In 1924, food retailing in Sacramento was dominated by local merchants and a few newly-arrived chains including Piggly Wiggly (2 locations), Martha Washington Stores (3 locations), and Skaggs Cash Stores (2 locations). The Martha Washington Stores would disappear by 1928, one of them going to the Economic Food Co. chain, which had one store in 1924 and eight by the end of the decade.
Most stores were, predictably, located in the grid pattern of the central area, now known as Midtown. The first two Skaggs stores, the company which would within four years become Safeway Stores, were located at 1013 9th Street and 1009 13th Street. Interestingly, neither of these stores made the transition to Safeway, which had six locations by the 1928 merger. Safeway was showing a tendency toward more outlying stores along Stockton Boulevard and J Street, and would have 11 locations in Sacramento by the end of the 1920s.
Piggly Wiggly was also stronger in 1928, the year its west coast operations were acquired by the new Safeway Stores Co., and seven units were operating in Sacramento. Two more stores would open by the end of the decade.
As the 1930s dawned, competition among chain grocers in Sacramento largely involved Safeway, Piggly Wiggly, Economic Food Co., and newcomer Cardinal Stores, which operated seven stores in 1930 and ten in 1935. Cardinal had consolidated down to eight stores by the end of the decade.
Grocers were moving to the rapidly developing suburbs south and east of the central area throughout the 1930s. Safeway, with 21 locations in 1935, had crossed both Broadway to the south and Alhambra to the east and was blazing a trail down Stockton Boulevard, US Highway 99 and Folsom Boulevard, US Highway 50. Five Safeway-owned Piggly Wiggly stores had been converted to Safeway branches by 1935, with the remaining four closed or sold.
By decade’s end, Safeway was operating a total of 16 stores in the city; it had closed or consolidated fewer units here than in many other cities, largely because MacMarr stores, another chain acquired during the 1930s, had never operated in Sacramento, so none of these stores required action.
The Economic Food Co. had become a victim of the Depression and of increased competition by 1935 and was down to two units. The chain had disappeared entirely by 1940.
Sacramento’s competition throughout the war and postwar years was largely limited to Safeway and Cardinal Stores, with a newcomer from Placerville, Raley’s beginning to make its mark during the decade as well.Safeway lost only one net store during World War II, although it relocated many units. In 1945, only one location from the 1920s was still operating, a former Piggly Wiggly at 2103 P Street which closed shortly after the war. Another location from the early 1930s, at 2900 Franklin Boulevard, also didn’t last the entire decade. Apart from these two stores, all locations still operating in 1945 were less than ten years old. Safeway was moving toward larger supermarkets, and had consolidated down to 12 stores by the end of the 1940s, many of them located in outlying areas along Freeport and Franklin Boulevards to the south and Del Paso Boulevard, US Highway 40, to the north.
Cardinal Stores was booming and doubled its store count during the 1940s. Most of the branches operating as the 1940s ended were of the larger supermarket variety, although one store at 3020 L dated from the early 1930s. A dramatic (and perhaps overly-aggressive) expansion in the late 1940s resulted in stores farther out in the southern and eastern suburbs than any chain had gone before. In addition, a Midtown branch opened at 530 23rd Street operates to this day under the name of Albertstons, after fifty years under the Cardinal and Lucky Stores banners. Cardinal was clearly Sacramento’s innovator at the time.
Shortly before the dawn of the 1940s, Tom Raley opened his first Sacramento store at 3256 Stockton Boulevard. By the end of the decade, five Raley’s locations were doing business in the city, most of them built from the ground up. One, at 1916 9th Street, was housed in a former Cardinal unit.
The 1940s brought a few other names to Sacramento as well, including Stop-n-Shop, which started with a location at 2800 Broadway and operated several stores at any given time in the next few decades before disappearing in the late 1970s.
The golden era of supermarkets brought some gems to Sacramento, many of which can still be visited in one form or another.
Safeway went from 12 stores in 1950 to nine in 1960, the result of its final transition to the supermarket format. New stores from two 1958 prototypes were constructed at 915 Broadway and in the new Land park subdivision. All was not completely new and modern, however, as one store at 2900 Freeport remained from the late 1930s and survived past 1960. A pylon store at 4990 Stockton Boulevard was the only store from this era to last into the 1980s, however, and it has since been converted into a social services center.
The 1950s also brought the expansion of Lucky Stores in Sacramento. Lucky had opened one branch at 3008 Broadway in the late 1940s, but really took off in the city with its acquisition of Cardinal Stores around 1955. Only six Cardinal units officially took the Lucky name according to city directories, and most of these operated under the new name for many years to come. Two close-in stores, one at 530 23rd Street and one at 4830 J Street, are still open today as Albertstons units, following its 1999 acquisition of Lucky Stores. As of 1960, a few stores were still listed in city directories under the Cardinal name, although I am not certain if they actually operated under the name.
Raley’s continued its growth throughout the 1950s as well, expanding from five to eight units. New and large supermarkets were the norm, and at least one combination food and drug store was opened at 400 West El Camino Avenue late in the decade. The store at 1916 9th St. (a former Cardinal location) pioneered pre-packaged meats in the city.
Also new in the 1950s were Compton’s Markets, the first of which opened in a former Cardinal at 3750 Stockton Boulevard late in the decade, and Bel-Air Markets, whose first store opened at 6231 Fruitridge Avenue about 1958 and remains open, largely unaltered, to this day. Both chains currently exist, with Bel-Air a division of Raley’s since the 1990s, and Compton’s a small chain of neighborhood markets.
Sacramento expanded rapidly into its surrounding areas in the 1960s. Chain grocers followed the population to the suburbs.
Safeway had, by 1960, abandoned almost all its inner-city stores in the region surrounded by Broadway, Alhambra Boulevard, and the two rivers, with a single newer store on Broadway the lone holdout. This store would also close by the end of the decade. During the 1960s, the final remaining 1940s-era stores would also be disposed. The Franklin Boulevard store, dating from the late 1940s, was destroyed by fire in 1963 and replaced with a modern, gabled glass unit. The older Freeport Boulevard store closed for good early in the decade, although this store still houses an independent market. Safeway was now concentrating, with apparently mixed success, in the new suburban fringes, although it also maintained a strong presence just outside the center city.
Lucky Stores had by 1965 completely absorbed the Cardinal chain and consolidated its two operations down to only six stores. Interestingly, four of the six were old Cardinal locations dating from the 1950s or before, suggesting that some of Lucky’s own location choices had not been so strong.
Raley’s continued to compete aggressively, despite the net loss of two stores from 1960 to 1965. A modern supermarket and drug center replaced an older unit on El Camino Avenue in 1958 and flourished throughout the 1960s. However, the older stores downtown on Capitol Avenue and 9th Street, the latter a former Cardinal unit, remained strong as well.
Other newcomers during the period were Farmers (which had at its peak about seven stores in Sacramento), Mayfair Markets (which never really established a strong presence and was in and out with one store on Florin Road), and Jumbo (which peaked at five stores near the end of the decade).
The 1970s and Beyond
The march to the suburbs continued through the 1970s, with much of the action taking place in the northern and eastern areas outside the city limits of Sacramento. This section covers the city limits thoroughly, but information is more sporadic in the suburbs, and I hope to add more at some later point.
Safeway continued to be Sacramento’s dominant chain throughout the 1970s, but with some significant changes among its locations. While the branches on J Street and Franklin Boulevard had been open for more than thirty years, both were now doing business in new and modern buildings, and both closed late in the decade. The oldest Safeway in the city was now the Stockton Boulevard store, which dated from the late 1950s, and this store lasted even into the 1980s.
Safeway also made a return of sorts to the center city, with new locations on Alhambra Boulevard in Midtown and N Street downtown.
Lucky started the 1970s with six branches and ended it with four. Of these four, two were former Cardinal stores dating from the late 1940s (J Street and 23rd Street) and these two remain open today under the Albertsons banner, following this chain’s purchase of Lucky Stores in 1999.
Raley’s retrenched during the 1970s, at least within the Sacramento city limits. The inner-city stores were closed, as were some close-in stores. Raley’s was concentrating on the suburbs and new regions, while still feeling the effects of its disastrous expansion into discount stores. Things would look brighter in the 1980s and 1990s.
Bel-Air, Farmers, and Jumbo all ended the 1970s with fewer stores in Sacramento than at the start of the decade, through a combination of suburbanization and increasing competition from newcomers like Alpha-Beta and Albertsons, each of which had one Sacramento branch (and more in the suburbs).
By the turn of the century, Bel-Air would merge with Raley’s while Farmers and Jumbo would disappear from Sacramento. Alpha-Beta would merge with Lucky, which would in turn be acquired by Albertsons.
Anthony PlesciaMay 26, 2023 at 8:08pm
Interesting history. In the late 20s or early 30s, Safeway had a small, stucco business office on 3rd Street just south of Q Street. Though small, it was notable for its California Mission architectural style and its colorful terra cotta-tiled entryway. I used to look at the decorative tiles while on my lunchtime walks in the 80s.
After it was demolished, I was fortunate to buy the tiles from a woman who was on the historical preservation committee and was authorized to sell them. I still have them.