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James M. McDonald, Sr. was born July 20, 1881 in Kingston, Missouri. He was the next to youngest in a family of five sons who were destined to play an important part in the development of a retail chain store.

Daniel G. McDonald, J.M.'s father, was one of the first men in the chain store business. In Hamilton, Missouri, where the family moved soon after J.M.'s birth, Daniel operated the Cash-McDonald Store. This store was one of a chain of ten stores in Missouri known as the Cash-Cowgill Company.

It was in this store that young J.M. got his first taste of the mercantile business. It was his responsibility to do all the odd jobs around the store such as sweeping, dusting, and washing windows. In those days, work shoes came packed by the dozen and were kept under tables. Each week, J.M. had to take all the boots out of their boxes, rub the dust off, and replace them.

But even in those days, J.M. wasn't just dusting boots. While his hands were busy, his eyes and ears were occupied too - observing how the clerks handled people and storing impressions of good merchandising.