Alpha Beta began as a merchandising concept rather than as a store name.
Albert and Hugh Gerrard had been operating food stores in Southern California since 1900 and had been early adopters of a self-service system in 1914. Their Triangle Grocerteria (at 329 West Second Street, Pasadena) began arranging groceries alphabetically in 1915, the beginning of the “Alpha Beta system”.
The Alpha Beta name was first used for the Pomona store in 1917. By the next year, seven stores were operating under this name. Alpha Beta Food Markets incorporated in 1929.
In 1932, Alpha Beta began operating its first supermarkets under the Wholesale-Retain Food Markets name. Eventually Alpha Beta Ranch Markets were also opened, although the simple Alpha Beta name ultimately was applied to all stores. Twenty of these were operating in 1945.
The company went public in 1956 and grew through the acquisition of the Raisin Markets chain in 1958 and through its drug store division, Hy-Lo, beginning in 1960.
American Stores Merger
In 1961, Alpha Beta merged with American Stores (operators of Acme Markets on the east coast) and assumed the name “Alpha Beta Acme Markets”. The following year, the first Alphy’s Coffee Shops opened.
Alpha Beta moved into Northern California in 1967, with the first store in San Pablo. This same year, the company also converted several outlets to the FAD format, an experimental discount operation (similar to Colonial’s Big Star stores and A&P’s WEO outlets of the period). In 1968, all stores converted to the discount format and the FAD name was retired.
By 1973, Alpha Beta operated over 200 supermarkets and additional 50 coffee shops and drug stores.
In 1979, Skaggs Drug (an operation founded by the original Safeway founding family) purchased American Stores and assumed the American Stores name. Combined food and drug stores in Alpha Beta territory were re-branded Skaggs Alpha Beta during the next few years.
Lucky Stores Merger and the End of Alpha-Beta
The demise of the Alpha Beta name began with the 1988 merger of American Stores with Lucky Stores. Significant antitrust wrangling ensued. Most Northern California units took the Lucky name. American ultimately sold many of the Alpha Beta stores to Yucaipa/Ralphs/Food4Less, but rebranded some under the Lucky name. Stores in other areas went to Certified Grocers, Albertson’s, and other chains.
For all intents and purposes, Alpha Beta is no more.
In this section:
GoBonnieGoOctober 19, 2020 at 6:02pm
Hmmm… wondering why there was no mention that for MANY years, Alpha Beta refused to sell liquor. I always found it interesting. And there was always a liquor store real close to the market, just not in the market.
ChrisMay 1, 2022 at 6:36pm
It was our understanding that the founders had religious objections to alcohol and that it just became a part of the company culture. Although back in the 60’s when my local Northridge california Alpha Beta, store #1 opened it had inside it an Alphy’s restaurant and a fresh bakery. The bakery was a sub-lease. Eventually the Alphy’s closed and was replaced by a liquor department that appeared to be a sublease as well. About a year after the Alpha Beta opened Vons opened a store directly across the street. They had a liquor department that had it’s own entrance but could also be entered from inside the store. I suspected then that it too was a sub-lease or at least was a separately incorporated subsidiary of Vons Grocery. I also recall that the Ralphs liquor departments were separated as well. I believe this was true of Hughes Markets as well. Curious as to why but that was how it was.
tuuett neatheryJune 15, 2022 at 5:42pm
I believe you are right about the objections. I often shopped at the one in Whittier, before I moved to North CA.
JayJuly 18, 2022 at 7:46pm
I worked for Alpha Beta in 1978, in the Rosemead, CA store. It was my very first job out of high school. We were union and I remember making 9.85 an hour back then, when minimum wage was 2.65 an hour. I was a “courtesy clerk” (better known back then as a “bag boy”) and I gathered carts, bagged groceries, helped customers and stocked shelves. It was a great summer working at that store. We had a great manager (his name was Ralph, but I don’t remember his last name now). He was a good guy and we were a happy team. I remember the Alphy’s Restaurant off to the side of the market where people could stop for a bite to eat if they were hungry. My grandmother and I ate at that Alphy’s a lot.
The actual building is now still a market, but it’s been through a number of different owners and brands over the years. While there has been remodeling over time, I can still see the old Alpha Beta bones still there.