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Save Mart CEO hopes to build state-of-the-art store in Manteca
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When and where will a brand-new, state-of-the-art Save Mart store be built in Manteca?

Only Save Mart Supermarkets CEO and Chairman Bob Piccinini knows the answer to that question.

During his appearance as a featured guest at the monthly Manteca Historical Society program meeting, Piccinini made the somewhat surprised realization that, even with Save Mart’s long history in Manteca - in fact, where the U.S. Fortune 500 company with $5 billion in gross revenues in 2008 was born more than six decades ago - he has yet to cut the grand-opening ribbon to a spanking new Save Mart in his hometown featuring the latest state-of-the-art conveniences that are the pride of many of his company’s more than 300 stores from Merced to Tehachapi.

“I have hopes that one of these days, we can make that happen,” he told the large gathering of old family friends and former elementary and high school classmates at the historical museum in Manteca.

Save Mart has two Manteca locations – one on West Yosemite and the other on North Main. Both stores are smaller than the newer Save Marts. In previous interviews, Piccinini has noted the company stays committed to older store locations and will remodel them as long as they can retain profitability. That’s unlike some chain grocery stores that require all of their stores to meet a certain threshold and will shut down under performing stores even if they are still consistently making a profit.

Save Mart opened state-of-the-art stores in Lathrop as well as Ripon in recent years.

He made the statement after reminiscing about how it all started in Manteca for Save Mart. As many longtime area residents know by heart, the seeds of Save Mart were planted by Piccinini’s father and uncle when they opened Mike’s Market in what is now Accent Carpets on North Main Street. Two original black and white photographs of the old Mike’s Market that are now part of the museum’s collection were displayed as part of the backdrop for Piccinini’s appearance.

However, Piccinini said that the first ever Save Mart store opened in Manteca in 1965 where Hafer’s Furniture is located today in the Lincoln shopping center on West Yosemite Avenue. Just as he did at Mike’s Market where he glued labels onto the store’s products at age 12 earning 50 cents an hour, he also worked at that first Save Mart store and was the head clerk there at one time.

The store later moved to the building complex that is now The Dollar Tree in The Marketplace shopping center on West Yosemite Avenue. In the 1980s, the shopping center built another extension to the west and Save Mart again moved to its present location.

A few years ago, Piccinini’s company bought the old Lucky Store on North Main Street and opened Manteca’s second Save Mart.

One of the latest state-of-the-art Save Mart stores that the Manteca High graduate referred to actually opened in Lathrop nearly five years ago.

Lathrop Planning Commission chairman and former mayor Bennie Gatto pointed that out to Piccinini during the question-and-answer period of the program. Gatto recalled that Lathrop finally got its wish after courting the corporation for more than a dozen years to open a grocery store in the city.

Wooing Save Mart started soon after Lathrop incorporated as a city. Their intent was focused on Save Mart because the company already had 40 acres purchased in town along old Harlan Road just south of Lathrop Road. But Save Mart took its sweet time. The company told city officials it would consider breaking ground only when the city’s population reaches 10,000. That condition came and went, with the company upping the population requirement to 12,000.

While courtship negotiation was going on between the city and Save Mart, Harlan Road was realigned. Save Mart was built in the larger eastern portion of the property where it is the anchor to a shopping center that now includes Starbucks, Mikasa Bistro, Baskin & Robins Ice Cream, and several other retail stores and services.

But while the Save Mart corporation has grown into nearly 300 stores from Merced to Tehachapi, Piccinini said his heart remains in Manteca.
“This is what I consider my hometown,” Piccinini said as he walked down memory lane Thursday night at the museum.