At the dawn of the 1940s, Safeway was operating hundreds of older units in taxpayer strips or on the first floors of apartment or commercial buildings, most of which were a fraction of the size of the new supermarkets that were opening around the country. Some of which dated from the 1920s self-service era and had originally operated under any number of other brands. While freestanding stores with parking lots had opened as early as the 1920s, this was not necessarily the norm, particularly in urban areas.
The 14 August 1941 Spokane Chronicle included an advertisement for Safeway’s new stores in the area. The average size had swelled to six thousand square feet for a new prototype that was beginning to be used nationwide. While the design was still rather urban and pedestrian-focused, with entrances directly from the sidewalk, many of these new stores also featured side parking lots. There were some regional variations, with a brick facade used more often on the East Coast. Most also featured Safeway’s red-on-yellow signage. Some also contained showers for employees. Considered “supermarkets” even though they were relatively small by the standards of some other chains and independents, the stores featured a full line of meats and produce.
In 1940, Safeway’s 2671 stores were still primarily located west of the Mississippi River, with only one major Eastern outpost in the Washington DC/Northern Virginia area. In January, 1941, the DC stores, most of which had operated under the Sanitary and Piggly Wiggly banners, adopted the Safeway nameplate, ending the last of Safeway’s multiple brands following the mergers of the 1930s. Later that year, newspaper ads carried the tagline “Safeway: Your neighborhood sanitary store.”
The DC expansion was not to be the extent of Safeway’s Eastern strategy, however. In June, 1941, Safeway purchased 498 Daniel Reeves stores, 215 of which were in New York City. This was followed four months later by the acquisition of the National Grocery Co. of New Jersey, which added eighty-four self-service stores to the growing Safeway chain and resulted in the closing of “between 325 and 350 one-man stores” belonging to National. Almost overnight Safeway was a major presence in the nation’s largest metropolitan area.
Consolidation and growth
Wartime shortages and the consolidation of stores of different formats (and different lineage) combined to decrease Safeway’s store count to 2202 in 1949 despite the chain’s significantly larger geographic footprint—and its nearly threefold increase in sales during the period. The locational shift in Safeway’s home turf of San Francisco is illustrative: In 1940, following the mergers and acquisitions of the 1930s, there were 123 Safeway locations in San Francisco This total was reduced to 43 by the end of World War II and to 35 by the beginning of the 1950s. The casualties included many older Safeway locations as well as nearly all of the former Piggly Wiggly, Public, and Mutual/MacMarr stores. As the 1940s ended, none of the city’s original 1920s Skaggs or Safeway locations remained in operation, although one 1928 Piggly Wiggly on Castro Street still bore the Safeway name.
The Skaggs era ends
Safeway lost a tie with its origins in 1941 as Marion B. Skaggs, who had retired from active operations several years prior, also gave up his position as Chairman of the Board. Skaggs would live another thirty-five years, dying in 1976, and members of his family would be instrumental in the development of other food and drug chains around the country.