Buttrey Food & Drug

Buttrey Food & Drug Stores Co.
Industry Retail
Fate Acquired by Albertsons
Predecessor The Fair Store
Successor Albertsons
Founded 1896 (Havre, Montana)
Founder Frank A. Buttrey
Defunct January 1998
Headquarters Great Falls, Montana
Number of locations
44 (1998)[1]
Area served
Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota (1998)[1]
Products supermarkets/food-drug stores
Revenue US$391.4 million (1998)[1]
Parent The Jewel Companies, Inc. (1966-1984)
American Stores (1984-1990)
Subsidiaries Buttrey Big Fresh
Buttrey Fresh Foods

Buttrey Food & Drug was a chain of grocery stores founded in Havre, Montana and formerly headquartered in Great Falls, Montana. The company was founded in 1896 as a chain of department stores branded Buttrey Department Store. The company opened grocery stores in 1935 and sold off its department store division following a 1966 acquisition by grocery company The Jewel Companies, Inc. Jewel was sold to American Stores in 1984 and Buttrey was sold off as separate company in 1990. The company was sold to its main competitor, Boise, Idaho based Albertsons, in January 1998 and the Buttrey name was retired. At that time, Buttrey was operating 44 stores in Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota with a revenue of US$391.4 million. As of today, most former Buttrey stores continue to operate under the Albertsons banner.


Buttrey Food Stores logo until 1980.


The history of Buttrey can be traced back to 1896 when Frank A. Buttrey opened The Fair Store, a department store, in Aldridge, Montana. He later moved and opened a store in what became Chimney Creek, Montana, and then opened The Fair Store in Havre, Montana, in 1902. Buttrey's original store was destroyed by fire in 1904 which forced him to rebuild. Buttrey rebuilt his store and renamed it Buttrey Department Store. In 1935, Buttrey began operating Buttrey grocery stores[2] and the Buttrey chain became the market leader in Montana, serving some of the state's smallest and biggest towns. In 1949, the company suffered a major loss when Frank Buttrey died. During the 1960s, Buttrey expanded the department store chain into suburban shopping malls under the Buttrey's Suburban name while expanding the Buttrey Foods chain into out of state markets, beginning with Idaho in 1962. Buttrey Foods was sold to Chicago, Illinois based The Jewel Companies, Inc. in 1966. The Buttrey's Suburban stores were not acquired by Jewel and would eventually close in the 1980s.

Following the acquisition by Jewel, most Buttrey stores were remodeled into Buttrey-Osco stores, which combined the products sold by Buttrey and Osco Drug. The new stores included common checkout stands but separate store management, all under one roof. Soon after, Jewel Companies financed a far-flung expansion plan which added Buttrey stores to several new markets. In 1981, Buttrey operated 53 stores in Montana, North Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.[3]

Sale to American Stores and Albertsons

The logo used for the Buttrey-Osco combination stores

In June 1984, American Stores made a bid to acquire the Jewel Companies, Inc.[4] Jewel initially refused the offer but eventually agreed and American Stores became the new owner of Buttrey. In 1985, American Stores dropped the Buttrey-Osco name and replaced it with the Buttrey Food & Drug brand.[5] American Stores also merged Buttrey's Great Falls, Montana management with the company's Skaggs-Alpha Beta stores based in Salt Lake City, Utah. American put Buttrey and Philadelphia-based supermarket chain Acme on the market soon after acquiring Jewel, to raise money to pay down American's staggering debt load from the Jewel acquisition. Neither chain received an acceptable offer, so American continued to operate them, but did not invest heavily in remodeling or new construction.

In July 1987, Buttrey closed seven stores in Idaho, which included all locations in Boise and Pocatello.[6] Three of the five Boise stores were sold to Albertsons.[6] In September 1987, Skaggs Alpha-Beta was reorganized into Alpha-Beta Stores, Inc., which included relocating Buttrey's headquarters back to Great Falls in a newly formed division of Alpha-Beta.[7]

American Stores put Buttrey up for sale in May 1990 and, during August, sold it to an investment group led by Buttrey's management and Freeman Spogli & Co..[8] American Stores received US$184 million from proceeds of the sale and other agreements.[8] At the time of the sale, Buttrey had operated 44 stores and employed 4,200 workers in Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming.[8] By 1994, Buttrey had closed its remaining Idaho and Washington stores to focus on its core markets of Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota.[9]

In response to increasing competition from retailers such as Costco Wholesale and Walmart entering into Buttrey's core markets, in November 1995, the chain launched the Buttrey Big Fresh concept to increase traffic in Buttrey stores.[10] The first Big Fresh, a remodeled Buttrey in Great Falls, featured several expanded food departments and a Buttrey Food Court, which featured a coffee and espresso bar, and a selection of small restaurants.[10] Several more Big Fresh stores were opened during 1996 and 1997.

A former Buttrey location in Missoula, Montana that was acquired by Albertsons during the 1998 merger.

In January 1998, Albertsons announced its intentions to acquire Buttrey Food & Drug for US$134 million.[11] Albertsons' acquisition of Buttrey was completed in October 1998 and 29 former Buttrey stores were reopened as Albertsons.[12] 15 Buttrey and Albertsons stores were sold to Fred Meyer and SuperValu to address anti-trust concerns.[1] At the time of the sale, Buttrey was operating 44 stores in Montana, North Dakota, and Wyoming under the Buttrey Food & Drug, Buttrey Big Fresh, and Buttrey Fresh Foods banners. Shortly after acquiring Buttrey, Albertsons purchased American Stores, Buttrey's owner from 1984 to 1990, for US$8 billion.[12]


In July 1985, an Anaconda, Montana woman opened a frozen broccoli dinner and discovered a live bomb in the packaging.[13] Police were called and the woman claimed she purchased the frozen dinner at a Buttrey store four months prior.[13] All of Anaconda's grocery retailers were ordered to check for similar packages, however, no other bombs were found.[13]

In July 1987, in an angered response to the sale of Buttrey's Boise, Idaho stores to major competitor Albertsons, an anonymous Boise woman placed a phone call to Norm Seymour, Buttrey's loss prevention officer, claiming her husband placed bombs in five Buttrey stores across Boise.[14] Seymour contacted police and ordered store managers to evacuate all Buttrey stores in Boise.[14] Police and sheriff deputies searched the stores, but nothing was found and the stores reopened shortly after.[14]


See also

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