The corner of Stevens Creek and Winchester will soon be without a Safeway.
After 67 years—yes, you read that correctly—the grocery store at this corner will expire. At presstime, not much was left. By the time you read this column, the whole place may already be empty. In textbook San Jose fashion—even if this is technically Santa Clara—the plan is to replace the store with a parking lot.
Which means, also in textbook San Jose fashion, that something else will get built on top of the parking lot five years later. In the course of world history, San Jose’s only signature contribution to architecture is the parking lot.
Yes, old-school grocery-store franchises come and go, especially anywhere near the “Capital of Silicon Valley.” Tech bros don’t want grocery stores, of course. They just want their potato chips delivered at 3am.
The history here is so absurd that I just had to do some digging. This particular Safeway opened soon after Valley Fair opened in August of 1956. At the time, Macy’s was the primary anchor tenant of the original Valley Fair.
On October 15, 1956, a short blurb appeared in the San Jose Mercury. Safeway announced a $15 million building program in Northern California, adding 24 new stores over the course of the upcoming year, through the end of 1957. A new San Jose store was added on Julian between Fifth and Sixth, the same building which is now the Cardenas Market. The blurb also announced the building of a new Santa Clara store at the corner of Stevens Creek and Santa Clara-Los Gatos Road, which later became known as Winchester.
But what is history without context? I’ll give you some.
On that same night, October 15, 1956, Norman Granz’ Jazz at the Philharmonic came through town for a show at the San Jose Civic with Ella Fitzgerald, the Gene Krupa Quartet, the Oscar Peterson Trio, Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge and more. Reserved seats were $2.75, $3.75 and $4.75 including tax. That same issue of the Merc revealed that Yvonne Moray was doing three shows nightly at Lou’s Village. Port Afrique was playing at the Studio Theater (now the rock climbing place.) The Alum Rock Drive-in advertised its “Buck Nite”—$1 for a car full of people—to watch Trapeze with Burt Lancaster, Tony Curtis and Gina Lollobrigida. KNTV Channel 11 had the Ray Milland Show at 8pm and Lawrence Welk at 9:30, while the Merc’s sports page reported on a 49ers 31-7 loss to the Chicago Bears, in which Y. A. Tittle threw two interceptions and Chicago’s George Blanda kicked a field goal.
This was also election season, so the Merc reported from an event the night beforehand, when 1,000 Republicans gathered at Hawaiian Gardens to celebrate Eisenhower’s birthday. They all dined on old-fashioned beef stew, apparently Ike’s favorite dish.
The fun didn’t stop there. A huge one-page ad for Western Appliance on West San Carlos Street announced an “election jamboree” featuring brand new 1957 Norge automatic dryers for $119. At the time, KSJO radio was not just at 92.3 FM. It was also at 1590 AM and the Lee Kopp show broadcasted live from Western Appliance just for the occasion. Such was San Jose social life in October of 1956.
This was about 40 years before KOME legend Dennis Erectus judged a bikini contest at Cactus Club in downtown San Jose—an event I actually attended. That was a much better fit for me than anything at Western Appliance. Dennis was the star of KOME back when it was located just down Winchester. He probably bought beer and munchies from that Safeway at one point.
As such, Safeway outlasted almost everything. It was nearly as old as Original Joe’s. Other legendary establishments near that corner have come and gone—Record Factory, Bob Berry’s Piano and Organ, The Emporium, Music Music Music, and even the first Chuck E. Cheese. No one can imagine Stevens Creek and Winchester without that crumbling Safeway right there. Seriously.
The demise of that store probably says more about the valley than it does about Safeway. If we can’t support a 67-year-old grocery store, then what can we support?