San Francisco History

The 1930s

Consolidation was the buzzword of the 1930s. While the economics of the Great Depression forced the closing of numerous stores, San Francisco’s net number of chain grocery retailers was further reduced by mergers and the beginnings of the supermarket concept.

Safeway Grows and Consolidates

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Safeway, 404 Dewey Street (SF Library).

In the early 1930s, Safeway was operating its stores under both the Safeway and Piggly Wiggly banners. Its primary competition, Mutual Stores, was acquired by the MacMarr chain early in the decade. MacMarr was, like Safeway, assembled primarily through the efforts of financier Charles Merrill (of Merrilll Lynch), and his goal was to merge the two chains at some point. This was accomplished around 1934, and Safeway now operated a total of 145 locations in San Francisco under three different names. Often, the stores were clustered close together, sometimes even side by side.

By 1940, the number of Safeway-operated units had been reduced to 123, including ten stores from the tattered remains of Public Foods. Public did not fare well in the 1930s, declining from 93 stores in 1930 to 60 in 1935. The company had ceased to exist by 1940.

Purity Stores

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Former Purity, later Woolworth, 711 Clement Street.

Purity Stores, owned by the Niven family and based in Burlingame, was also a fairly big player in San Francisco during the 1930s, although its presence in the city had diminished somewhat by the end of the decade. Over the next thirty years, Purity would concentrate more on suburban and small town locations, although it would operate three larger supermarkets in San Francisco in the early 1970s.

Other Chains

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Great Western, 3201 Balboa Street (SF Library).

Smaller chains during the period also included Great Western-Wissman stores and Associated Stores.

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Little-Mann Groceteria, later became Littleman Stores, 2687 Mission Street (SF Library).

The 1930s also brought the first stores of the Embee chain — which would later operate several units within the city — and the opening of the Little-Mann Groceterias on Mission Street and Geary Boulevard, the beginnings of the Littleman chain which would serve the city for three decades — and several of whose branches operate today under the Cala Foods banner.

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