For today's blog post, the Albertsons Florida Blog takes everyone to the magical and mysterious lands of the far east, where we will set out on a journey to see a supermarket like no other. The expedition to get me to this store of myth and legend required travel by plane, train, and the scaling of two mountains so I could bring all of you a glimpse of this wonder seen by very few outside of these lands. What is this place you ask? Just what secrets does it behold?...
Goodings of Kissimmee / Winn-Dixie #2379
7840 West Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, Kissimmee, FL - Formosa Gardens Village
As fun of an experience as it would be to fly off to China and see some supermarkets there, our adventure to the "far east" is actually going to be a journey to the western edge of Kissimmee, Florida, to see a Winn-Dixie inspired by the culture and architecture of China (which is the next best thing I can give all of you besides actually going to China). To get to this Winn-Dixie, all you have to do is hop in the car and drive down US 192 near Walt Disney World to find it - no mountain climbing required! (However, I probably could have climbed over a mountain faster than it took to get through all the traffic on US 192, but I digress). So, just why is there a Winn-Dixie in Kissimmee built in a Chinese theme you ask? A great question! Let me explain...
In the late 20th century, and even in some ways today, the US government and the Chinese government have been at odds due to differing political ideologies and other controversial agreements. In the late 1980's, a woman named Josephine Chen toured a park in Shenzhen, China called "Splendid China", which used miniature models to depict the history and culture of China in a scenic park-like setting. Seeing this park, Mrs. Chen thought bringing a version of it to the United States would be a good way to enlighten Americans on the culture and history of China. Through this park, Mrs. Chen hoped to bring a small amount of unity and understanding between the two countries. Mrs. Chen approached the owners of the original Splendid China park, which was the Chinese government's travel and visitor's bureau, to pitch to them her idea of opening a second Splendid China Park in the Unites States. The Chinese travel council agreed to build the park and supply its non-managerial employees, as long as Mrs. Chen found a site for the park in the US and supplied management. With the agreement in place, Splendid China Florida was a go. The site selected for Splendid China's US debut couldn't have been any better. Located just outside of Disney property along busy US 192, Splendid China Florida was right in the heart of the Central Florida tourist district. After 4 years of construction, including the tedious creation of handcrafted miniature models of famous buildings and statues from China (the focal point of the park), Splendid China Florida opened to much fanfare in December 1993. Building off the potential success of the Splendid China theme park, Mrs. Chen also purchased some property that directly faced US 192, located next to the Splendid China park. On this property she developed the Formosa Gardens Village, a shopping center with a Chinese theme to match the park behind it. The shopping center was to be anchored by Gooding's Supermarket, who agreed to have the interior of their new store custom designed to match the Chinese theme of the plaza and the Splendid China park behind it. Opening in 1995, this store marked Gooding's entrance to Osceola County.
With an abundance of skylights and a custom interior, complete with Chinese mannequins and even a koi pond(!), this supermarket was unlike any other (and still is unlike any other, because all that stuff is still here!). While the Chinese themed supermarket is still around, thing didn't pan out so well for the Splendid China theme park. Ever since the park opened in 1993, it became shrouded with political controversy. This stemmed from the fact that the park was majority owned and operated by the communist People's Republic of China travel bureau, causing Americans to claim the park was nothing but political propaganda. Some people were also upset about how the miniatures from the Tibet region were portrayed, adding to the political controversy. While the park was meant to portray Chinese history and culture in a peaceful setting, the park was never able to escape the controversies that began from day one. Numerous protests were held outside the Splendid China park, and patronage was continually low. A few people who visited Splendid China park during its operation described the place as being almost always empty, certainly never living up to the success and esteem of the original park in China. After a decade of low sales and continuous protests, Splendid China Florida closed for good in December 2003. For nearly a decade, the park sat abandoned and vandalized, many of the miniature displays either destroyed or stolen in the period of abandonment. In 2013, a developer purchased the Splendid China property, tearing down all remnants of the ill-fated theme park in the years after that. Today, the Splendid China site is part of a new Margaritaville Resort housing development. The only remnants of the original park that still remain today are a road in the Margaritaville development called Splendid China Boulevard, and the supermarket we're about to tour today.
The Formosa Village Gooding's was one of the 9 stores the company sold to Winn-Dixie in 2000 when Gooding's began to retreat from the retail grocery industry. By 2001, this store officially converted to the Winn-Dixie name...well, sort of. While this store is a Winn-Dixie, all the signs on this building use only the term 'Marketplace', which I find extremely weird. Since this store opened in 2001, it would have probably been one of the last, if not the last, Winn-Dixie Marketplace store to open. So let's step through those doors and see what oddities we may find inside...
Like I just mentioned, this store is just "Marketplace", with someone even covering the Winn-Dixie logo on this sign with one that says only "Marketplace"! This store is also odd in the fact that is does not honor any of Winn-Dixie's weekly circulars, and does not accept the rewards card. Being in the heart of the tourist district, this store is also known for being extremely overpriced according to the online reviews (much like another store in the tourist district we've seen before). It seems like Winn-Dixie is trying to keep their name as distant as possible from this place, probably so the rest of the company isn't tainted by the high pricing strategy they use here to take advantage of the tourists in the area.
Anyway, you guys all came to read this post today to see a very unique Winn-Dixie, and I've bored all of you thus far with a bunch of history and background information. Stepping through the front doors, here's a look across the bright sunny atrium into which you enter. Nothing too out of the ordinary yet, but there's a little bit of some of the interesting things to come poking out at the left side of this image.
From the same spot at the previous photo, turning just a bit more to the left, we're now looking into the main salesfloor, specifically toward the bakery and deli departments. Some overflow bakery products are located under the giant wooden light fixture. However, things still get more interesting from here...
Behind where I took that last photo, we find this store's Panama Jack apparel/souvenir
cabana pagoda. This pagoda was built into a portion of the salesfloor, serving as a little alcove for souvenirs (although there's another souvenir department located behind the deli and produce departments, which we'll see shortly).
Stepping back a little bit, here's a better overview of the Panama Jack souvenir pagoda nestled between the front end and the front entrance of this store. But wait folks --- it still gets more interesting from here!
The Panama Jack pagoda was just the baby pagoda. Stepping through the front doors and looking straight ahead, the big pagoda pictured above is the first thing you'll see. The big pagoda has lots of little details to it, and even a few mannequins on the balcony to add to the effect. The mannequin on the far left even appears to be waving to shoppers who enter the store.
Stepping into the big pagoda, we find this store's books and magazines department. The detailing from the outside continues in here, with the decorative railings and paint scheme. The pagoda even has its own skylight, which takes in the sunlight from the main skylight above it.
Looking out the side entrance of the big pagoda, we see the produce, deli, and bakery departments. We'll start heading that way, but first we have to cross the moat that lies in our way...
This little koi pond wraps around the side of the big pagoda like a moat (because what good supermarket doesn't have a moat inside of it?). When this store first opened, this little pond was actually stocked with koi, a feature either Winn-Dixie or Gooding's gave up on a long time ago. Even though the fish are long gone, the pond still has water in it, and it looks like some people throw coins in here to make a wish.
Looking back toward the side of the pagoda and the moat as we continue into this store's fresh departments...
This fancy island cooler is located in front of the deli and bakery counters, home to some pre-packaged deli goods. It looks like this island was once used for something fancier back in the Gooding's days (probably a prep area for prepared foods of some kind), but Winn-Dixie has reduced it to this. Regardless, it's once fancy looking set of coolers!
Looking toward the deli and bakery counter, we can see how the wall decor continues with the pagoda theme. Gooding's and the developer paid a lot of attention to detail when they designed this decor, and it really paid off. The tiled rooflines, gold Chinese script trim, the colors - it all ties in well. It's just too bad this store has been left to fall into another overpriced tourist trap, as this place was probably even more impressive looking when it first opened in 1995.
Looking down the right side wall past the bakery, the remainder of this store's grand aisle transitions into a large souvenir shop.
As usual with these tourist district supermarkets, a large amount of floor space is dedicated to souvenirs (especially Disney stuff, although there's plenty of other Florida stuff mixed in). I can't say for sure, but my guess is all this space in the back right corner was not originally home to souvenirs when Gooding's was here. Seeing those overhead spotlights, I want to say Gooding's had a larger produce department back here, or some additional specialty departments in this area.
More of the souvenir department, as seen from the inner wall. The souvenir department also included a selection of pool toys and some beach items.
In addition to a few tables of produce near the deli and bakery counters, there was a bit more produce located in the back of the grand aisle on these tables. However, the onions and tomatoes aren't the exciting part of this photo, it's what's on the wall...
On the back wall the pagoda theme continues, enhanced by the use of a few more mannequins. These mannequins include a panda with some of his friends. I'm not sure on this, but the mannequins may have been animated originally. The mannequins looked to me like ones that would move, but if they did, they haven't moved in years.
Leaving the grand aisle to enter the grocery aisles, the grandeur of the decor begins to fizzle out, although the Chinese theme continues into the remainder of the store. Here we're looking down the store's back aisle, where the meat coolers are located. The decor this store was built with doesn't include any department names on the walls, so employees have made some homemade signs to direct shoppers to certain departments, like the seafood department signs in this photo. However, even with all the signs, the seafood department at this store was nothing more than a few coolers of frozen seafood.
Aisle 1, which backs up to the wall that separates the grocery aisles from the grand aisle. All the grocery aisles in this store use this black metal shelving, which looks like something out of a warehouse store. My guess is these shelves are original, as they seem to match the decor in the rest of the store. The one thing that does not match the rest of the decor in this store, however, are the aisle markers. The aisle markers are from Winn-Dixie's Marketplace decor package, the only trace of any Winn-Dixie decor in this place besides the Purple/Maroon era register lights. If this store originally had aisle markers that matched the rest of the decor, it's a shame Winn-Dixie had to replace them with these.
Aisle 1 ends behind the big pagoda. Here's another look toward the bakery and deli from the end of aisle 1.
Turning in the opposite direction, here's a look across the front of the store. And if this place has looked really empty to you in these pictures, that's because it really was (which I'm not complaining about, as it makes my photo taking that much easier!). I was one of maybe three shoppers in this place when I came to take these pictures, with most of this store's business confined to the beer department (similar to what I saw at Gooding's earlier this same afternoon). However, I visited these stores on a Tuesday in the off-season for tourists, as I'm sure these stores do some decent business when all the tourists are in town.
Here's a close-up of some of the decorations on the back wall, which included some planters filled with fake ferns.
I liked the effect of the inflatable pool floats hanging over the aisle like this, especially the menacing-looking great white shark at the upper left. It looks like he's eyeing up shoppers for dinner!
The front of the health and beauty department includes some lower height, more traditional shelving units. In the background is the beer pagoda, which we'll take a closer look at in just a bit.
Pictured here is another aisle in the health and beauty department, specifically the aisle for medicines and first aid supplies. This store does not have a pharmacy counter, and I don't believe it ever did.
A terrible photo of the paper products aisle, which I believe was aisle 11. This store had 13 aisles in total, although the last two frozen foods aisles were not numbered.
More from the store's back aisle, this time looking back toward the grand aisle.
Eggs must be a popular item here, as they have their own giant sign shaped like an arrow hanging from the ceiling. In addition to the eggs, the remainder of the dairy department is located in the back left corner of the store.
This store had a little display set up welcoming golfers to the area. There are a good number of golf courses and golf resorts in this part of the tourist district, the patrons of which this store is trying to appeal to.
Turning the corner from dairy, the last two aisles of this store are home to frozen foods. Even the red colored wall decorations transition to blue to signify the start of the frozen foods department.
Another example of the amount of detail that went into this decor, the lights hanging over the coffin coolers were custom made to match the theme of the store.
A rather crummy photo, but I included it to show how the big pagoda can be seen all the way from the other side of the store.
While on the topic of pagodas still, here we have a look at the beer pagoda (which honestly sounds like a good name for a liquor store). The wine and drink mixers were located back here too, in what was the busiest part of the store during my visit.
In the back of the beer department is a walk in beer cooler. While lots of stores have these walk-in beer coolers, every time I see one of these I think of Albertsons, as that was the first store where I ever saw one of these.
Putting the beer pagoda behind us, here's another look across this store's front end, the big pagoda in the distance.
So that's all I have for interior photos of this extremely unique Winn-Dixie. Here we find ourselves at the front entrance once again, ready to head back outside...
Looking to the left of the Winn-Dixie space, where we see the Chinese theme continues in the architecture of the rest of the plaza. Fittingly enough, this plaza is home to a Chinese restaurant too, with Taste of China visible in this photo.
For perspective, here's a photo showing the proximity of the Splendid China theme park to the Winn-Dixie plaza, prior to the park's demolition. The Splendid China park comprised a total of 75 acres, much of which was gardens filled with miniature replicas of buildings and monuments throughout China. In addition to the gardens, there were also shows and performances that portrayed traditional Chinese dances and theater. Amongst all the political issues that surrounded the Splendid China park, another complaint I saw while researching Splendid China's demise was the fact that people found it to be quite boring. Splendid China didn't have any thrill rides or attractions like the other local theme parks, instead being more like a botanical garden with some shows and a Chinese theme. While there is an audience for such a park, the people coming to visit Orlando for rides and amusement parks turned out to not be it. For some more detailed history on the Splendid China theme park, here's a really good article detailing the park's ill-fated years in operation. Honestly, that website, lostparks.com, is a good read itself, profiling many famous long-gone tourist attractions throughout Florida. For some interesting photos of Splendid China post-closure, this article has some good photos of the place in ruins.
As of the most recent Google Earth imagery available (early 2018), Splendid China is gone. As I mentioned before, the old Splendid China site has become a part of the new Margaritaville Resort development. From the image, it looks like townhouses or timeshares will now be popping up on the site that once housed the pagodas and a half-mile long replica of the Great Wall in the park known as Splendid China.
With that being said, it's now time to jump into some satellite imagery, beginning with some Bird's Eye images courtesy of Bing Maps:
And now some historic satellite imagery, courtesy of Google Earth:
Winn-Dixie #2379 - 2018 - An overview of the entire corner this plaza sits on
Winn-Dixie #2379 - 2012
Winn-Dixie #2379 - 2008
Gooding's of Kissimmee - 1999
Future Gooding's of Kissimmee - 1995 - The plaza is still under construction in this image, but pretty far along in the process.
For fun, here's a satellite image of Splendid China in 1995, two years after it opened. I personally think Splendid China would have been an interesting place to see when it opened, as they put a lot of detail into this place to replicate all the glory of the original buildings and monuments in China. It's a shame this place had to get caught up in a political controversy that essentially ruined it's entire run. Even though Splendid China Florida is nothing but a memory now, the original Splendid China park in Shenzhen, China is still open and going strong to this day. The original park in China is much larger and fancier than the Florida location was, but still followed the same concept.
So if you ever want to visit China but don't want to travel too far, you can get a taste of the far east at this Winn-Dixie in Kissimmee. This store is certainly near the top of my list of the strangest supermarkets in Florida, and is certainly worth a pit stop if you are ever in the area to see the unique interior. However, I don't recommend doing a full shopping trip here, as this place is pricier than other supermarkets in the area. So I hope everyone enjoyed this post and this unique store! I didn't have a second post planned for November, however some recent news in the Florida supermarket scene has changed those plans. In two weeks we'll be revisiting a unique supermarket that has become quite famous on the blog. This store is about to meet its (not quite untimely, as I figured this would happen eventually) demise, so why not share some more photos of this place with everyone before the end?
So that's all I have to say for now. Until the next post,
The Albertsons Florida Blogger