Scottsdale has changed a lot over the past 70 years, but residents and visitors can catch of a glimpse of the city’s agrarian past by stepping into either of the two Saba’s Western Wear locations in historic Old Town.
It is arguably the most western store in the West’s Most Western Town.
Those deep connections to the city’s past made Marion and Richard Saba logical choices to serve as honorary chairs of Scottsdale’s upcoming Celebrate ’68 event, a city-hosted party on Oct. 13 to commemorate the opening of City Hall and Civic Center Library 50 years ago.
The event, which will feature live entertainment, art exhibits and fireworks, is a take on the original celebration thrown in 1968 when the buildings first opened to the public.
Saba’s first Scottsdale store actually predates City Hall and Civic Center Library.
Richard’s father David Saba Sr., who opened his first store in Chandler in 1927, expanded to Scottsdale in 1947 with a location on Main Street when the city had a population of around 2,000 and there was nothing but dirt roads in the area.
Back then, Main Street wasn’t far from alfalfa fields and cattle pens.
That store, located in a building that dates back to 1921, still offers boots, jeans, cowboy hats, belts and other apparel and goods traditionally worn by cowboys, ranchers and farm workers.
The family opened a second store at 3965 N. Brown Ave.
Richard began managing the store on Main Street after graduating from Arizona State University, but his and Marion’s community ties to Scottsdale run much deeper than just their business.
Richard has participated in a number of civic and community groups over the years, including the Scottsdale Jaycees, Scottsdale Charros and the Chamber of Commerce. He is currently on the board of Scottsdale’s Museum of the West.
He has also served on the city’s Design Review Board, as chairman of the Parada Del Sol Rodeo and president of the Downtown Merchants Association.
Marion has been equally involved in the community and has worked with Scottsdale Jaycee’s auxiliary group and served on Scottsdale’s Human Services Commission and Housing Board.
She is also a former president of Scottsdale Foundation for the Handicapped and was a founding member of the Scottsdale Prevention Institute.
Still, the Saba family is best known for its western stores, whose advertisements have graced local newspapers since the 1940s.
Echoing tales of cowboys and dancing saloon girls in dusty towns, Saba’s colorful story is one of humble beginnings and consistently getting back in the saddle despite changes in the economy and business environment.
Lebanese immigrant David Saba Sr. opened the store on San Marcos Place in downtown Chandler in 1927.
Initially it was a department store before he decided to focus exclusively on Western-style merchandise.
Over the years, Saba’s expanded throughout the Valley, and today, shoppers can find Western merchandise at six other family-owned stores.
Saba’s still sells to old-time ranchers and is also a hit with a new generation of locals and tourists who like to buy boots for dancing or Halloween costumes or take home a taste of Western life to other cities.
Taking over the business in the early 1950s was an exciting challenge that David Jr. remembers fondly.
“That was the greatest experience I ever had, jumping into a retail business I knew nothing about,” he said. “We catered to all the farmers and the ranchers and the people that picked cotton by hand.”
Joan said her family had owned a junior department store in Portland, Oregon, so that gave her and her husband “an advantage” in knowing how to operate Saba’s.
They are a long way from the tough times in the Great Depression, when the late David Sr. made only $375 in sales in August 1931.
In 1954, David Jr. remembers, cotton pickers would come to the store after their pay day and spend $1 on work clothes.
“He said he never thought he could make it,” David Jr. said of his father. “It was a hard struggle to stay in business. He worked hard. He supported seven kids.”
He remembered how his father would buy a lamb for $3 from a local rancher every month to feed his family. Sometimes, David Sr. would trade with the rancher, giving him jeans in exchange for a lamb.
David Jr. and Joan attribute their store’s longevity to treating customers well and focusing on quality merchandise.
“Our success has been quality merchandise,” David Jr. said. “We give the best service in the world, and our merchandise is priced right.”