Gooding's of Lake Buena Vista - aka "The Last Gooding's"
12521 State Route 535, Lake Buena Vista, FL - The Crossroads at Lake Buena Vista
Jim Gooding spent most of his life in a grocery store. It all began when Jim was a child in the 1920's, when he first started helping at his father's small grocery store in Urichsville, Ohio. As Jim got older, he eventually took control of his father's small Ohio grocery store, which he then turned into the first modern supermarket in Southeastern Ohio. While Jim and his family found huge success with their Ohio supermarket, the Gooding family decided Ohio wasn't the right place for them. With that, they decided to relocate to Inverness, Florida in 1960. After moving to Inverness, Jim took control of a small cluster of IGA stores in the area. However, a year later in 1961, the family decided to relocate yet again to a small town located on the northern fringes of Orlando, a town called Maitland, where Jim decided he would build his own state-of-the-art grocery store in the very neighborhood the family decided to call home. On October 28, 1964, the first Gooding's Supermarket opened at 155 S. Orlando Avenue in Maitland, featuring the first in-store deli and bakery in the Orlando area. Beginning with that store, Gooding's developed their reputation as a high quality, upscale grocery chain that was constantly compared to (and in many cases, deemed better than) Lakeland's very own Publix. Over the coming decades, Gooding's reputation for excellent customer service, high quality products, and their renowned fresh departments grew the chain to just shy of 20 locations in Orange, Seminole, Osceola, Brevard, and Volusia Counties at their peak. While Gooding's did build some of their stores from scratch, much of their growth came from taking over grocery spaces left behind by others. Gooding's biggest expansion came in 1988, when they took over 7 former Florida Choice locations left behind by Kroger when they pulled out of Florida that year. It wasn't long after that though when Gooding's began to show its first signs of falter, especially with many of their ill-fated expansion attempts outside of the Orlando metro area (including a store as far north as Ocala at one time). Gooding's closed its Daytona Beach store in the early 1990's, the remaining Volusia County locations closing later that decade. In 1996, Gooding's announced they were pulling out of Brevard County, with their 4 Brevard locations closing in December of that year. In 1999, Gooding's closed their Apopka store. However, one of the biggest hits that Gooding's took happened in 2000, when they sold 9 of their remaining 12 locations centered around Orlando to Winn-Dixie. Along with the grocery stores, the Gooding family also had a very successful catering business in which they were involved. According to the family, the sale of those 9 stores to Winn-Dixie was so they could focus more on their successful catering venture. The three grocery stores the family kept were all located in Orlando's tourist corridor - the International Drive store, the Lake Buena Vista store, and a store in downtown Celebration that would eventually relocate to the destined-for-failure Water Tower Place location at US 192 and Celebration Boulevard. That store would end up being the last new Gooding's to open. Of those three remaining Gooding's stores, the first to go was that troubled Celebration store in 2005 after years of problems involving the construction of that store and unkept promises by the landlord. The Gooding's on International Drive went next sometime around 2008 or 2009. In 2010, the last Gooding's in Lake Buena Vista was also set to close when it was announced that Gooding's owed more than $200,000 in back rent to their landlord, and the landlord began the eviction process. Gooding's filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy during all of that, and somehow they either found that $200,000 they owed or reached some sort of agreement, as the last Gooding's still survives to this day.
Honestly, to most Central Floridians, Gooding's died in 2000 when they sold off most of their stores to Winn-Dixie. The ill-fated Celebration store was the last Gooding's that upheld Gooding's reputation as a world-class, upscale market dedicated to friendly service and quality products. After that, Gooding's evolved into "Tourist Mart" - essentially a somewhat dumpy, overpriced store selling souvenirs and basic groceries, yet still maintaining a small full service bakery and deli. However, if you read the reviews of this place online, people make it seem like Gooding's is an absolute dump that will charge "$8 for a box of Cheerios". Most of the items in the store are marked up to tourist district levels, but I didn't see anything that ridiculous! What I did see here was the sad shell of a once classy supermarket left to rot away after all care had left. The interior of the building is a bit rough around the edges and clearly hasn't been updated much since first opening, but I've seen worse.
As for the history of this particular Gooding's store, this building was built by Gooding's in 1988 as a part of the Crossroads at Lake Buena Vista shopping center. This Gooding's is the closest grocery store to Disney property, which lies directly across the street. The exit road from this plaza connects into one of the main roads into Disney Springs (formerly known as Downtown Disney), EPCOT, and a few of the Disney run resorts. Other than the Gooding's, The Crossroads plaza is mostly home to a large number of chain restaurants such as TGI Fridays, Sweet Tomatoes, Red Lobster, Uno Chicago Grill, Buffalo Wild Wings, and many, many others. I think the only other non-restaurant offerings in this complex other than Gooding's were a Foot Locker and a Sony retail store. The high concentration of restaurants around here cater to the numerous tourists staying at the multitude of resorts and hotels surrounding this complex who probably don't want to cook while on vacation. The Gooding's mainly serves as a place for tourists to pick up beverages and snacks while on vacation, as well as offering a small selection of products for those who do want to cook while on vacation.
Like I said before, once we go inside you will be able to tell this was a very nice store at one time. However, I don't think much has been invested as far as upkeep goes on this place since around 1988, so some things are looking a bit tattered and dated now. While this wasn't the dumpiest store I've been to, I would say that the Winn-Dixie up the street is nicer. Anyway, if you were a longtime Gooding's shopper trying to remember how they once were back in the 80's and 90's, this place hardly reflects the good old days of Gooding's outside of the fact that much of the interior is still stuck in the 80's. I'm not sure how much involvement the Gooding family still has with this store either, but my guess is very little involvement, or they just don't care about their last store anymore.
Lining the walkway in front of the store were these glass display cases, featuring advertisements and other knickknacks from local attractions if I remember correctly.
Just past those benches is the main entrance into the store, and beyond that you can see the front windows for the Gooding's liquor store. Let's get this post going and head inside to see just what the last Gooding's is all about:
Going in the entrance and turning to the right you are greeted by various displays of sale merchandise plastered with handwritten signs, with a somewhat ornate display case for prepared foods in the background. You definitely get some mixed vibes in this place.
Looking further to the right from the previous photo, we can see some more cases of prepared foods and deli platters. Here you can see more remnants from this store's days as a classy grocery store, including the reprints of classic European wine advertisements and the fancy hanging lamps.
Beyond those bins cluttering up the aisle, you can see the deli counter in the front right corner of the store (where that hanging Boar's Head sign is located). From what I understand, the deli here actually does decent business. Gooding's was once known for their deli and bakery departments before they evolved into that they are now, but I couldn't say if the quality of the deli and bakery today is still the same from the old days of Gooding's. I will say the cakes and pies looked pretty good though.
Now for a closer look at that ornate prepared foods/deli display island. With the ornate wood carving rail on the ceiling and the replica Model T(?) Boar's Head car, along with some of the other old decorations and accents left in this part of the store, you can easily tell this was once supposed to be a gourmet marketplace at one time.
From this angle you can see the deli counter in the background.
Here's an overview of the entire deli/bakery area, taken from the bakery space. Like I said before, the bakery looked pretty decent for a store that has tumbled so far downhill, and the prices didn't seem too shocking in this department.
Moving further up the right side wall from the bakery/deli we enter the dairy and meat department. Dairy was located in that case to my left, with meats located in that coffin cooler in the center of the aisle, as well as in another cooler bumped up against the right side wall (slightly blocked in this picture by the center aisle displays). Some overflow from dairy was located along the right side wall as well.
In the back right corner of the store is "The Candy Store", home to a multitude of prepackaged and bulk candies. The Candy Store is also one of the only departments in the entire store with a sign. I'm 99% sure The Candy Store isn't original to this store, and was probably added later as a part of the "touristification" of Gooding's to generate some extra sales due to the large number of families with children that shop here while visiting Disney. I don't know what this area originally was, but this store did have a pharmacy at one time that is no longer present (even though they still have an exterior sign for it), but there are a few other places where that pharmacy could have been.
Looking back toward the meat and dairy aisle from "The Candy Store".
Produce is located in the center back portion of the store in an alcove.
Looking down the main back aisle, with the produce alcove off to the right.
While the fresh departments along the right side of the store looked old but somewhat up-kept maintenance wise, as we move into the grocery aisles we begin to see worse deterioration and lack of care. Just look at the floor and the ceiling here in aisle 1. The carpeting in this store has seen much better days.
One thing you'll find is a near consensus in the reviews of the last Gooding's is that the prices are high. While the prices here are higher on most items than you'd see at Publix or Winn-Dixie, some of the reviews of this place are a bit extreme (like the one review with that $8 box of Cheerios, which I looked for and couldn't find - the Cheerios hovered around $5/box from what I saw here). AFB isn't a place for price comparison shopping, but this is such a huge issue with the last Gooding's I figure I should bring it up. The worst pricing offence I saw here was with these 24 packs of water - $6 for the spring water and $4 for purified. That's practically double what every other grocery store sells a similar case of each respective type of water for. Essentially, what you should get from this is yes, the reviews are accurate in the fact that the prices here are slightly higher than average in most cases, sometimes more so than others depending on the product. It's the Tourist Land markup. Anyway, let's move on from this and go back to focusing on the store itself:
Moving along from aisle 1, which was essentially an aisle dedicated to every type of water imaginable, to aisle 2, home of the breakfast foods. All of the main grocery aisles here have lighted shelving, as you can see here in this photo.
Leaving aisle 2 for a look across the front of the store. The registers are buried behind those water toys to the left.
More from the front end, this time moving further into the left side of the store.
Aisle 5, home to the condiments and baking supplies. I don't really know how many people actually bake while on vacation though.
Frozen foods are located in the center of the store, in this somewhat dark aisle with raised ceilings and dim lighting. The cases all look like they are original to when this store opened in 1988.
More of the frozen foods aisle. While I wouldn't say this store was busy during my visit, the few people in here were mostly lingering around this aisle (it took a while for me to get these two people free shots of this aisle). The only other parts of the store where I saw a good number of shoppers were over by the deli and by the beer coolers, which will be featured shortly. Most of the people in here were only buying a few things, although I did see one family with two young children doing some major shopping here, with a full cart of groceries. It must have been the start of their big Disney vacation.
After frozen foods the grocery aisle numbering resumes with aisle 6, home of the chips, snacks, and sodas.
Looking back across the front end from the left side of the store. That small display of Disney key chains and magnets isn't even the beginning of Gooding's souvenir department.
Jumping back to, well, the back of the store, for this look at the party supply alcove. This alcove is located between produce and the beer department. I'm not sure if this area was always dedicated to party supplies though. I have a feeling this was originally the floral department, as Gooding's once had a large floral business. This store still does floral arrangements, but if I remember correctly, the current floral department was limited to a few small arrangements near the front of the store.
Nearing the left side of the store, we find aisle 7, the last of the main grocery aisles. In this aisle is general merchandise, such as paper products, laundry detergent, charcoal, toys, batteries, luggage, etc, as well as the beginning of the souvenir shop. Beyond aisle 7 lie more displays of souvenirs and the wine department.
More from aisle 7, moving closer to the souvenirs.
More souvenirs beyond aisle 7.
Health and Beauty resides in this alcove in the front left corner of the store. It's probably a better guess that the old pharmacy counter was located somewhere around here when that was still open. Currently, this alcove is home to aisles 8-12, which are just a few short aisles of health and beauty products.
Aisle 8, home to the baby supplies.
More health and beauty in aisle 9, including the selection of travel sized products in this aisle.
"You are being videotaped - Smile!" reads that sign on the pole. I'm sure that sign plus the monitor featuring the oh-so-intimidating Windows 10 lock screen will really make those pesky shoplifters think twice!
Aisle 12 rounds out the Health and Beauty alcove. Dental care was located along the left wall, with stationary and souvenir T-shirts taking up the rest of the space in this aisle.
Beyond the health and beauty alcove and the souvenirs lies the fairly expansive wine department.
Gooding's wine department was designed to feel like a vintage gourmet wine shop, complete with the dim lighting and fancy reproduction tin ceiling. This area, along with the deli/bakery, are the only parts of the store that feel anything close to what Gooding's once used to be.
The left side wall is lined with fancy wooden wine racks that date back to Gooding's days as an upscale, gourmet market.
Another holdover from the gourmet market days is this wine chiller, a feature that no other standard grocery store around here offers. In front of the chiller room is a machine where you can place your warm bottle of wine for it to chill while you shop, another holdover from the old days. The chiller room is open for anyone to walk into.
In the back left corner of the store is the beer department, which was also fairly expansive. I'd have to say beer is the top selling item at these tourist district grocery stores. I saw a good number people just buying beer in here. At the other tourist district grocery store I went to this same day, the only other customers I saw were in the beer department (I was seriously the only shopper in the rest of the store for most of my time at that other store).
The beer department is illuminated by the giant square lighting fixture you see in the photo above.
Another photo of the giant square light, and the beer department.
Now that we finished looking at the beer department, that's about all there was left to see at the last Gooding's. Here we find ourselves up front once again, ready to work our way back outside...
Looking at one of the registers, which are buried behind short aisles of candy and souvenirs that don't line up right with the checkstands. Gooding's no longer uses custom made bags as you can see here, just generic "Thank You" bags. Also, the one cashier that was working greeted every customer with "Hello! Where are you from?". That just shows you that this store is geared toward tourists if the cashier assumes that almost everyone who shops here isn't from around here. It is true though, very few locals ever step foot in this place. Like I said at the beginning of this post, Central Floridians consider Gooding's to be dead - among the likes of Fairway, Florida Choice, Pantry Pride, Kash n' Karry, and all of the other chains that once operated in this area and no longer exist. This Gooding's isn't like the neighborhood Gooding's stores that once dotted the Orlando area. There may be a few small pieces of the original Gooding's that try to cling to life in here, but it's very hard to compare this place to the pre-2000's Gooding's that many remember fondly.
And here's one last photo from inside, of the customer service desk located between the entrance and exit doors. So with that, let's jump along to some aerial images:
Above is an overview of the Crossroads at Lake Buena Vista complex. As you can see, it's located right off of I-4 at its junction with SR 535, also called Apopka-Vineland Road. Surrounding this complex are many hotels, restaurants, tourist attractions, and outlet malls, especially as you go further south, east, and west from here. Not much further north on 535 you'll find yourself back in one of the many suburban Orlando neighborhoods. As for the complex itself, I've labeled the location of the Gooding's within the main S-shaped portion of the plaza. All of the other outbuildings are restaurants, and in the very back of the complex is a pirate themed mini golf course. With all of the tourist traffic, this complex can be a bit of a nightmare to get in and out of. It took me about 10 minutes to get out of Gooding's parking lot and back on 535 due to the backup of cars at the main exit from the plaza.
Anyway, now for some Bird's Eye aerial images of the store, courtesy of Bing Maps:
And now for some historic aerial images, courtesy of Google Earth:
Gooding's of Lake Buena Vista - 2016
Gooding's of Lake Buena Vista - 2010
Gooding's of Lake Buena Vista - 2002
Gooding's of Lake Buena Vista - 1995
What the future holds for the last Gooding's remains to be seen. I don't know if Gooding's has been able to fix their financial issues well enough over the last 7 years to maintain some kind of stability here, or if things behind the scenes aren't as pretty as they seem. Should anything happen to this store, I doubt another grocer would pick up this location. A grocery store seems a bit out of place in this location now, and I could easily see some kind of bowling alley/arcade type thing move in here like what happened with the former Gooding's on International Drive in the early 2010's. However, for now, the Gooding's name will continue to live on with this store outside of Disney, although that name means something completely different now than it did when Gooding's was still "Orlando's Hometown Supermarket".
So that's all I have for now. Until the next post,
The Albertsons Florida Blogger