Monday, October 17, 2016

Supermarket Innovator and Self-Made Millionaire Joe Albertson [otd 10/17]

Joe Albertson, 1985. Albertson’s, Inc.
Supermarket innovator Joseph A. “Joe” Albertson was born October 17, 1906 near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The family moved to a homestead west of Caldwell when Joe was three years old. After graduating from Caldwell High School, Joe began classes at the College of Idaho, a small private school in Caldwell [blog, Oct 7].

While he attended college, Albertson got a job as a clerk at a Safeway store. Meanwhile, in chemistry class, he met a pert, pretty native Idahoan, Kathryn McCurry, from Boise. At the time, students called the College “Dr. Boone’s marriage mill,” affectionately referring to the school’s founder and first President, William Judson Boone [blog, November 5].

Joe and Kathryn only added to the legacy. On New Years Day 1930, the Reverend Boone wrote in his diary, “Marry Katheryn [sic] McCurry to Joseph A. Albertson. 52 present, very fine and very pretty.”

Their wedding came just two months after the stock market crash of October 1929 … not the best time to start married life. Both were soon forced to drop out of college, although they retained their belief in the importance of education and their soft spot for their alma mater.

Hard-working and personable, Joe rose steadily through the ranks at Safeway. He eventually held a district manager position with responsibility for over a dozen stores. However, after over a decade in the business, Albertson had his own ideas about how to organize and run a grocery store.
First store, Boise. Albertson’s, Inc.

By then, the young couple had managed to save about $5 thousand in working capital. With that, $7,500 borrowed from Kathryn’s aunt, and two partners, Albertson went into business for himself. The first Albertson’s Food Center opened in July 1939, at Sixteenth and State streets in Boise.

Joe put his own stamp on food-service trends that had begun at the turn of the Twentieth Century.

Before that time, city people bought food from rather small stores that specialized in one part of the menu: produce, meat, and so on. These shops did tend to cluster together, but had separate owner-operators. Then, over the next 20-30 years, corporate-owned chain stores began to replace the independent operators, although the layouts remained relatively small.

By the 1930s, chains were a dominant factor in the food business, and some had begun to offer a wider range of food products.  (A full treatment of this transition is beyond the scope of this article.) Joe’s first layout was much larger  than most competing stores of the time. He didn’t bring everything under one roof right away, but the store had a bakery, made its own ice cream, and featured vending machines for popcorn and nuts. Customers received great variety, bargain prices, and [in Joe’s words] “all the tender, loving care we can give.”

Less than a year later, the partners opened a second store in Nampa. A third followed in November 1940. After World War II, the partnership was dissolved and Albertson's Incorporated was formed. The rest, as they say, is history. They took the company public in 1959 – investors and mutual funds soon made the stock a favorite in their portfolios.

Albertson began easing out of a major management role in about 1976, although he continued as Chairman of the Executive Committee. When he died in January of 1993, the company operated over 560 stores in seventeen states, and annual sales topped the $10 billion mark. After that, the company went through a succession of corporate splits, buy-outs, mergers, and so on … but it still has a presence in Boise.
References: [Brit]
Albertson’s Inc. – Company History.
“Kathryn Albertson,” Quest, College of Idaho alumni magazine (Summer 2002).    
Louie W. Attebury, The College of Idaho, 1891-1991: A Centennial History, © College of Idaho, Caldwell (1991).
Richard J. Beck, Famous Idahoans, Williams Printing, (© Richard J. Beck, 1989).
Merle Wells, Arthur A. Hart, Idaho: Gem of the Mountains, Windsor Publications, Inc., Northridge, California (1985).

1 comment:

  1. Great story. Thanks for sharing.