2329 Highway 77 (Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard), Panama City, FL - Albertsons Plaza
***Photos for this post are courtesy of Ian W.***
To kick off 2017, AFB will be featuring a former Albertsons store from a part of the state that has been severely neglected since the blog launched: The Panhandle (sorry about that, but the Panhandle has been a bit out of my way to get to). However, thanks to AFB contributor Ian W., this post became possible. The Panama City Albertsons was the store Ian grew up with and spent quite a bit of time shopping at, and he did an extensive amount of research on the history of this store, much of which I will be sharing with everyone today. Ian also painstakingly created the above rendering of this former Albertsons showing what it would have looked like when it was still open. He has many great memories from this store from his many years of shopping here, and through this post we would like to bring back those same memories from others who may have frequented this store as well.
To begin, let's take a trip back to December 1982 and work our way forward as I explain the history of former Albertsons #4355:
Construction on Albertsons #4355 began in the later part of 1982, at the busy intersection of State Route 77 and 23rd St. in Panama City. 23rd Street is a busy retail corridor located north of downtown Panama City, and home to a wide variety of stores and restaurants. The largest attraction on 23rd Street lies diagonally across the street from the site of the former Albertsons: The Panama City Mall, which first opened in 1976. At the same time Albertsons began construction on their new store, the Panama City Mall just finished adding on a new wing, something to create even more draw to the area. In the photo above, which came from the December 26, 1982 edition of the Panama City News Herald, you can see the construction progressing on the new Albertsons store. By this time, it looks like the shell was in place, and they were just beginning to place the steel roof beams, which you can see the construction crew unloading in the next photo:
Behind the crew unloading the roof beams, you can see what the front of the building looked like in late December 1982. The open spaces that are not covered with the concrete panels yet would become the home to some windows and the two sets of entrances.
Sometime in late June or early July 1983, the Panama City Albertsons was ready to go and opened for business. The above advertisement, which dates back to July 1983, is one of the earliest advertisements for this store, attempting to get customers to "make the change to Albertsons". In this ad you can also see some of the more interesting products that Albertsons once carried, products which set Albertsons apart from the other grocery chains at the time and made them so successful. The bottom of the ad features an entire section featuring Atari gaming systems and cartridges. What other grocery stores offered a video game section?!
The above ad also dates back to early July 1983, although this ad features grocery specials, where the previous ad focused on non-grocery and health and beauty specials. The above ads were just a few of the old Panama City Albertsons ads that Ian has dug up. If you'd like to see more ads from this store, you can check out this album Ian made on his flickr page here.
By 1993, grocery competition in Bay County continued to grow as Publix announced their first new store in the Panama City area. Publix had long stalled their westward expansion around Tallahassee, and the early 90's marked their next big push west (although it took Publix until 2008 to finally make it into Pensacola itself). In 1993, along with the soon-to-be-opening Publix, other grocery stores in Panama City included this Albertsons, a good number of Winn-Dixies, the now defunct Delchamps, the much scaled back and not in Florida anymore Food World, a new Walmart Supercenter, and some independents (including some Piggly Wiggly stores, Sunshine Foods, and Rainbow Foods - the latter two of which are long gone). The article snippet above describes Albertsons take on the growing competition in town (summed up in the phrase "let the chips fall where they may"), as well as the remodel the store underwent from its original 70's Stripes interior to Blue and Gray Market - the interior the store retained until the very end.
Going through some old photos, Ian found this one from a fish fry, where the photographer also caught a 1990's Albertsons "It's your store" era paper bag in a photo of some people sitting around a table. More than likely, this Albertsons bag found its way to this fish fry by way of the Panama City Albertsons.
The Panama City Albertsons kept fighting all the way until the break up of Albertsons in 2006, when the chips finally fell out from under them. During and after the initial break-up, especially among the stores acquired by Cerberus Capital Management, a good number of stores were sold or closed as Cerberus went on its mission of reducing store count and selling off real estate. It was announced in November 2006 that the Panama City Albertsons would be closing after 23 years in business, with the final day of operation being November 30, 2006. The above article was published on November 3, 2006 in the Panama City News Herald, and features a photo of the store as it entered its final days. If you click on the photo, you can zoom in and read the entire article (although there is an error in the article - the first Florida Albertsons opened in 1974, not 1972).
This next block of photos are photos that Ian requested from Panama City's WJHG NewsChannel 7 from their report about this store's closing in 2006. All of their photos were of the building's exterior, however we can get some glimpses of the inside from some of their closeup photos of the front windows:
This is the right side entrance. To the left of the doors you can see part of one of the Blue and Gray Market signs on the store's back wall.
Looking through the front windows, where you can also see an advertisement for Albertsons' old Preferred Card, which was discontinued in Florida in 2007 if I recall correctly. If you look closely, you can see the old Blue and Gray Market aisle signs as well.
The news station also took this closeup of the Albertsons A-leaf logo, which over the years had become home to a good number of wasp nests. I think this is a fitting photo to conclude our trip through the history of this store. Now, let's jump ahead to the present day and see what this store looks like now:
As of late 2016, this store was still sitting abandoned. After Albertsons closed in November 2006, the building did not sit completely empty for long. In mid-2007, a dd's Discount's store opened in the right half of the former Albertsons. Along with subdividing the building, dd's reconfigured Albertsons' old right side entryway and added that taller facade piece (I guess that works as a name for it) to the right side of the building for their sign. However, that dd's store didn't last long, as it closed for good in December 2008 after barely a year in operation. Since dd's closed, the entirety of this former Albertsons has been completely empty. After 8 years of abandonment, it looks like something may finally be happening here in the near future. Ian informed me not too long ago that Albertsons sold this property to the parent company of Lucky's Market in September of 2016, so I'd say it's a safe guess that this former Albertsons store will become home to a new Lucky's Market before too long. Lucky's Market is a "discount" organic-leaning grocer based out of Colorado that's rapidly expanding in Florida right now. In total, Lucky's Market has 24 stores located in 13 states (as of the time this post was published), with 8 of those stores being in Florida, and they want many more here in the coming years. Currently, Panama City does not have large chain organic specialty grocery, so Lucky's would be unique for this area. UPDATE 3/3/17: This building will be abandoned no longer - Bealls Outelt will be opening in the dd's space in March 2017 and it has been confirmed that the long abandoned left half of the building will become a Lucky's Market in Summer 2017.
Other than the few modifications dd's did to their side of the building, the rest of the building still remains as it was back when Albertsons was still here. Even a good chunk of Albertsons' window decals still remain on the building.
This store was a typical "Trapezoid" style Albertsons, the store model common in the mid-80's, with the distinctive angled entryways. Unlike many of these older Albertsons stores that received exterior upgrades and modifications in the late 90's and early 2000's, this store's exterior would remain virtually untouched for its entire 23 years in operation.
Let's begin by taking a closer look at the dd's side of the building, before moving on the the more interesting untouched parts of the building...
The original right side entrance into Albertsons would have been where the wall angled out. dd's moved the entrance to the front for their store, where a section of windows would have been. Some of the photos above from WJHG show the original entryway configuration of this side of the building.
Close-up of dd's reconfigured entrance.
Store closing messages still cover dd's now blanked out front windows. My guess is these messages were written with that window paint stuff back when dd's was closing in late 2008, and over the last 8 years faded away into this.
Looking across the front of the building. All of the windows and doors looking into the former dd's space were either blacked out or covered over, but I doubt anything much from Albertsons would have remained in there.
Turning around and looking in the other direction along the front walkway, away from the former Albertsons and toward the small strip center off to the right side of the building. We'll take a better look at this small strip center later in this post.
Now that we've seen the dd's portion of the building, let's move over to the long abandoned left portion of this former Albertsons store...
Both the left half of the store and the former liquor store have been sitting empty since Albertsons closed in 2006.
Looking back toward the former dd's space from the left side entrance into the former Albertsons.
A close-up of the left side entryway, complete with all of the store hour decals and other decals from when Albertsons was still here. If you look closely at the exit door, you can see the old "Thank you for shopping Albertsons" decal still on the door. Ready for a peek inside?
A few cobwebs got in the way of this photo, but here you can see the left side wall where the pharmacy and health and beauty aisles were once located. The ceiling and left side wall remain untouched from Albertsons, however the back wall and flooring were ripped out when dd's carved out their space from the rest of the building. But wait - what is that I see on the left wall behind that cobweb?...
In this photo, we can see one of the last scraps of this store's Blue and Gray Market decor on the left side wall. Along with the Blue and Gray texturing, you can also see the letters (or should I say, remaining letters) from the lone surviving department sign in here for the Beauty Care department (or _ea_ty Care department as the sign now says). Many times when these buildings get subdivided, it becomes hard to find traces of the past occupant as most of what remains gets gutted out, so this little bit of old decor was a good find!
Moving further away from the left side wall for a photo of what remains of the old sales floor.
And here you can see the wall that separates the abandoned portion of the old Albertsons with the abandoned dd's store.
Now that the main portion of the building has been covered, let's take a look around the abandoned liquor store. In these Trapezoid model stores, the liquor stores were carved out of portion of the main building rather than built out off to the side like the later models would have them.
More old Albertsons decaling remains on the doors into the former liquor store. I believe the "PUSH" lettering is original to when this store opened in 1983.
Taking a peek inside the old liquor store, home to a good amount of Blue and Gray Market decor remnants running along the top of the walls. You can see here where all of the coolers were ripped out of the back of the building.
The right side wall of the former liquor store. At some point, someone (probably a vandal) busted that hole in the wall to go between the liquor store and the abandoned portion of the main store.
Moving around to the side windows for a look at some more cobwebs, and also the space where the liquor store register was located off in the background.
This is the space where the liquor store registers were located. Also to note is some of that original, unaltered Albertsons wood paneling from when this store was first built, exposed after the liquor store was cleaned out. I've said this before, but Albertsons loved wood paneling in their stores. They used the stuff all the way into their 2000's era stores, although much more sparingly than they did in their 70's and 80's era stores.
One final parting shot of the liquor store, taken from the left side of the building. I think this photo does an especially good job at showing off the abandoned state of this store.
And finally, Ian provided us with a fairly extensive look around the back of this store as well, something we don't see too often on AFB. The above photo shows an emergency exit door on the dd's side of the building, which dates back to the Albertsons days.
Some electrical panels on the back right portion of the building.
Close-up of the receiving area. The trucks would back up to one of those chain link gates to unload, with the merchandise then brought into the building through a door in the background.
An overview of the back of the building, with the receiving area immediately to the left.
Some more emergency exit doors, which are connected by a raised walkway that leads to the receiving area.
And here's a look from up on that walkway back toward the receiving area.
An abandoned shopping cart full of garbage found its way back here too. This looks like a retired (or possibly stolen, or both) early 2000's Wal-Mart cart, although I don't see any logos on it to confirm its origins.
Taking the raised walkway all the way to the end, Ian got us this close up of the receiving doors. The trucks would be parked to the right of where Ian was standing, and directly in front of here is the door where the freight would be brought into the backroom of Albertsons.
And one last emergency exit in the back left of the building.
Returning to the front again for a quick look at the small strip of stores off to the right of the Albertsons. Chow Time Grill & Buffet is now the largest draw to this shopping center with the anchor space empty, although some other smaller stores still remain in the plaza. I'm sure these other stores will be happy to see Lucky's move in after the old Albertsons has sat empty for so long.
One other unusual thing about this Albertsons, which you may have seen already, is that this store and the adjoining strip plaza has a parking lot made entirely of poured concrete. It's not too often that you see a large retail center with a poured concrete parking lot, as this is an extremely expensive alternative to asphalt. Albertsons must have gotten themselves a good deal on concrete here! After 36 years in place and a good number of those with little care, the concrete parking lot is beginning to crack quite a bit. However, I've been told a concrete parking lot can last with virtually zero maintenance for 50 years, so I guess it still has some life in it.
Another photo of the large, empty concrete parking lot.
At the edge of the empty parking lot you can see the Route 77 road sign. You can also see the Panama City Target store in the background as well.
Close up of the Route 77 road sign, which someone must have thrown a rock at after a bad experience at Chow Time (that's my theory anyway). The blanked out half of the sign on top was for dd's, although that entire top sign was once for Albertsons.
Ian also provided us with this recreation of what this sign would have looked like when Albertsons was still here.
And here's a look at the 23rd St. entrance into the Albertsons.
The 23rd St. road sign, which looks like a slight variation of the typical Albertsons road sign.
And Ian's recreation of this sign from when Albertsons was still here.
Now it's time for some Bird's Eye aerial images courtesy of Bing Maps:
Front - These images must have been taken in 2008, as they show dd's still open.
And now for some historic aerial images, courtesy of Google Earth:
Former Albertsons #4355 - 2012
Former Albertsons #4355 - 2007 - This image was taken after Albertsons closed, but before dd's moved into the right side of the building.
Albertsons #4355 - 2002
Albertsons #4355 - 1994 - I don't know why that random line is there either.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, this former Albertsons is located at a busy corner which is also home to the Panama City Mall, a Target, Home Depot, and a good number of other stores. With all of that development this corner has seen over the years, the southwest corner of State Route 77 and 23rd Street had long been a mostly wooded site that spent many years as the home of an auto junkyard. In 2015, the owners of that property sold out to a real estate developer who announced he would build a new shopping center at the site called Bay City Point, and would specifically attract retail and restaurant tenants who do not already have a presence in Panama City or Bay County to his new shopping center. According to the developer, he has lease agreements with a number of retailers and restaurant chains, however he has not disclosed the names of the occupants yet. The new shopping center will be built in two phases, with the first phase expected to begin construction in Spring 2017 on some outparcel spaces, with phase two (the main shopping center itself) to come after. The project was originally planned to be built all at once until two of the planned anchor tenants decided to build elsewhere in Panama City. I think one of those two stores that changed their mind was Lucky's Market, as the developer was very adamant about attracting an organic grocer to the site. Lucky's would have been the easiest organic grocer for the developer to attract to Panama City since they aren't as picky about sites as other organic chains are (but that part about Lucky's is just my speculation). In the end, Bay City Point will definitely give this intersection yet another boost, as well as the city as a whole after many years of losing major retail developments to next-door Panama City Beach. To read more about the Bay City Point project, the Panama City News Herald has a good article you can read here.
So after 10 years of abandonment, it looks like this former Albertsons will eventually find new life as a Lucky's Market. Lucky's Market has taken over portions of two former Florida Albertsons stores so far, store #4438 in East Orlando and store #4497 in Tallahassee. However, before Ian discovered that Lucky's had purchased this building, he wanted to present this alternative redevelopment plan for this former Albertsons:
This is "Safeway #4355", Ian's theoretical rendering of what this store may have looked like had it been converted into a Safeway store. The coloration and signage was based off of what was given to the three existing Safeway Florida stores. It would have been interesting to see Albertsons bring some of their abandoned Florida locations back to life as Safeways, but slowly those few abandoned locations still floating around out there are being picked up by Publix, Walmart Neighborhood Market, and the organic chains. However, there are still a few abandoned Albertsons stores out there, so who knows what may eventually happen?
Anyway, thanks again Ian for the photos, the recreations, and the extensive amount of research you did on this store! I have some more photos from Ian coming in the future as well, however if you want to see more from him, he recently launched his own flickr photostream which you can take a look at here, featuring photos of other stores from Northwest Florida.
So I hope you all found this to be a good way to start off 2017 on AFB. Coming up next time is a bonus store which I've heard some people online expressing interest in seeing (and it was a store which I was very curious to see as well), so you have that to look forward to in two weeks!
That's all I have for now. Until the next time,
The Albertsons Florida Blogger