Page 4


The association was instrumental in forming the food bank in 1982 and Safeway remained the single largest donor averaging 45,300 pounds of food per month until the closing. “We’re not only losing a source of food, we’re losing a friend,” said food bank director Lori Palmer at the time the closing was announced. Besides the company’s food contributions, which during the first quarter of 1987 amounted to 17 percent of the food bank’s commercial donations, Safeway also donated the food bank’s first walk-in refrigerator and freezer. “They were always there to help us when we needed help,” Palmer said. SAFEWAY PEOPLE, particularly those who worked in the smaller, neighborhood stores, took a keen interest in the welfare of their regular customers. “A lot of times if we didn’t see a customer in the store for a while, we’d call them at home to see if anything was wrong,” said Judy Lane, a 15-year veteran of store 635 in Mesquite. “I’ve visited customers in the hospital many a time.” The employees also looked after each other. When Judy Lane’s father died in 1982, her co-workers filled her house with food. “They were there for me. We were just close.” Some elderly customers, especially those without transportation, relied on the stores for cashing their Social Security checks and buying stamps, in addition to their grocery shopping. Jill Hall, a checker who started working for Safeway 18 years ago when store 835 opened in Hurst, near Fort Worth, said that at her store employees used to take some of the elderly customers home on their lunch hours if they looked too tired to walk. “We were real proud of that store,” Hall told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. “We didn’t leave Safeway. They left us.” They had heard the rumors for months, but until the beginning of April few believed Safeway would really leave. “I used to laugh in people’s faces when they told me Safeway was gonna close,” said Lorene Walker, whose husband Vernon began driving a Safeway truck in 1952. “I’d tell ’em, ‘You think the largest food store in the world is going to close?’ ” Said William Mayfield, 47 years old when he was laid off from his maintenance mechanic job in the milk plant: “You don’t expect a company that old and established to close up so quick. I figured I’d be here till I retire.” The official announcement came in the form of a four-paragraph press release on April 3 three weeks before the stores closed. It began: “Safeway Stores, Incorporated announced today that, in keeping with the company’s restructuring plan to achieve cost competitiveness, it will be closing its 141-store Dallas Division on April 24, 1987.” Some employees learned that day, April 3, from their supervisors of the closing; others heard it first elsewhere. “Can you believe that I heard I was out of a job on the radio one day? I get furious when I think about that,” said Patty Walker, a checker for “twelve years, three weeks, and three days” at a Safeway in Balch Springs, southeast of Dallas. James White learned the date on April 3, on the TV news, but he was not informed officially by the company until he received a letter dated April 21 from V. E. Allen, the trucking manager. The letter offered no apology or explanation. It stated: “Effective Friday, April 24, 1987, you will be placed on lay-off from Safeway Stores, Incorporated. Please contact the insurance department, 324-9775, immediately concerning BRIAN CHISM Bill Mayfield your benefits. Sincerely, SAFEWAY STORES, INCORPORATED.” At 5:30 p.m. on Black Friday, while James White waited at the depot for his old friend Johnny Griffin to return from Rockwall, an unceremonious voice crackled over the loudspeaker at a nearby store: “Attention Safeway shoppers, you have 30 minutes left to shop and bring your final purchases to the checkout stand.” But by then there wasn’t much left to purchase. Beneath the sign in the produce department reading “Nobody Does It Fresher,” the shelves were bare; the frozen-food bins and the poultry case had been nearly empty for a week. Elsewhere, shoppers found itinerant cans of insect repellent in the soup section and cat collars among the cosmetics. By six o’clock, puzzled latecomers stepping on the rubber welcome mat found the automatic plate-glass doors unyielding. After the last customers departed, employees at the store exchanged home phone numbers and joined in a chorus of “Auld Lang Syne.” Then corks began to pop; champagne, and more than a few tears flowed. At closing time at another store, employees gathered in the parking lot and built a bonfire out of their blue uniforms. Vests, pants, shirts, and ties were drenched in lighter fluid and set afire. Several of the men still working inside the store ran out, tore off their shirts, and tossed them into the flames, amid applause and shouts of “Take it off, take it off.” “We’re not violent people, but we felt like we had to do something,” employee George Canales explained to a local newspaper reporter. By the time television crews showed up for the late news, some 500 people were milling and swilling and swaying and laughing and crying in and around the Junkyard. As the club’s manager, Linda Kennedy usually served as the keeper of the gate. But on . this night everyone was welcome; no membership card was needed. Besides, the place was too busy and too wild for a sentinel at the door. Instead, she found herself lending a hand in the kitchen \(where lending a shoulder to cry on, or helping her father tend bar. “I had liquor and tears just poured all over me,” Kennedy later recalled. This night was the Junkyard’s last. At 2 a.m., after 11 years in business, primarily as a place for Safeway people to unwind, Linda Kennedy shut the club’s doors for good. “Our business depended on them, so we just gave it up and auctioned off all the memorabilia in there,” Kennedy said. SAFEWAY’S STORES and auxiliary operations are organized by geographic divisions, of which there were 22 in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom before July 1986, when the leveraged buyout occurred. \(Another division was comprised solely of the the buyout, the company divided the chain further; those divisions that Safeway initially planned to keep were grouped in Tier I; those divisions that were expendable became known as Tier II. The Tier I divisions were defined by Safeway Chairman Peter Magowan as those where labor costs were in line with local competitors. In Tier II divisions such as Dallas the company competed mostly against non-union grocers, whose labor costs were significantly lower. “We had labor parity in certain areas of the company,” Magowan told Grocery Marketing in December 1987. “We had a lack of parity in other parts of the company that weren’t performing as profitably as they needed to. Many of those divisions have since been sold.” The Dallas division was the third the company sold in the wake of the buyout. It was the only one the company sold piecemeal. The others including the THE TEXAS OBSERVER 7