WINCHESTER — Businessman Rankin Paynter went shopping this month at a Kmart store here that was going out of business, bought its entire remaining inventory and promptly gave every bit of it away.
Paynter, 76, gave all the merchandise, which had an estimated retail value of about $200,000, to Clark County Community Services, a non-profit that will use it to help needy folks in Clark County. Paynter is even paying two months' rent for a building to store the items while the community services agency makes plans for distribution.
"It's a chance to help a lot of families," Paynter said Thursday.
Judy Crowe, executive director of Clark County Community Services, said Paynter's gift was the most unusual donation the agency has ever received.
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"We're used to getting donations of two or three bags of things at a time. But to get this much all at once ... it's like a whole warehouse," Crowe said. "It's amazing to get a donation like that."
About 90 percent of the merchandise is winter clothing. The rest consists of a few hundred boxes containing everything from video games to over-the-counter medications and car-care products.
Crowe said her agency would give away the clothing to needy residents when the weather turns cold in the fall. The other items will be sold now to buy food for the needy, she said.
Paynter said he paid about $20,000 to buy the merchandise from Kmart at a steep close-out discount. He originally planned to sell all of it — he figures he could have made about $40,000 — but he changed his mind.
"All of a sudden, I just thought to myself, 'Rankin, you don't need that money,'" he said Thursday. "So I told my wife, JoEtta, 'I'm going to give it away.' And she said fine."
Paynter's gift was featured Thursday morning in a story on NBC's Today show. His phone has been ringing ever since.
A Portland, Ore., talk show called to interview him. Local TV came calling, and The Daily, an online newspaper based in New York City, sent a photographer to take his picture.
Paynter, who has been in the jewelry business most of his life and now owns a store that buys gold, silver and coins, was taking it all in stride.
"I just figured that my family isn't going to go cold or hungry this winter," he said. "But this was something I could do to help a lot of people."
Paynter grew up in Clark County. After serving in the Air Force, he got a job at a jewelry store in Lexington. He later ran his own jewelry shops, both in Winchester and in Illinois, where he and his wife lived for several years. They moved back here 19 years ago.
Paynter said he always tried to help people in need when he could, and when a chance to help a bunch of people presented itself this month, he jumped at it.
It all started May 4 when Paynter dropped by the Kmart on the Winchester bypass. The store was going out of business, and Paynter was hoping to buy some of Kmart's display cases to use in his own store.
"While I was there, I asked the lady what they were going to do with all the merchandise they had left," Paynter said. "She said the company was going to have some power-buyers come in and buy everything that was left. And I said, 'I'll take it.'"
Paynter had to clear the purchase with Kmart corporate officials, who stipulated that he had to take everything left in the store.
"They put four people on the cash registers and started running the merchandise through," Paynter said. "It took them 6½ hours to run all of it."
Paynter said he got calls from several businesspeople who wanted to buy the merchandise from him, but he declined.
"It would have taken me two or three months to sell all of it, but I could have made $30,000 to $40,000 on it," he said. "It would have been an easy thing to do."
After learning about Clark County Community Services through a banker friend, he talked with Crowe.
"I can make money, but I don't worship money," he said. "I just told her, 'It's yours.'
"Times are hard, and a lot of agencies that help people are in need themselves because their donations are down. The best part of this is that the word is going to get out now that there are people who are in need."