Lucky began in San Mateo county, just south of San Francisco as Peninsula Stores, with Charles Crouch (a former district manager for the Clarence Saunders Stores) at the helm. Expansion to the East Bay in 1935, resulted in what investor Charles Crouch called his “lucky stores”, and the name was first used at the Berkeley store on Shattuck Avenue in 1935. The stores advertised themselves as “streamlined” and “luminous” and included modern façades that were in vogue at the time.
Lucky was an innovative homegrown answer to Safeway, and stores were clustered primarily in Oakland and other East Bay locations. Lucky was also a leader in the transition from small stores to supermarkets, opening a flagship store at East 14th and Juana, San Leandro in 1947, which featured a coffee shop and more. This store operated even under the Albertson’s name until the summer of 2005 when it was finally retired.
Lucky grew by acquisition in many markets including Cardinal Stores (Sacramento), Big Bear (Seattle), Jim Dandy and Food Basket (Southern California), Kash and Karry (Florida), and Eagle Country Markets (Illinois). Many chains were operated under their old names for several years after their takeovers.
Lucky also operated a chain of department stores called Gemco throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Memco (a Gemco clone on the east coast which was liquidated in 1983), Hancock Fabrics, and Grand Auto Supply at various periods during the 1970s. In reaction to a 1986 hostile takeover bid by Asher Edelman, Gemco and the specialty stores were sold or closed. Most of California’s Gemco stores were sold to Target, giving the discounter ts first foothold in California; many of these stores are still operating as Target branches today.
In 1988, American Stores successfully acquired Lucky in yet another hostile takeover attempt, and the chain became another division of that company, along with Jewel-Osco in the midwest, Acme in the northeast, Buttrey Stores in the Rockies, and Alpha Beta, Food Basket, and Sav-on Drugs in Southern California. Eagle was spun off into a separate entity.
Upon FTC review, American Stores’ Alpha Beta units in northern California were re-branded as Lucky, while a number of the southern California Alpha Beta branches were sold to Yucaipa and ultimately merged into Ralphs when that chain was also acquired by Yucaipa. The Skaggs Alpha Beta name lived on for a time outside California.
In 1998, Albertsons purchased American Stores and became the second largest grocery retailer in the US; all Lucky stores were rebranded the following year.
In the Bay Area, Lucky was notable for retaining many of its older urban locations even when other grocers were closing or consolidating. Particularly in Oakland, many smaller stores were fifty years old and still maintained and modernized on a regular basis. Albertsons eventually closed or replaced many of these stores.
In January 2006, Albertsons was sold to a group consisting of Supervalu (who bought Jewel, Acme, Shaw’s, and most of the other grocery properties outside Northern California), CVS (who took most of the standalone Sav-on and Osco drug stores), and Cerberus (who purchased the Northern California grocery units plus those in the Rocky Mountain states, Texas, and Florida). There was some speculation that Cerberus might return the Lucky name to Northern California. In a way, this is exactly what happened, as Cerberus sold the Northern california units to Save-Mart, which announced plans in July 2007 to re-launch the Lucky Stores brand name in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In April 2006, Grocery Outlet, a chain of closeout stores based in California, attached the Lucky name to a remodeled store in Rocklin, and claimed its right to use the name and trademark that Albertsons had abandoned in 1999. Grocery Outlet backed off after Supervalu began opening its own Lucky-branded stores in Southern California and Nevada.
Lucky in San Francisco:
The company did not enter the San Francisco market until the 1940s. At one point in the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were four locations in the city. Two of these (1100 Eddy, closed about 1983 and since demolished, and 100 Lakeshore, since relocated within the same shopping center) were built from the ground up. The branch at 816 Geneva started as a Purity store, assumed the Lucky name in the early 1970s, closed in 1984, and has since been demolished.
The final of the four, at 3925 Alemany, started as an Albertson’s in the late 1960s, operated as Lucky from about 1979 to 1999, and then (following the merger) became an Albertsons again until being demolished and relocated within a rebuilt version of the shopping center and apartment complex in 2001.
Two more stores (originally planned by Lucky before the merger) have opened in San Francisco since 2002, one at the site of a former Safeway on Clement Street and one at Fulton and Stanyan on the site of the former Petrini’s Market. Had the Lucky name survived, these stores would have brought the chain back to its historic high of four San Francisco units.