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Supermarket chain traces roots back to North Main store
The late Bob Piccinini, left, is shown shaking hands in 2010 with Bill Gelderman after a program he presented at the Manteca Museum.

Save Mart — a regional supermarket giant with more than 200 stores that can trace its roots back to Manteca — has been sold to a private investment firm.

Save Mart companies — including its flagship name chain, Food Maxx, and Lucky Supermarkets among other concerns — has sold to Los Angeles-based Kingswood Capital Management. The new Save Mart owners also own Cost Plus World Market that they acquired in January 2021 among other holdings.

Save Mart has two stores in Manteca one Ripon, and one in Lathrop. Save Mart has been in talks about building a third store in Manteca at Atherton Drive and South Main Street but nothing has moved forward.

Bob Piccinini — the Manteca High graduate who parlayed his family’s first grocery store they opened in Manteca into a chain of 243 stores throughout Northern California and Northern Nevada — passed away in 2015 at age 73.

In 2010 Piccinini walked down memory lane during a gathering at the Manteca Historical Museum.  

The 2005 Manteca Hall of Famer in Business cut his teeth in the grocery business at age 12, working at his father’s store, the now-defunct Mike’s Market in Manteca. He pressed labels onto packaged meats for which he earned a whopping 50 cents an hour.

The seeds of Save Mart were planted by Piccinini’s father Michael and uncle Nicklaus Tocco when they opened Mike’s Market in what is now Accent Carpets in the 100 block of North Main Street. Two original black and white photographs of the old Mike’s Market are part of the Manteca museum’s collection.

The first ever Save Mart branded store opened in Manteca in 1965 where Hafer’s Furniture is located today in the Lincoln Shopping Center on West Yosemite Avenue. Piccinini also worked at that first Save Mart store and was the head clerk there at one time.

Piccinini in 2010 said he had “lots and lots of fond memories” of Manteca. He remembered his late father’s family moving to Manteca when he was 6 or 7 years old and settling on a 20-acre farm on South Manteca Road. The house where his father grew up is still there, he recalled in 2010.

He also remembered his father quitting high school at age 15 during the Depression and going to work “to help support the family.” His mother, Margaret, who was born in Scranton, Penn., lived on Murphy Road in Ripon where her family settled. His mother’s father was a shoemaker and ran his business in the small building next to the old El Rey Theater, Piccinini recalled. The theater, whose claim to fame was being destroyed in a fire while the movie, “The Towering Inferno” was showing on Aug. 6, 1975, is now The Veranda event center in downtown Manteca.

Piccinini reminisced that when his parents got married in 1936, they owned and operated a service station on South Main Street.

“This is what I consider my hometown,” Piccinini said in 2010, who was a Modesto resident at the time where SaveMart is headquartered.

During his talk, he reminisced about his early jobs while growing up in Manteca, giving a hint of the character and work ethic that catapulted him to the success he enjoyed. He recalled working for Bill Cabral at Western Motors washing cars and other odd jobs.

He also worked at a service station in Manteca from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. In the evenings on weekdays, he worked at another job from 6 to 8:30 p.m. That’s on top of working at the market owned by his father and uncle located in what is now Accent Carpets.

“I was a 15-year-old kid working 70 hours a week. I had money sticking out of my pockets. I was rich!” Piccinini said 12 years ago with a laugh, his thrilled audience that included Bill Cabral, his old boss, laughing along.

Piccinini purchased Save Mart from the Piccinini and Tocco families in 1985 after working his way up through the ranks — box boy, truck driver, store manager, Vice President of Real Estate and on to President and Chief Executive Officer. He is credited with taking Save Mart from a homegrown, Central Valley chain to the regional competitor it is today complete with 20,000 employees.

Save Mart also owns interest in Superstore Industries in Lathrop that serves as a distribution center for Save Mart owned stores as well as Raley’s. The firm also owns SMART Refrigerated Transport and Sunnyside Farms dairy plants.