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M. B. Skaggs

AKA Marion Barton Skaggs

Born: 5-Apr-1888
Birthplace: Newtonia, MO
Died: 8-May-1976
Location of death: Alameda, CA [1]
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Baptist
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Business

Nationality: United States
Executive summary: Founder of Safeway

Samuel M. Skaggs was a Baptist minister who augmented his meager church income by working at a grocery store in Cato, Missouri. Shortly after the turn of the 20th century, he relocated with his family to American Falls, Idaho, and in 1914 he opened his own store. While competitors offered credit to their customers, Skaggs' strategy was to eliminate the risk of bad debts by selling only for cash up front, which reduced his costs and let him lower his prices. The store was immediately successful, but Sam Skaggs was already an old man, and lacked the energy to continue running the shop, so after less than a year in business he sold the store to his third son, Marion Barton Skaggs, better known as M. B., for $1,088. From one tiny grocery store (576 square feet), M. B. Skaggs built the Safeway grocery chain, and his family was deeply involved in the evolution of numerous other grocery chains.

M. B. Skaggs adopted his father's retailing philosophy, but pushed for very aggressive expansion, which allowed his company to make larger purchases at lower wholesale prices. He opened several more stores in neighboring towns, calling them Skaggs United Stores, while his brothers opened stores of their own under the same name, and under different names. Two of Skaggs brothers, O. P. and L. J. (all the Skaggs brothers were commonly called by their initials) started separate chains called, respectively, Skaggs Cash Store and Pay 'n' Take It. Meanwhile, in 1924 a California merchant named Sam Seelig retired from his chain of Seelig Groceries, and his stores held a contest to rename the firm -- the winning entry was Safe Way. By 1926, Skaggs United's 428 stores and Safe Way's 322 stores were the two largest grocery chains in the American west, and in a consolidation engineered by Charles E. Merrill, they were merged together as Skaggs Safeway, with Skaggs as CEO. By 1928 the name was shortened to simply Safeway.

Safeway continued its rapid growth, and had 3,370 stores nationwide by 1936, a number it has never since surpassed or even approached -- but this was an era before the "supermarket", so these stores were only a fraction of the size of a modern grocery. Safeway is now North America's third largest grocery chain, with more than 1,700 stores in the US, Canada, and Mexico.

The involvement of the Skaggs' family in the retailing business is legendary, and stretches far beyond Safeway. At various times individual Skaggs brothers, groups of Skaggs, and/or descendants of the Skaggs family have controlled Acme Food Centers, Alpha Beta stores, Jewel Companies, Katz Drugs, Lucky Stores, Owners Service Company (Osco), Payless Drug Stores, Sav-On Drugs, Skaggs Drug Centers, Skagway Supermarkets, Thrifty Payless, and Value Giant. In addition, M. B. Skaggs' son-in-law Joseph Long was co-founder (with his brother Thomas Long) of Longs Drugs, and Skaggs' grandson Leonard Skaggs was the business partner of Joe Albertson at the founding of Albertson's grocery stores in 1939.

Separate groups of Skaggs-owned Payless stores were sold to K-Mart in 1985 and Rite Aid in 2000, and Sav-On and Osco were sold to CVS in 2006. The main non-Safeway branch of the family businesses, Skaggs Drug Centers, purchased and rebranded itself American Stores in 1979, and was purchased by Albertson's (now owned by Supervalu) in 1999.

[1] Merritt Hospital, Alameda, CA.

Father: Samuel M Skaggs (minister/grocer, b. 9-May-1861, d. 30-Oct-1936)
Mother: Nancy Skaggs (b. 10-Jun-1863, d. 6-Nov-1917)
Mother: Rosa Snooks Skaggs (stepmother, m. 1919)
Brother: Pepper Oscar Skaggs ("O.P.", b. 7-Jan-1881)
Brother: Aron Sylvester Skaggs ("S.A.", b. 14-Jan-1886)
Brother: Loronzo L. Skaggs ("L.L.", b. 5-May-1891)
Brother: Samuel Olnie Skaggs ("L.S." or "Lennie", b. 14-Nov-1895, d. 1954)
Brother: Levi Justin Skaggs ("L.J.", b. 4-May-1899, d. 1970)
Son: S. Dwight Skaggs
Daughter: Vera Mai Skaggs Long (b. 1913, d. 1999)

    Skaggs United Stores President (1915-26)
Safeway Founder & President (1926-31)
    Member of the Board of Safeway Chairman (1931-40)

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