, and he was offered a $2 a week raise — almost unheard of — over his current job mounting tires to stock shelves, mop floors and serve customers at Pep Boys. He took the job, and made $15 a week. He tucked away those extra two to pay for his wedding.

“There wasn’t a whole lot to do on vehicles back then. He installed batteries, put light bulbs in cars, and put tires on,” said Jerry Goldstein, Charlie’s only child and a former Pep Boys regional manager.

It got somewhat more complicated as the automobile evolved over the next seven decades, but Goldstein knew that evolution’s nuts and bolts. He devoted 70 years to Manny, Moe and Jack’s promise of doing everything. For less. When he retired Jan. 12, 2007 at the age of 90, he was Pep Boys’ longest tenured employee.

Goldstein died on Oct. 7 at the age of 92. His record tenure still holds.

Family and friends described him as a Pep Boys devotee (“We’re Pep people”), who was shy but had a cornball sense of humor. His family teased him about shrinking in his later years, and he insisted on riding a stationary bicycle for 45 minutes each day until weeks before his death. After a heart attack in 1998, he developed an obsession with homeopathic medicine.

Charles Goldstein was born in San Diego on Dec. 13, 1916, to Anna Janowsky and Meyer Goldstein, immigrants from Bialystok, Poland.

“I was born in the hospital because I wanted to be next to my mother,” he used to remark.

The family lived in a small Jewish enclave in the city’s Memorial neighborhood.

It was there as an infant that Goldstein met baby Frances, the girl who would become his wife. Their parents were close family friends, and they grew up together.

“Your mother and I were sleeping together at six months,” he would tell his son.

They were married in November 1937, after a year and a half of saving, and moved to a house on the corner of 30th and L streets. He was promoted to assistant manager of the downtown Pep Boys, and when the country entered World War II in 1941, to store manager when the incumbent was shipped overseas.

He was so competent that at war’s end, the returning veteran had a new boss.

In 1956, he was promoted to district manager, overseeing operations at Pep Boys’ Orange County and San Diego stores. In that capacity he got to know Manny and Moe. Jack, contrary to popular knowledge, had left the company.

He respected the competition, his son said, but was determined to offer the region’s lowest prices. He’d slip into competitors’ stores to price check.

Jotting down prices in a notebook would attract attention. So he hid a tape recorder in his jacket pocket and fastened a small microphone to his lapel. He dragged Frances to competitors’ stores, walked up and down aisles with her, and made furtive conversation.

“Oh look, honey, they’re offering this for $2.99,” he’d say. Back home, he transcribed the precious data.

Bob Barbosa works at the Oceanside store. He responded to a classified ad in 1963, and Goldstein hired the then 23-year-old.

“He was the boss that really was a friend to you,” Barbosa said.

Barbosa’s wedding was set for a Thursday in 1968. The store was understaffed, but the date was set.

“You’re getting married?” Goldstein asked. “I really need you.” He was twisting his arm.

“No, no,” he finally said, “Go. It’s more important for you to get married.”

After his wife’s death to pancreatic cancer in 1978, Goldstein, heart-broken, took to the road.

In 1979, he transferred to the company’s display department, and traveled state-to-state setting up new stores. He finally left administrative positions in 1985, and for the next 22 years returned to the work that launched his career, as a floor associate ringing up customers and shelving merchandise.

He called himself a homebody, and traveled little. His son offered to take him on trips, to the Mediterranean and elsewhere.

“What did I leave there?” he asked.

Instead, during those years, he cultivated a consuming fixation with homeopathic medicine, and sold all who would listen on ProQ10, a heart supplement that he credited for his longevity. His doctors told him its benefits were unproven, “but wouldn’t kill him,” Jerry Goldstein said. He had no doubts.

He was buried with a bottle of it.

He worked full time as a Pep Boys floor associate until 1990, and slowly eased up on hours over the next 17 years. When he finally retired in 2007, he was working four hours a week at Pep Boys’ Encinitas store.

“It’s time to hang ’em up,” he finally said.

Please contact Adrian Florido directly at adrian.florido@voiceofsandiego.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adrianflorido. And set the tone of the debate with a letter to the editor.

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