Joe Azar, Five Points businessman and frequent city candidate, dies from cancer

Joe Azar, who founded Upstairs Audio in 1972 and was a frequent candidate for Columbia mayor and city council, has died after a battle with prostate and bone cancer. He was 68.

A family friend made the announcement on Facebook at about 10 p.m. Sunday.

Azar’s cousin, Linda Akel of Daytona Beach, Fla., said a memorial service will be held at Trinity Episcopal Church in Columbia, likely in October.

Mayor Steve Benjamin said in a tweet that city council had a moment of silence for Azar on Monday.

“We all had opportunities to agree & disagree with Joe over the years but we never doubted his LOVE of @ColumbiaSC,” it read.

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Azar was an outspoken supporter of the city of Columbia, and was known as a perennial candidate for city government, although never elected.

He ran three times for mayor against former mayor Bob Coble. And he frequently was on the ballot for city council as well, most recently running against council member at-large Tameika Isaac Devine in 2017.

Coble described Azar as “a strong advocate for government transparency and accountability.”

“He was a successful Five Points businessman and worked very hard with community service organizations,” Coble said. “He was a tough but fair opponent.”

Azar started making electronic circuits as a seventh grader, and was a college student in 1972 when he started Upstairs Audio & Video, according to the store’s website. The store was first located at 919 Sumter St. across from the University of South Carolina Horseshoe.

Azar also opened a bicycle shop as a college sophomore.

“Besides having an excellent ear for music and sound reproduction, he is also a master installer, having successfully wired and installed in environments that many others tried and failed, including a magnificent Charleston mansion built just after the Civil War,” the website said.

Carl Blackstone, president and CEO of the Columbia Chamber, in a tweet called Azar “opinionated and passionate in everything he believed in. Joe also loved Columbia, SC and he did his part to make it a better place to live. #RIP”

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