Top 50 Stories: 1939 — Joe Albertson opens first store

The national grocery powerhouse grew from a market on State Street

adutton@idahostatesman.comJune 26, 2014 

Statesman article from July 21, 1939

Statesman article from July 21, 1939.

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Retail businesses come and go, so it's hard to fault The Idaho Statesman of 1939 for squeezing the announcement of Boise's newest grocery store into a five-paragraph brief on Page 21 - just after the weather forecast.

That grocery store at 16th and State streets would become the launching pad for one of the largest supermarket chains in the U.S. Its corporate history is still being written today.

Joe Albertson started his career as a grocery clerk at Safeway while attending the College of Idaho in Caldwell. Twelve years later, he ventured out on his own - with wife Kathryn at his side - to open a grocery store named Albertson's "Food Center."

The store was a modest 10,200 square feet and featured an "ice cream factory, delicatessen shop, bakery, fresh produce department and other innovations," the newspaper said.

Some in the business community made a point to congratulate Albertson's in that day's Statesman. Idaho egg farmers, poultry farmers, the local meat-cutters union and Frigidaire praised the store through advertisements. One ad called Albertson's the "newest and most modern food store." The company that supplied paint, metal and glass for the store encouraged readers to "visit this new food emporium" and notice how attractive it looked.

In the decades that followed, Albertsons would survive a history book's worth of changes, while its founding family's civic and philanthropic gusto became woven into the fabric of Idaho - especially when it came to education and sports.

The grocery company was a titan around the turn of the 21st century. Its shares traded on Wall Street. It had thousands of stores and hundreds of thousands of employees from coast to coast.

But it fell into crisis. Crumbling under its own weight, the company split up and sold itself in parts in 2006.

Albertsons today is essentially a smaller version of the kingdom Joe Albertson built. A private-investor group, led by New York private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, owns the companies that make up the Albertsons organization. The split-up divisions are back together. With more than 1,000 stores in 29 states, its sales and employee base is larger than those of any other Idaho-based company.

And now the story has come full circle. Because of a $9 billion deal, the company that grew from Joe Albertson's first store is now preparing to take over the Safeway chain where he got his start.

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448

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