San Francisco History

The 1940s

The 1940s were a difficult time for grocery retailers in the US. Wartime shortages and rationing impacted inventories, and building restrictions locked retailers into old buildings and stifled expansion. The manpower shortage, however, did bring women into the workforce and grocers — unlike factory operators — were less inclined to dismiss them after the war.

Safeway Dominates the City

Safeway, 279 West Portal Avenue (unknown source).

In 1940, Safeway found itself with 123 branches in San Francisco, the result of merging three chains into one. By 1945, all but 68 had been closed or consolidated with other nearby units. The trend was clear: small pedestrian-scaled neighborhood stores were on the way out and the supermarket was on the way in.

While many of the older stores continued to operate profitably for years (and even decades), the new stores were bigger and more likely to offer parking. As the 1940s ended, none of the original 1928 stores remained in operation, although one 1928 Piggly Wiggly still bore the Safeway name (476 Castro) and is still selling groceries today as the Valley Pride Market. Two stores dated from before 1930 (404 Dewey and 301 Rolph). In addition, one of the former Public stores from 1928 (507 Clement) remained a Safeway branch.

Safeway, 1342 Irving Street (SF Library).

Excellent neighborhood locations have kept many of the new 1940s-era stores in business selling groceries successfully for over 50 years, albeit under different ownership. Two buildings in the Sunset now house 7-11 convenience stores (2222 Taraval and and 1388 46th Ave). Others have now been converted to video stores (3150 California), drug stores (1330 Castro) and even churches (1320 Golden Gate). Two branches from this era (625 Monterey and 4950 Mission) are still operating as safeway stores as of 2003, albeit in new buildings.

By 1950, Safeway’s total number of stores in San Francisco was down to 55, while square footage was probably up from 1945 levels.


Newcomers to San Francisco in the 1940s included Lucky Stores, which operated units in a new shopping district built for shipyard workers in the Bayview and in the Inner Sunset, on Irving Street. Lucky, however, would not “take off” in the city until later, and never operated more than four stores in San Francisco at any one time.

In addition, San Francisco’s first Cala Foods and QFI stores opened in the 1940s, the former in the more urbanized Nob Hill area and the latter in the suburban Sunset District. Both chains would become bigger players in the 1950s.

Other Chains

Purity Stores was not a successful survivor of the 1940s in San Francisco. No new stores were opened, and the number of stores operated decreased from eleven to four between 1940 and 1950. Purity began turning its attention to small towns and suburbs, but would return for one “last hurrah” in the 1960s.

Embee and Great Western-Wissman stores both peaked in the early 1940s and were virtually nonexistant by 1950, with a total of four stores between them.

Littleman, 2139 Polk Street (SF Library).

Littleman Strores, however, was growing. From its beginnings with one “groceteria” in the 1930s, it had expanded to fourteen stores by 1950. Several were former Safeway or Piggly Wiggly locations, while others appear to have been purpose-built.

Lick Super Market, later QFI, 350 7th Avenue (SF Library).

Small neighborhood chain stores could still be seen all over San Francisco as the 1940s ended, but in the 1950s, the balance shifted dramatically.

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