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Five-Decade Owner Of Blue Front Dies

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Five-decade owner of Blue Front dies

Ann Arbor has lost one of its colorful personalities.

Ray E. Collins, owner of the landmark Blue Front Cigar Store at Packard and State for the past 51 years, died Saturday at University Hospital following a brief illness. He was 76.

Mr. Collins, once a literature student at the University of Michigan, bought the Blue Front in 1927 when both he and the store were 25 years old. He had previously worked there as an employee.

FOR THE NEXT five decades, Mr. Collins operated the store, usually sitting behind the counter, scowling benignly at customers who wanted to browse rather than buy. He carried on a running battle with fire inspectors over the boxes stacked from floor to ceiling and with shoplifters hoping to make off with a free evening’s reading.

He was the first business in Ann Arbor to sell the New York Times and he claimed to sell more Sunday editions than any one else outside of New York - 450 in an average week. He was the sole local source for many British periodicals and at one time stocked French and German language newspapers.

Mixed in with the headier fare was a collection of comic books and pornographic novels and magazines. He sold 1,000 comic books a week. “Playboy” magazine was his top seller.

JILL WARREN, a lifelong Ann Arbor resident who worked for Mr. Collins the past 10 years, will take over operation of the store. She said she plans no changes.

“It’s still the Blue Front,” she said.

Mr. Collins was born June 30, 1902, in Fulton County, Ohio, He was a member of the University of Michigan Alumni Association, the Local Elks Lodge and the Moose Club. He resided at 1600 Westminster Place.

Surviving are a Brother, Frank C. Collins of Ann Arbor, and several nieces and nephews.

Services will be held at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday from Muehlig Chapel with the Rev. Richard I. Preis officiating. Interment will be in Forest Hill Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made to the U-M Athletic Department Scholarship Fund.

Ray Collins behind counter at Blue Front in July, 1977