Museum of Northwest Colorado: A big-box store moves into Craig in 1929
September 13, 2013
Craig — On Oct. 1, 1929, the fairly new Safeway grocery chain opened a store in Craig in the Cowgill building at 469 Yampa Ave. The chain, which began in 1915, was built on a "no-credit and good value to the customer" system. It boasted more than 600 stores throughout the United States by the late 1920s, when it came to Craig.
When the Safeway store first opened in Craig, there were several other grocery or mercantile stores in Craig, but this new 1920s version of a big-box business offered some serious competition to those locally owned stores. The Great Depression entered the picture shortly after Safeway's Craig opening, and the financial hit taken by local businesses made it even harder for them to compete. But like the large chain stores of today, that early Safeway store was able to prevail through the economic crisis.
After a few years, the store moved its location "uptown" to 520 Yampa Ave., which is part of today's Galaxy Restaurant. As the Depression began to ease off, the Safeway headquarters decided to invest in a new building, and shortly after Jan. 1, 1941, Safeway opened in it spacious new brick building at 583 Yampa Ave. Reflecting the changing times, this store boasted a large parking lot to accommodate its increasingly mobile customers. The store served the community at this convenient location, and many Craig residents have fond memories of shopping there.
Erma Klaus Ozbun was a young girl during World War II, and she remembered that when rationed goods came into the store, the clerks wouldn't even take the time to stock them on the shelves. They would just slide the boxes of precious commodities down the aisles and let the customers help themselves to their allotted amounts.
Doris Zimmerman recalled her once-in-a-lifetime shoplifting episode at that Yampa store. She stole a Heath candy bar but upon returning home was overcome with remorse. She confessed her crime to her father, Perry Van Dorn, who promptly marched her back downtown to return the loot and apologize to the manager.
Ken Davidson, who worked at the store, recalled how all the carry-out workers would vie to deliver Mrs. Easley's groceries to her home. Mrs. Easley, an excellent cook, ran a boarding house where the First National Bank of the Rockies building stands today. The boys knew that when they delivered her grocery order, they were sure to be rewarded with some of her great home-cooking.
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Leonard Robertson, who managed the store for more than 17 years, typified many of the loyal employees at the store. Hiring on at Safeway shortly after he left the Navy, Robertson was the manager from 1953 to 1970. His dedication to quality customer service was the hallmark of his time there.
The postwar era of the 1950s brought a growth spurt to Craig, and in January 1960, a larger Safeway store, with even more parking, opened in what is today's post office building. Still, the town continued to grow, and with it, so did the need for more commercial space. When the boom of the 1970s pushed the housing out west of Craig's downtown, Safeway followed. In spring 1978, ground was broken for the new store that opened seven months later, at its present location adjacent to the Centennial Mall.
The Museum of Northwest Colorado has a number of old photos of the various Safeway store locations in Craig that can be found at http://www.museumnwco.org under the "History" tab. If you have stories to share, feel free to drop by the museum and visit with the staff. Remember, "History is Now" and it's "Your Story"!
Mary Pat Dunn is the registrar at the Museum of Northwest Colorado. Contact Dunn at firstname.lastname@example.org or 970-824-6360.