Scottsdale will lose one of its longest standing connections to its history as the West’s Most Western Town when longtime Old Town retailer Saba’s Western Wear closes up shop this year.
Saba’s, which first opened up in Scottsdale in 1947, will be closing its two Old Town locations along with its Cave Creek and Mesa stores.
Fittingly, the Saba’s in Chandler – where the business started in 1927 – will be the last remaining location for the family-owned retailer, which once had as many as 10 locations throughout Arizona.
Marion Saba, who still lives in Scottsdale with her husband, Richard, said the location at First and Brown avenues will close in the next several weeks. The location at Main Street and Brown Avenue will remain open longer, likely for one to two months.
Marion and Richard were an integral part of the Scottsdale stores and the larger brand for many years, with Marion doing much of the buying for the business and Richard working as general manager before his retirement.
They both appeared as models in a slew of advertisements that appeared in the pages of the Scottsdale Daily Progress in the 1970s.
Closing the stores that they oversaw for so long is not easy for the couple, who tear up when talking about the decision to close the doors in Scottsdale.
“My husband’s office is at Brown and Main and he still goes down there and, he may not say it, but I know it’s very emotional for him to see it close,” Marion said. “Lots of people have called and said ‘we’re sad to see Saba’s (close).’”
They will miss not just the stores but their generations of customers and the employees, some of whom worked for the company for 40 years.
“Well, you know, because we’ve got third and fourth generations (of families) doing business with us,” Richard Saba said.
“It’s actually been quite a run,” he said.
All the Sabas who spoke to the Progress expressed a common sentiment when asked about what parting message they wanted to give to the Scottsdale community: Thank you.
Richard, Marion and Roger Jr. all thanked their employees, first and foremost, and then the customers, both longtime and new, that have kept Saba’s Western Wear running strong for over 90 years.
“I want to thank all of our customers and especially our associates,” Roger Saba, Jr. said. “Without their level of service, our customers wouldn’t have had a good experience.”
Giving credit for the stores’ success to the employees, he joked, “We just sold jeans and boots.”
Many of the Sabas had a hand in the success of the Scottsdale stores.
According to an oral history given by Roger Saba, Sr. in 1995 to the Scottsdale Historical Society, patriarch David Saba, Sr. decided to open a store in Scottsdale in 1947 because there was not a retail clothing store in the area and he wanted to give his sons “an opportunity in life.”
Roger Saba, Sr. passed away in 2017.
David and Adele Saba would go on to have seven children, five sons and two daughters, who grew up in Mesa.
The family now has around 90 members, Marion Saba said.
David, a Lebanese immigrant, came to the US in 1917 and got his start selling clothing at working camps in California before coming to Ray, Arizona to work at his brother’s store that sold groceries and clothing to workers in what was then a booming mining town.
In 1929, David opened up the Chandler store and by 1947 he was ready to expand.
Norman Saba, who passed away in 2012, opened up the store in Scottsdale and ran it for a year before becoming a teacher. At that point, Roger Sr., who had served in the military, took over the store.
Eventually, Richard Saba took over in Scottsdale and served as general manager for the company at large.
The store’s imprint grew right alongside Scottsdale, a city that had only about 2,000 residents when Saba's opened in 1947.
In 1961, the Sabas opened the second Old Town Scottsdale location, and the store would eventually open a location at Shea Boulevard and Scottsdale Road as well.
Despite its growth and longevity, Saba’s Western Wear was not an instant hit when the first store opened.
According to Roger Saba’s oral history, the store struggled for the first three or four years and the family nearly sold the location on two occasions.
“In fact, the Chandler store was carrying this for at least that period of time … And I feel very fortunate to this day that the people that wanted to buy it changed their mind,” Roger Saba, Sr. said in 1995. “Because it would have been, I think, without Scottsdale, I don’t think Saba’s would have grown to the number of stores it has today.”
The Saba's legacy in Scottsdale extends well beyond its stores as many members of the family moved to Scottsdale and became active in the community following the opening of the Old Town store.
Several of the brothers, including Richard, David and Norman, were involved with both the Scottsdale Chamber of Commerce and the Scottsdale Charros.
Richard Saba, still involved with the Charros in his retirement, worked closely with the San Francisco Giants and the Cactus League with that organization and was also involved with the Jaycees, Old Town Merchants Association and served on the city’s Design Review Board.
He was one of several community members considered to fill a vacated City Council seat in 1971, according to the Scottsdale Daily Progress archives.
“I think it’s important that you put efforts back into the community when you’re in business in that community,” Richard Saba said. “It’s a two-way street.”
One only needs to delve into the Progress archives to find out how involved the Sabas were in the community.
The pages from the 1960s and beyond are littered with mentions of their work, including Marion Saba serving on the city’s Housing Board and Human Services Commission.
“I always felt like I had to help people that were less fortunate,” Marion Saba said.
Both Marion and Richard Saba received plaques from the city recognizing their service on city government in the 1990s and were active with the Scottsdale Historical Society.
Additionally, Marion has been very involved with local nonprofit organizations and was formerly a board member and president for Scottsdale Foundation Handicapped, now called STARS, and a founding member of Scottsdale Prevention Institute.
The City of Scottsdale recognized those contributions when, last year, it chose Richard and Marion Saba as the honorary chairs of the Celebrate ’68 event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the opening of City Hall and Civic Center Library.
Those Sabas – the people, not the stores – will remain in Scottsdale. Richard and Marion still live just a few miles north of Old Town, where the historic buildings they own will eventually become something new.
The building at Main Street and Brown Avenue was built in 1921 and originally housed Sterling Drug Store. It was placed on the Scottsdale Historic Register in 2001.
Richard Saba said the family is in talks to bring new tenants into the building, but he was not able to share details.
The fact that Saba’s, which specializes in the sale of cowboy boots and other western-style apparel like Cowboy hats and belt buckles, is closing most of its stores is not surprising in a retail marketplace that has shifted greatly due to online sellers and marketplaces like Amazon.
Recently, Coresight Research reported that 5,279 stores closed and 2,395 stores opened so far this year compared to 5,726 closures and 3,243 openings in all of 2018.
However, the Sabas said that the primary reason for closing the shops has less to do with the market and more to do with the family itself.
“I think the third generation (of the family) is at the age where they want to slow up, and so as far as the family members, there’s no more family members continue the business,” Richard Saba said.
Marion Saba said many of the younger family members worked in the stores earlier in life but then went in different directions as they got older to pursue teaching, dentistry, real estate and other professions.
Roger Saba, Jr., who is in his 44th year working for the family business and handles buying, marketing and other management duties for the company, agreed.
“We looked at it as time to downsize,” he said.
In some ways, the decision to downsize at this point in time is actually a reflection of the company’s sustained success over the years.
Marilyn Atkinson, the head of the Old Town Merchants Association who had a shop in Old Town for decades, can relate.
“It’s like when I retired,” Atkinson said. “We were in business for 71 years. The business does well, and you spread the money around to educate your kids and then they don’t want to (work in retail).”
“Retail is demanding, seven-days-a-week work,” Atkinson said. “It’s not a job where you can take holidays or weekends off.”
Still, the Sabas acknowledged that the changing face of retail and the area itself did figure in to the decision to close down stores.
“Old Town is a changed place,” Roger Saba, Jr. said, referring to the changing mix of retailers, restaurants and bars that now populate the area.
Roger Saba, Jr., who spoke to the Progress at the location on Brown and First avenues, needed to only look across the street to see that sentiment come to life at the old Porters building, which still has its iconic horse on the roof.
Porters, a western clothing store like Saba's, closed years ago and the building is now being converted into a western-themed bar.
Despite those changes, some things have remained the same.
The Scottsdale Daily Progress archives include numerous stories quoting David Saba advocating for the rights of merchants in the face of new city ordinances, and Marion said retailer struggles during the slow summer season were even more pronounced in the past.
“Back then in the summer, you could blast a cannon through there without hitting anybody,” Marion said.
When both Saba's in Scottsdale close, the number of shops in Old Town that predate paved streets will dwindle.
One of those remaining shops is J. Chew’s Mexican Imports, located across the street from the Saba’s at First Avenue and Main Street and still run by the grandchildren of founder J. Chew Song.
J. Chew’s was first a grocery store and can trace its roots back to 1929 – the same year the first Saba’s opened in Chandler – when J. Chew Song bought the property that housed Johnny Rose’s Pool Hall.
The Song and Saba families shared a camaraderie that spans generations, including having family members who went to college together at University of Arizona, Rosann Song said.
“I think we are just sad,” said Rosann Song, who now runs the store. “We will just miss them.”
Roger Saba, Jr., whose eyes lit up while recalling memories at the store, said one of his fondest memories is a simple one from his childhood when he would sweep the floors on weekends.
“Johnny Song always offered me a pop on Saturdays,” Roger Saba recalled. “He’d open up the machine and give one to me for free.”
Like that memory, Saba’s Western Wear in Scottsdale will soon become a thing of the past.
What Saba’s' closure will ultimately mean to Old Town Scottsdale will not fully be borne out until the days, weeks, months, maybe years after the stores close.
For now, Scottsdale residents and longtime neighbors like Song and Atkinson just know they are sad to see them go.
“We will miss them,” Atkinson said. “They were good neighbors.”