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The surprising economic origins of Safeway’s name

Safeway is a product of fiscally conservative thinking that was not exactly in abundance in the years before the Great Depression.

Safeway is a product of fiscally conservative thinking that was not exactly in abundance in the years before the Great Depression.
Safeway is a product of fiscally conservative thinking that was not exactly in abundance in the years before the Great Depression.
Walk into most any Safeway store today and you can pay for your groceries by tapping or swiping your Visa or Mastercard.

But if you do, did you know you are disregarding the intent of the company’s name?

Yep, that’s right. Safeway, which was founded in 1912 by Sam Seelig who started with a single store in Los Angeles, is a product of fiscally conservative thinking that was not exactly in abundance in the years before the Great Depression. When Seelig left in 1924, the company held a contest to find a new name. The name Safeway is part of a larger slogan “Drive the Safeway; buy the Safeway”. It refers to the fact that the store did not offer credit. Buying the “safe way” meant not using credit, or getting into debt.

Another name synonymous with the depression and financial conservatism is part of Safeway’s history. Charles Merrill, founder of Merrill Lynch, IPO’d Safeway in 1927 at $226 a share. Merrill later left his eponymous firm to work more closely with the burgeoning grocery giant. Before the depression, he had pleaded with then president Calvin Coolidge to warn against rampant speculation in the markets.

Merrill himself had sold most of his holdings in the years and months prior to 1929, but not Safeway, which had embarked on a massive rollup strategy, acquiring hundreds of “mom and pop” grocers and smaller chains.

Today, with sales of more than $30-billion, Safeway is the 11th largest retailer in the United States. The company operates 217 stores in Western Canada and six in Ontario, and has 1418 stores in the U.S.

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About The Author /

Cantech Letter founder and editor Nick Waddell has lived in five Canadian provinces and is proud of his country's often overlooked contributions to the world of science and technology. Waddell takes a regular shift on the Canadian media circuit, making appearances on CTV, CBC and BNN, and contributing to publications such as Canadian Business and Business Insider.

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