For many Utah residents of a certain age, the Skaggs name was virtually synonymous with the cozy drugstore where the lunch counter, soda fountain, discount clothes and sundries were as much of a draw as the pharmacy. But that model eventually gave way to something quite different: the food and drug superstore principally pioneered by L.S. Skaggs.
At his death Thursday from natural causes at age 89, "Sam" Skaggs, who made hundreds of millions of dollars as an innovative business entrepreneur, was perhaps best known to later generations as one of the state's most generous and low-profile philanthropists.
It seems somehow fitting that Skaggs, who dropped out of Westminster College to join the military in World War II, had been planning to attend the April 12 ribbon cutting for the L.S. Skaggs Pharmacy Research Building at the University of Utah, for which he and the Skaggs foundation donated nearly half the $69 million cost.
Among his many other contributions to charitable causes in Utah is the Skaggs Catholic Center, a sprawling campus that includes Juan Diego Catholic High School and elementary and middle schools. But the largesse extended well beyond the borders of his adopted state.
As a youth in southern Idaho, Skaggs worked in the family drugstore, sweeping floors and making ice cream. When his father died in 1950, Skaggs, who was 26, inherited the 11-store Skaggs Companies and set about steadily building the enterprise by bold acquisitions, mergers and with a frugality that was legendary.
A joint venture with supermarket giant Albertsons in 1970 grew into the first successful chain of drug and food superstores. According to a company history, drugstores and supermarkets traditionally had never made a good fit because their merchandise was marketed differently. The Skaggs-Albertsons union changed that.
In 1979, American Stores Co. agreed to merge with Skaggs Companies, and Skaggs ran the combined companies under the American Stores name from a new headquarters in downtown Salt Lake City. Five years later, Skaggs engineered a takeover of Jewel Cos., creating the country's largest drugstore empire. And before he retired in 1995, American Stores was recording annual revenue of $22.2 billion.
Unquestionably, Sam Skaggs left an indelible mark on the American food and drug industry. But to Utahns, no less remarkable was Skaggs the quiet, unassuming philanthropist, whose humanitarian legacy will long survive his passing.