When Joe Albertson opened his first grocery store on the corner of 16th and State streets in Boise in 1939, he never dreamed it would grow into one of the largest chains in the country.

He had no time to think about expansion."I was too busy making sure that the first store didn't go broke," Albertson said in a recent interview. "All my energy was channeled into seeing that it would be successful."

Albertson succeeded in keeping that first store afloat, and on the eve of its 50th anniversary the company that bears his name has about 500 supermarkets in 17 states. Plans call for building 200 more in the next five years.

Albertson's is the sixth largest grocery store chain in the United States, with annual sales of $6.8 billion, and Joe Albertson is among the country's wealthiest men.

It has been a long journey for the 82-year-old Caldwell native.

He got started in the grocery business working for Safeway, now the nation's largest grocery retailer.

During his 12 years with Safeway, Albertson was able to save $5,000 "by being frugal," and invested it in his first store, along with $7,500 he borrowed from a relative.

The grand opening advertisement that appeared in the July 20, 1939, edition of the Capital News in Boise, said customers at the first store could buy bacon for 19 cents a pound, fresh halibut for 15 cents a pound, a 24-ounce jar of peanut butter for 19 cents and two 22-ounce bottles of beer for 25 cents.

The first store employed 30 people and covered about 10,000 square feet. Today, Albertson's employs more than 50,000 people and most of its new stores are 35,000 square feet or larger.

Less than a year after the first store opened, in June 1940, Albertson opened a second store in Nampa. A third was added in December 1940 in Caldwell.

Big things clearly were ahead. But throughout the 1940s, Albertson found it a challenge just to keep his stores in operation.

"The biggest thing was finding people to man the stores," he said. "It was during the war years and it was quite a chore to keep the stores manned and the shelves stocked."

By the mid-1950s, Albertson's had become well established in its four-state territory of Idaho, Oregon, Utah and Washington. The company went public with its first stock offering in 1959, and Albertson's opened its 100th store in 1963 in Seattle.

The fastest growth today is in the South and Southwest. The company will open 37 new stores and remodel 40 others this year, mostly in Arizona, California, Florida and Texas.

Later this year, Albertson's plans to open five combination grocery-drug stores in Phoenix. Each will have 63,000 square feet of floor space. An expansion of the company's corporate headquarters in Boise also is under way.

The founder says Albertson's will remain "well represented on the home front." In fact, the company is the dominant grocery retailer in the growing Boise market, and some other operators contend it is pushing for total control.

Over the past 10 years, Albertson's has acquired 24 stores, including five in Idaho and Utah from American Stores Co., seven in Idaho and Utah from Borman's Inc., and eight in Texas from Cullum Cos. Inc.