Sid Applebaum, the powerhouse behind a family grocery dynasty who co-founded and led Rainbow Foods to its early success in the Twin Cities in the 1980s, died Saturday at his home in Minnetonka. He was 92.
Applebaum became nationally known in grocery retailing because of Rainbow's explosive success after it was founded in 1983. The chain opened with a 5 percent share of the Twin Cities market. By 1993, Rainbow was selling one-third of the groceries consumed in the then-$3.6 billion-a-year market under a format that mixed discount pricing, catchy advertising, classy service departments and bright interiors.
Rainbow's marketing was so innovative at the time that executives from other grocery chains across the country would come to the Twin Cities to see how he did it, said Applebaum's daughter Ellen Saffron of Minnetonka.
Applebaum valued his family and work above all else, his family said.
"He loved people and people loved him," said his son Jay, also of Minnetonka. "Whether it was the concrete people in the parking lot or carpenters or electricians or the highest executive, he treated everybody the same and loved to be with everybody. People gravitated toward him."
The grocery business was in Applebaum's blood from birth. His parents came to the United States from Russia on their honeymoon. His father, Oscar, started as a peddler and opened a fruit stand on the corner of St. Peter and 7th streets in downtown St. Paul with a $65 loan from his eldest son. That became the first Applebaum's Food Market.
Sid Applebaum, born in St. Paul, was the youngest son and second youngest child of nine. As a boy, he bundled soap and bagged rice at that first store. By 1979, the family business included about 30 metro-area Applebaum's stores and one in Duluth.
That year, the chain was sold to National Tea Co., and Applebaum went to work for them.
When National Tea foundered, D.B. Reinhart of Gateway Foods, a food wholesaler based in La Crosse, Wis., bought the operation. He put Applebaum in charge of the Twin Cities retail operation and agreed to back Applebaum's idea to launch Rainbow by converting some of the old Applebaum stores. The chain was founded Oct. 1, 1983.
Applebaum was president of Rainbow Foods through several ownership changes until 1996. The following year, Applebaum bought four Holiday Foods warehouse-style food stores in Bloomington, Fridley, Plymouth and Burnsville.
At the time, Applebaum had grand plans and said he hoped the stores would serve as a base for a new grocery chain he hoped to build. He cleaned up the stores, tinkered with product mix and waited for sales to improve. It didn't happen.
Just 18 months later, the stores were sold to Supervalu and converted to Cub Foods stores.
While Applebaum was operating his namesake grocery, he bought a liquor store on Western Avenue in St. Paul next to the Commodore Hotel. At the time of his death, he and his family had six stores, called either Big Top Liquors or Sid's Discount Liquors.
Even though he was ill and used a walker, Applebaum worked until less than a week before his death, his children said. He and his daughter Ellen would go to Perkins in St. Paul's Midway area every morning at 6 a.m. and then to work. He'd spend anywhere from an hour to five hours there each day, she said.
Applebaum won many awards and was heavily involved in the community. His children said he helped run the St. Paul Winter Carnival and the Olympic Festival.
"He was passionate about the Twin Cities and putting his mark on it," Ellen Saffron said.
Applebaum and his wife, Lorraine, would have celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on Sept. 17.
Besides his wife and son and daughter, survivors include another daughter, Nancy Rosenberg of Minnetonka, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
Services will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the Adath Jeshurun Synagogue, 10500 Hillside Lane W., Minnetonka.