1966 Horatio Alger Award Winner
"Don't let adversity block your way. Adversity is a lesson of moving forward to higher plateaus."
Harold Toppel grew up in New Jersey, where he lived with his parents above their small grocery store. During his school years, he and his two brothers worked in the store after school, on weekends, and during the summers. But the grocery business held no interest for young Toppel, who wanted to pursue a career as a mechanical engineer. He attended the University of Delaware with that in mind, but World War II interrupted his plan. After two years in Patton's Third Army in Europe, he came home and enrolled in the University of Illinois. At that time, he turned his attention to marketing and graduated in 1948.
After two years as a salesman for Lever Brothers, Toppel took his first business risk and joined two friends to form the National Grocery Company. They opened a store in New Jersey, which Toppel managed. Four years and three supermarkets later, Toppel sold his share of the company and set out for Puerto Rico to start his own business. He wanted to fulfill the need for better food distribution on the island. Within four months, he opened the Pueblo supermarket. One year later, he opened a second Pueblo store, and a third store the year after that. In 1963, Pueblo spread to the Virgin Islands. Several years later, Pueblo acquired a bakery in Puerto Rico, then the eight-store Great Eastern chain and the 65-store Hills-Korvette chains in the New York area, plus two radio stations and a wholesale food company.
In 1983, Pueblo developed super warehouse stores called Xtra Super Food Centers. Nearly three times as big as a regular supermarket, Xtra stores each took in $40 million a year. Under Toppel's management, the corporation comprised 34 Pueblo supermarkets in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, six Xtra Super Food Centers in Puerto Rico, and three Xtras in Florida. Toppel continued to be active with Pueblo until his retirement in 1992. He continued on Pueblo's board until the corporation was sold to the Cisneros organization.
Today, Harold Toppel is active with Toppel Partners, an investment firm he owns with his wife and four children. They deal in real estate development, rental apartment ownership, and stocks and bonds. He is also active in the World Presidents Organization.