Sidney R. Rabb

“When I made a statement one day that a corporation has to have a soul people said cut it out you sound a little bit nutty”

He is called “Mr. Sidney.” Over a period of half a century, his business acumen has built The Stop & Shop Companies into New England’s largest and most innovative supermarket chain.

In 1918, while attending Harvard College, Sidney Rabb began working as assistant to the general manager of Economy Grocery Stores, a food store chain. In six months the 19-year old Rabb had become general manager. “It didn’t take any genius to be in the right place at the right time,” he states. But the Economy chain was in financial trouble, and young Rabb, using his summer experience as manager of one of its stores, his skills learned at Harvard, and his own marketing brilliance, soon had Economy earning a profit. By age 30, Rabb was chairman of the board.

During the Depression, Rabb determined that shoppers wanted large “warehouse” grocery stores – a radical experiment in those difficult times. The concept of the supermarket was launched from this experiment, and in 1937 the first of Rabb’s new stores opened. It did as much business in four days as 35 of Economy’s other stores did in a week. Today, Stop & Shop Companies includes 120 supermarkets and 106 Bradlees discount department stores along the East Coast from Maine to Virginia. Three other chains round out the company’s merchandising efforts: Medi-Mart, 50 drug, health, and beauty items stores; 53 C.B. Perkins tobacco stores; and 72 Off the Rax women’s clothing stores.

Rabb’s dedication to building a successful business chain is matched by his commitment to helping others. There are few charitable, cultural, and educational institutions in Massachusetts that do not list him on their board of directors and fewer still that have not benefited from his philanthropy.

“When I made a statement one day that a corporation has to have a soul, people said, ‘cut it out; you sound a little bit nutty,’” he says. “But I meant it.”

Today, at age 82, “Mr. Sidney” still puts in a full week’s work as chairman of the board of Stop & Shop. And he also finds time to devote to those charities with which he has worked for years. “After all,” he says with a smile, “shrouds have no pockets.”