Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Summer Break

     Yes, it's that time of year when AFB takes his summer break. While posting on AFB won't resume until August, this year I'm going to do something different. With the launch of AFB's new sister blog My Florida Retail, I was able to get some posts over there ready to launch throughout the summer for everyone's enjoyment. While I'm away from blogging here, you can still enjoy my summer series on My Florida Retail about the remodels of a Publix and Winn-Dixie across the street from each other in New Smyrna Beach. The first post in that series, about the original NSB mainland Publix, launched today. Click here to check that out! The remaining posts in this series will go live on June 30, July 14, July 31, and August 14. There will also be a special AFB post related to this series that will go live on August 25, with blogging on AFB hopefully resuming on August 11. However, those August dates may be subject to change a little as I fine tune my posting schedule come my return, but those other dates are pretty much set in stone barring any weird technological bugs that could arise.

    With that being said, I hope everyone enjoys their summer! If you want to hop on over to My Florida Retail to read some new content or catch up on old posts, please click here. In addition to my summer series, My Florida Retail's other 4 contributors may post some of their own content during the summer months, so there's always that to check out too. There's always plenty to see on My Florida Retail, as well as right here on AFB!

Happy summer, and until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger

Sunday, June 2, 2019

I Saved, They Saved, But We Couldn't Save U-Save

U-Save Supermarket #30
330 South Parrott Avenue, Okeechobee, FL

     While many big names in the Florida supermarket scene have crashed and burned throughout the years in the rise of Publix, including Kroger, A&P, Kash n' Karry, and our old pal Albertsons, in addition to many others, today's post is going to feature one of the more obscure Florida-based supermarket chains that existed - U-Save. U-Save isn't a supermarket chain you hear about much in regard to supermarkets that operated in Florida, and they weren't a small operation either. U-Save once had around 30 stores at the company's peak, their stores primarily clustered around Tampa, Fort Myers, and the small rural towns of South Central Florida. Even U-Save's demise was quietly swept under the rug, with the chain slowly disappearing as 2011 came to a close with very little reported about it. In today's post I will try to shed some light on Florida's most forgotten supermarket chain, while we take a quick peek at one of this company's former stores in the small town of Okeechobee, FL.

     The U-Save supermarket chain had its beginning in a small store called B&B Cash Grocery, opened in 1923 by Charles Bever and his wife Charlotte in Avon Park, FL. Seeing the success of the first store, Mr. and Mrs. Bever began to open additional B&B grocery stores in neighboring small towns throughout rural south central Florida, eventually going for the big time with an expansion into Fort Myers by the 1940s. As a way to keep the company afloat through the Depression years of the 1930s, the Bevers began to emphasize low prices as their company's key to success. By the 1960s, with Charles and Charlotte's son now running the company, he wanted a way to differentiate his stores as grocery competition began to increase in Florida. Deciding to fully embody the "Everyday Low Price" concept spearheaded by his parents, the Bever's son decided to change the name of B&B Cash Grocery to U-Save. The change to the name U-Save brought about the opening of larger stores that offered more modern amenities like in-store bakeries and a larger offering of perishable products. The Bever's son also saw some opportunities in owning commercial real estate, leading to the opening of many U-Save stores in shopping centers wholly owned by the Bever Family. To this day the Bever Family's real estate business is still in operation, with Charles and Charlotte's great-grandson overseeing the 24 commercial properties the family still owns, as well as a chain of 20 convenience stores called Handy Food Stores located in Southwestern Florida.

     While U-Save had a decent cluster of stores in the heavily populated cities of Tampa and Fort Myers in the company's later years, one of the chain's keys to success was operating large, modern stores in the small towns of rural South Central Florida where there weren't many options for grocery shopping. In the small town of Moore Haven in Glades County, U-Save was the town's only grocery store. U-Save's low price formula worked very well in these small farming towns where income levels weren't very high. However, entering the 2000's, we began to see the rise of the discount grocery chains in Florida. In many of the small towns where U-Save was operating, stores like Save-A-Lot and Walmart Supercenter began to open up, and later on Aldi eventually joined the game. These stores began to put more pressure on U-Save, and probably weren't helping them any. In 2010, the Bever Family got out of the grocery business when they sold the handful of remaining U-Save stores to a man named Oqab Abuoqab. Mr. Abuoqab operated a number of low-budget Bravo branded stores in South and Southwestern Florida, and at the time of the sale didn't have the greatest reputation either due to his shady business tactics and his numerous failed companies. In acquiring the U-Save stores, Mr. Abuoqab used a leveraged buyout method to finance his sale of the stores with a low down payment. As we could probably expect, Mr. Abuoqab ran U-Save into the ground, doing so in only a year. By October 2011, the remaining U-Save stores were closing left and right after store conditions were allowed to deteriorate post-sale, bills were going unpaid, and debt was left to accumulate. In U-Save's last year in business, the stores were allowed to fall apart with no repairs being made, and shelves were lightly stocked and mostly barren of product. Most of these closures occurred with very little notice, with employees not even knowing the store was to close until arriving the next morning to find the doors locked. In the end U-Save slipped into oblivion rather quietly as 2011 came to an end, with an investigation by the Florida Department of Labor into wage and overtime violations marking U-Save's sad and unfortunate end.

     The Okeechobee U-Save's story doesn't have much of a happier ending either compared to the other U-Save stores that survived until the end in 2011. This U-Save store opened in 1965 as the Bever Family began to expand their new low-price grocery chain throughout Florida. This store could have very well replaced and old B&B Cash Grocery elsewhere in town, but I cannot find any record of that at the moment. The store did receive updating throughout the years, with what you'll be seeing in these photos being the product of a remodel in 1997. Interestingly, even though Okeechobee is only a town of about 6,000 residents, this town had two U-Save stores for a good number of years to serve its residents. About a mile and a half south of here was another U-Save store located next to the town's Kmart. That second U-Save store dated back to the late 1970's I believe, and remained in operation until the late 1990's. Anyway, while that second U-Save store came and went, this U-Save store closer to the center of town lasted until all the craziness that eventually brought the chain to an end in 2011. The Okeechobee U-Save was one of the last U-Save stores to close, with the Okeechobee County Tax Collector shutting this store down on December 19, 2011 due to $15,000 in back taxes owed from the year prior. Due to the back taxes, Okeechobee County seized all of the tangible assets of this store, including all the groceries remaining on the shelves at the time of seizure. Due to the rather forced nature of this store's closure, all of the store's signs were left up on the exterior and interior of the building for quite a few years after closing. This building actually sat vacant for 5 years after U-Save was forced out, with an Aldi opening in this building in late 2016. (Keeping that in mind, you'll also be able to figure out just how long I've been holding onto this photoset for too!)

     So now that we know what U-Save was, we can take a closer look at this former Okeechobee location in more detail. Stepping onto the front walkway, here's a look toward the left side of the building and what appears to be an old cart storage area. Those windows running near the top of the wall look into the store's old bakery department.

     Turning the opposite direction, here's a look toward this store's main entrance.

     Welcome to your hometown U-Save Supermarket - where you won't find much in store anymore! The U-Save logo you see on this sign was U-Save last logo, used from the early 2000's until the chain's demise in 2011. The newer logo did make it onto some storefronts too, like this one at the U-Save in Clewiston. The logo on the front of this building was the older logo, although I don't know just how far back that logo goes.

     Peeking through the entry doors, we spot the old produce department and some scars from the old checkstands. The produce department signage looks a bit homemade, over what looks to be a small alcove that once housed that department.

     Looking through the front windows, here's a better view into the main sales floor. This looks much more like 90's decor here, seeing those pastel colored signs on a pastel painted wall. It looks like the meat counter was located straight ahead, with meat cases extending along the back wall to the left of that.

     Moving further left along the sales floor, we see more of the meat department and some grocery aisle scars. Also on the wall are some faded pictures of what I presume were meats complimenting the wall signage too.

     Moving over to the right side entrance, here's a peek through the vestibule. In the background we can see part of where the bakery department was, as well as frozen foods.

     Even though U-Save went out in a rather quiet, dismal way, it was quite impressive that this store lasted for 46 years in this location. Albertsons as a whole didn't even last that long in Florida! From what I've read in the few articles published about the closure of the U-Save stores, these small town locations were quite well liked by locals due to the low prices and additional options that U-Save provided to these small towns. Unlike some other small towns in Florida's Heartland, Okeechobee has a rather extensive grocery lineup. Okeechobee is one of very few towns out this way to have a Publix, in addition to Winn-Dixie, Walmart Supercenter, Bravo, and now Aldi (which took the place of this U-Save). While Aldi completely gutted the inside of this building prior to moving in, if you click on that previous link, you'll see they left most of U-Save's exterior in-tact.

     To finish out this post on the history of U-Save, it turns out I had one additional photo of a U-Save store hidden away in my photo albums. This U-Save is the former location in LaBelle, FL, a small town in Hendry County not far from Fort Myers. This photo depicts the store in December 2011, about two months after its closure. I took this picture out a car window passing through town on the way to Fort Myers for a day trip, long before I knew I was starting this blog. I guess I had good foresight on some things back then, but if only I thought to photograph an Albertsons or two back in 2011 also! I think I took this photo because this place looked abandoned as we were passing by. It was either for that reason or because I had no clue what U-Save was, or maybe both! This building was repurposed not long after U-Save closed into a Dollar General Market, who also left the exterior mostly in-tact after a rather thorough interior remodeling.

     So hopefully with this post, U-Save won't seem as obscure or forgotten as it once was. There really wasn't much information on this chain out there, so this post should serve as a nice completion of the chain's forgotten history. Even though the U-Save stores are gone, like I said earlier in this post, U-Save's parent company still lives on as a real estate holding company called B&B Corporate Holdings. In addition to that, B&B Corporate Holdings also owns the Handy convenience store chain, B&B's only division that is still involved in retail sales.

     I hope everyone enjoyed this look into yet another defunct Florida supermarket chain. I still have plenty of other chains to write about that gave Florida a try and failed, so there is more to come in the future. However, for now, until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Former Albertsons #4444 - Deltona, FL

Albertsons #4444 / Publix #1330
2100 Saxon Boulevard, Deltona, FL - Saxon Crossings

     Yes, for today's post we once again meet our dear friend the Publixsons. With over 60 former Albertsons stores becoming a Publix at some point in time over the last few decades, Publix stores are the most common reuse for an old Albertsons building here in Florida. While many Publixsons stores have been wiped away in favor of a cookie-cutter modern Publix building, there are still plenty of these repurposed Albertsons stores floating around out there for us to enjoy, and for me to document. Trust me, photographing these old Albertsons buildings is much more fun than photographing yet another plain modern Publix, as those all look the same. At least with the Publixsons, I get a little variety in my Publix!

     Anyway, all that aside, today's post takes us to inland Volusia County. Here we find the town of Deltona, the largest city in Voluisa County by population. Deltona is a sleepy, mostly residential community popular with folks who want to live close to Orlando, but don't want to deal with all of the crowds and congestion present in the city and its immediate suburbs. While Deltona isn't nearly as exciting of a place as Volusia County's most famous destination - Daytona Beach - this town was home to the only Albertsons store to operate in the inland part of the county. We'll be taking a stroll through the Deltona Albertsons store today, a very well preserved example of one of Albertsons' mid-90's built stores.

     While this Albertsons opened in 1996, the history of this site goes back a few years prior to that. Originally, this empty lot at the southeastern corner of Saxon Boulevard at its interchange with I-4 was to become home to a Gooding's. Gooding's was looking to build up a small cluster of stores here in inland Volusia County in the mid 90's. At the time, Western Volusia County already had one Gooding's store, located in the West Volusia Regional Shopping Center in Southern DeLand. That store opened in 1989, marking Gooding's entrance to the inland part of the county (but not the entire county, as Gooding's had a store in Daytona Beach that closed in 1991). As the 90's wore on, Gooding's felt that western Volusia County would be a good market for expansion. With more and more people moving to the DeLand/DeBary/Deltona areas to get out of the hustle and bustle of Orlando, it seemed like a good move. In 1994, Gooding's announced the opening of two new stores in West Volusia: a store in North DeLand (located near the Stetson University campus in an old Publix) and a store in Deltona, to be built at the site we'll be touring today. While the opening of the North DeLand store went as planned, that store opening in late 1994, something turned sour here in Deltona. While Gooding's acquired this property in 1994, a Gooding's would not be built here. On December 21, 1995, ownership of this property in Deltona changed from Gooding's to Albertsons, who would ultimately be the grocer to build a store here. Not long after Gooding's sold this planned store site to Albertsons, the two DeLand Gooding's stores would end up closing for good in 1997. My guess would be the new Deltona Gooding's never got off the ground due to poor performance at the two nearby stores in DeLand, especially the new store at the north end of town that barely lasted three years.

     With Gooding's out of the picture, Albertsons was free to begin construction on their new Deltona store. The Deltona Albertsons would open by the end of 1996, Albertsons getting their plans moving along much faster than Gooding's was able to. Albertsons had themselves a good 12 year run in Deltona, at which point this store was chosen to be one of the 49 Florida Albertsons locations sold off to Publix in 2008. With the sale of this store to Publix, Albertsons had also left Volusia County for good (as the other two Volusia County Albertsons stores in Daytona Beach and Port Orange were converted to Super Savers in 2005, and shut down 2006 during the breakup of Albertsons). To this day Publix still operates out of this building, the building hardly touched from the days of Albertsons (minus some new decor, of course).

     Going up to the front walkway, here's a look toward the store's entrance as seen from underneath the grand archway, the old cart corral in front of me too. The circular lights above me are an original Albertsons trait.

     Where I was standing to take this photo was in Albertsons' old cart storage area, a distinctive trait of these mid-90's built stores. Publix modified this store's entryway prior to opening here, which moved the carts into the vestibule (as is typical for Publix). Albertsons' old cart storage on the exterior became an extended walkway, although the kiddie carts do find their home over here when not in use.

     The old swinging doors were replaced by these sliding ones prior to Publix moving in, a common modification to these old Albertsons stores after being acquired by Publix.

     Publix also added the vestibule you see here, including the second set of doors. When Albertsons was here, you would have walked through the set of swinging doors right into the main store.

     The rightmost portion of the vestibule is home to Publix's carts, replacing the exterior cart corral that Albertsons used to use.

     Anyway, all that aside, let's continue into the main store where the interesting part really begins here...

     Immediately to the left of the main entrance is the Floral department, located in a small alcove between the entrance and the bakery.

     Stepping back a bit further, here's an entire overview of all those places I just mentioned. Floral is in the background of this image, with the bakery to my right. While the bakery is located in the same place Albertsons had it, the curved ceiling was added by Publix in this store's last remodel, which appears to have happened sometime around 2011/2012-ish. Originally, the ceiling would have jutted out in more of a squared-off, angular fashion.

     Here's a better look into the bakery, which is quite spacious. Considering how large these old Albertsons stores are compared to the normal Publix, Publix sometimes doesn't know what to do with all of the extra space they inherited.

     Moving on from the bakery, the produce department takes up the majority of the left side of the building, the deli following in the background.

     Classy Market 2.5 is the decor package gracing this store as of early 2019. Even though this decor package only made its debut around 2011, Publix is already working on making this decor extinct. I'm sure it won't be long until this store gets its next remodel...

     The produce department at this Publix felt very large to me (even if the selection was about the same as most other Publix stores). At most Publix stores, produce is usually crammed into one of the back corners (depending on when the store was built), and the department feels small crammed into a corner. The old Albertsons layout provided this store with a much more spacious feel to the produce department.

     As we work our way through produce, the deli department in the back left corner gets nearer...

     Unlike the bakery, Publix didn't change much from the old Albertsons design of the deli outside of some new paint, signage, and tile backsplash.

     From underneath the deli overhang, here's a look across the back of this store.

     Dairy is the first department we find along the back wall leaving the deli. Beyond the dairy department are the meat and seafood departments, which we'll take a look at later in this post.

     A very large and festive international foods aisle is the first grocery aisle we find ourselves going down...

     Before heading any deeper into the grocery aisles, here's a look across the front end. The in-store pharmacy counter is peeking out in the background of this photo.

     One thing you have to give Publix a lot of credit for is that they keep their stores clean, neat, and spotless. Just about everything in this grocery aisle looks perfect.

     In the center of the store we find frozen foods, which take up aisles 8 and 9. The above photo shows aisle 8, while the next one shows aisle 9.

     Even though we've left frozen foods behind us, aisle 10 contains one last aisle of cold products. In this aisle we find the selection of beer, lunch meats, and cheeses. While most grocery stores (at least around here) tend to put the lunch meats and cheeses along the perimeter, Albertsons always put those items in a center aisle during the mid-90's.

     As we make our way toward the right side of the store, the red wall indicates we're entering the meat department. Originally these walls would have contained Albertsons Blue and Gray Market decor, which this store would have had for its entire run as Albertsons. Even to this day, some Publixsons (like this one in Clearwater) still have remnants of Albertsons' old decor on the walls. It's kind of strange to see that level of cheapness coming from Publix (even after a remodel or two). This store probably had the Blue and Gray remnants when it first opened as a Publix too, but the remodel to Classy Market 2.5 wiped all of that away here. It would have been hard to hang all of the wooden plaques (like the ones in the above photo) that came with Classy Market 2.5 had all those Albertsons remnants still been on the walls.

     Anyway, as we work our way further to the right side of the store, here are some photos of a few more grocery aisles. After the snack aisle pictured above, this side of the store begins to transition into non-food products. Those non-food products include pet care, paper products, cleaning supplies, general merchandise, and health and beauty.

     Entering the back right corner of the store, we find the service counter for the meat department.

     Well, I guess "meat window" is the better term to use here than "service counter". Usually there's a butcher standing behind this window, who customers usually try to wave down if they need assistance with the meats.

     Immediately next to the meat window is the full service seafood counter. When Albertsons was here, this would have been a combined meat and seafood counter.

     Standing under the awning by the seafood counter, here's a look back toward the meat window.

     Turning around from the seafood counter we find this store's second to last aisle, aisle 16. In this aisle we find the greeting cards and baby supplies.

     Aisle 16 brings us to the pharmacy counter, located in the front right corner of the store. In front of the pharmacy counter are a few short aisles of Health and Beauty products, including most of the vitamins, supplements, and over-the-counter medicines. The remainder of the health and beauty products are located in this store's last grocery aisle, aisle 17, which is kind of interesting...

     Pictured here is aisle 17. I say this aisle is interesting because it's located in a weird little alcove between the pharmacy and the seafood counter, under a much lower ceiling than the rest of the store. Aisle 17 looks mostly normal in these photos, but in person the weird placement in the little alcove is much more striking. I don't know what purpose this alcove served in the Albertsons days, or if this was some kind of addition Publix made into extra backroom space they didn't need.

     To demonstrate the lower ceilings in this part of the store, the aisle marker is practically touching the ceiling tiles. If they hung this any lower people would be hitting their heads on this all the time.

     Here's the entrance into aisle 17, as seen from the edge of the seafood counter.

     Popping back up front again for a few more photos of the pharmacy counter. Like the bakery, Publix modified the pharmacy to fit their liking. The curved counter and glass tile is a Publix thing, and not something left from Albertsons.

     Next to the pharmacy is a small corridor containing the restrooms and store offices.

     Here's a look across the front end, as seen from the pharmacy side of the store. I was honestly surprised at how quiet this Publix was during this particular visit, my second to this store. It was a weekday afternoon, but I've oftentimes had to fight some decent crowds while photographing a Publix, even at 10am on a Thursday morning. It was nice for a change to find a quiet Publix. My first visit to this store found this place to be really busy, so I think I just caught this place at an off hour the second time around, which was a nice surprise for a change!

     Yet another look across the front end can be seen in the above photo, this time from the opposite side of the store.

     In this store, the customer service desk is still located in front of the registers where Albertsons would have had it. In Publix's latest remodels, the service desk is usually moved away from the front wall in favor of an island near the front entrance.

     And I can't leave this store without a photo of the Publix photo collage, one of the most interesting parts of the Classy Market 2.0 and 2.5 decor packages. My local Albertsons had a few photographs depicting scenes from older Albertsons stores near the front entrance, but I don't know how common it was to see those at other Albertsons stores.

     Heading back outside, the color of the facade magically changes! Yes, this post combined two sets of photos I had of this store, photos taken in 2015 and 2019. Besides a repaint to this store's exterior sometime in that time span, nothing else has been done here to change the appearance, not even an interior remodel. The above photo is one of my 2015 photos, showing the old paint scheme. From this looks of it, this may have very well been the same paint scheme left over from Albertsons, as it looks like their colors here.

     Moving over to the left side of the building we find the attached liquor store.

     As of earlier this year, 11 years after Publix assumed ownership of this store, the old Albertsons entrance and exit decals remain on the front doors of the liquor store.

     Anyway, with our tour out of the way, it's time to take a look at some aerial imagery of this site. As usual, we'll begin with some Bird's Eye aerial images courtesy of Bing Maps:


Right Side


Left Side

      And now for some historic aerial images, courtesy of Google Earth:

Former Albertsons #4444 - 2019

Albertsons #4444 - 2008

Albertsons #4444 - 1999

Future Albertsons #4444 - 1994

     Even though Publix has made themselves right at home in this former Albertsons store in Deltona, this place still contains much of that classic Albertsons feel even to this day. Now we can only hope Publix doesn't get themselves too comfortable at this site, as Publix is known for ripping down a perfectly good Albertsons building in favor of a building of their own! Hopefully that won't be the case here for a long time to come, as this was a very nice Publix all around.

     To finish off this post, here's a somewhat odd but still very discernible photo of Albertsons #4444 back when it was open. AFB contributor YonWooRetail2 dug up the above photo from an online newspaper archive, showing part of the storefront (partially cut off) in the background of this photo from October 2001. An employee of this store opened a package containing a mysterious white powder, triggering the evacuation of the store pictured above. Being the height of the anthrax scare days, a large police and hazmat presence was sent out to this store, shutting it down until results of what the white powder was came back from the lab. In the end the powder found here turned out to be harmless, however, it seems like Florida's Albertsons stores never got a break from craziness. Even with mysterious powder-containing packages showing up, bomb throwing, and also a mysterious fire, Albertsons did put up a good fight in Florida though, even if they couldn't win the treacherous battle against King Publix in the end.

Anyway, that's all I have for now. So until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger