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The Safeway chain was created in a merger engineered by Merrill Lynch in 1926 of Skaggs Stores and Sam Seelig Company. The name "Safeway" was created at that time for the stores and group.
Skaggs Stores had its start in 1915, when Marion B. Skaggs purchased his father's grocery store in American Falls, Idaho, for $1,089. The chain, which traded under the name Skaggs' Cash Stores grew quickly, and Skaggs enlisted the help of his five brothers to help grow the network of stores which reached 191 by 1920.
Sam Seelig Co. was founded in Los Angeles in the 1920s.
By the time of the merger in 1926, Seelig Stores had 322 stores centered in Southern California, while Skaggs had grown to 673 stores centered in the Pacific Northwest region. The merger was orchestrated by Charles Merrill of Merrill Lynch, who later left Merrill Lynch, for a period of time, to run Safeway in the 1930s. At the time of the merger, the company was headquartered in Reno, Nevada. But in 1929, Safeway relocated its headquarters to a former grocery warehouse in Oakland, California.
Safeway, with financing supplied by Merrill Lynch, then began to aggressively acquire numerous regional grocery store chains, including MacMarr (a California chain also assembled by Charles Merrill), the Sanitary Grocery Company of Washington D.C., Daniel Reeves of New York, and Burd Stores of Kansas City. The company also acquired the west coast Piggly Wiggly stores in 1928 as part of the break up of that company by Wall Street. Most acquired chains retained their own names until the mid 1930s.
The number of stores peaked at 3,527 in 1931, when the numerous smaller grocery stores began being replaced with larger supermarket stores.
International expansion was an early part of the company's growth. The company expanded into Canada in 1929, into the United Kingdom in 1962, with the acquisition of the eleven store John Gardner Limited, into Australia in 1963, with the acquisition of three store Pratt Supermarkets, into Germany in 1964, with the acquisition of several Big Bear stores. The company also had operations in Saudi Arabia in partnership with the Tamimi Group in the 1970's and Kuwait during the 1970's and 1980s.
The company historically had drug store operations, under the Super S brand. However, these were sold in 1971.
The Ribbon Leaf logo Following a hostile takeover bid from corporate raiders Herbert and Robert Haft, the chain was acquired by KKR acting as a white knight in 1986. With the assistance of KKR, the company was taken private, and assumed tremendous debt. To pay off this debt, the company sold the West Germany and UK divisions (Safeway plc, which is now part of Morrisons), Dallas, Salt Lake City, El Paso, Oklahoma stores, and the Liquor Barn divisions in 1987, and the Kansas City, Little Rock, and Houston divisions in 1988. (The Houston division was bought by a management-led group and became AppleTree Markets.) Safeway's national presence was reduced to Northern California and several western states, plus the Washington, D.C. area. Safeway Australia was sold to the Australian-based Woolworths Limited in 1985. Altogether, nearly half the 2,200 stores in the chain were sold.
In Southern California, Safeway sold most of its stores to Vons in exchange for a 30% interest in the company. Safeway pulled out of established markets like Los Angeles and San Diego, and diminishing operations in Fresno, Modesto, Stockton, and Sacramento. Save-Mart purchased the few remaining Fresno stores in 1996.
In late 1987 Safeway acquired the Woodward’s Food Floors, which operated in the western Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta.
The company was taken public again in 1990.
In the late 1990s, Safeway began to again aggressively acquire regional chains, including Randall's Food Markets in Texas, Carrs in Alaska, and Dominick's in Illinois. In 1997, it exercised its option to acquire control of Vons in Southern California.
|In 2001, Safeway acquired the family-owned Genuardi's chain, which had/has locations in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware. This was a failure at first, with local shoppers not pleased with Safeway's changes. Safeway also created subsidiary "Blackhawk Network", a prepaid and payments network, a card-based financial solutions company, and a provider of third-party prepaid cards.|
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In October 2003, a strike was called by members of the United Food and Commercial Workers at Vons stores in Southern California. The strike (and concurrent lockout at Albertsons and Ralphs) lasted until the end of February 2004.