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

15 comments:

  1. Nice lost history post! I really hate hearing about instances like this, where the chain was run into the ground so quickly after being sold off from its longtime operators. That's really unfortunate for the communities, and especially for the employees as well if they didn't even receive any advance warning about the store closures. But anger at Mr. Abuoqab aside, I'm happy you were able to shed some light on this chain, and that you thought to photograph this store (even if it was many years ago :P )!

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    1. Thanks! U-Save's demise was a rather sad one, as the chain had weathered through a lot just to be run into the ground through shady business practices by the new owner. I had been intrigued by U-Save ever since I saw that one for the first time on that 2011 trip I mentioned, so I had to find one to visit once I set out on my blogging journey! I'm glad I visited this one once I did, as the Aldi conversion appears to have begun not long after I got these photos.

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  2. It is a funny coincidence that you posted this today. This morning I was wracking my brain trying to think of a chain I saw when visiting Tampa in 1997. It was u-save, using the logo shown in the "welcome to your home town u-save" pic. For some reason, I think they had a sister chain that was not a discount chain. Is that correct?

    Thanks for posting this.

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    1. No problem - I guess I couldn't have planned this post any better then! Glad that this post helped trigger your memory though. As far as I'm aware, U-Save's parent company (B&B) only had three divisions: U-Save, Handy Food Stores (the convenience store chain), and the real estate holding company. I don't believe B&B had a higher tier store, unless there was a prototype that faded away into obscurity many years ago.

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  3. U-Save's operations (being a small chain) kind of remind of a local chain in SC.
    They were called Community Cash, and had several locations throughout upstate SC.
    One of them was located 10-15 minutes away, in a former A&P colonial store that underwent significant exterior upgrades. It closed during the 90s and sat vacant ever since, but as far as I know, its still in good shape. Community Cash as a chain went dead in 1999, closing or selling all of their stores. I don't know a whole lot about them unfortunately, besides the fact that they were based out of Spartanburg and had at least 12 stores at the time of bankruptcy.

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    1. Interesting - I've never heard of Community Cash before. Times haven't been great on these small family-owned grocery chains, so it was quite impressive U-Save made it to 2011. Had the Bever Family not wanted to get out of the grocery business, I'd say U-Save could have still been around today as a rural, small town chain.

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  4. Sure hadn't heard of this one! They would've probably lasted much longer if not for Walmart's supercenters. U Save reminds me a lot of Hitchcocks in my area. I don't think the future looks too bright for Hitchcock's either.

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    1. That's what I thought as I was writing this post - U-Save was essentially the Hitchcock's of Central Southwestern Florida, a small grocery chain primarily serving small towns. Even in the current state of things, Hitchcock's does have the benefit of being the only grocery store in some of the areas they serve, like Hawthorne or Interlachen, which probably helps their survival. One of these days I really want to visit a Hitchcock's to see what their stores are all about.

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  5. When I moved to Riverview in 2004, there was an U-Save in the River Oaks Plaza (at US 301 and Gibsonton Drive/Boyette Road.) Across the street was a 24 Hour WinnDixie. USave was replaced by Save A Lot and a Bealls Outlet. Bealls moved from another spot in the plaza. Gibsonton has a U Save in the Twin Oaks Plaza, which is still empty...

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  6. Also, on Nebraska Avenue in Tampa, an old U-Save is now Mega Supermarket and on Hillsborough Avenue an old USave is now Bravo... I believe another one is a charter school...

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    1. The U-Save in Tampa on Henderson long ago became a Fresh Market. There was an Eckerds in the same strip that I believe now houses a First Watch.

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  7. I worked at this store while in High School in Okeechobee. Interestingly enough, this original Okeechobee store was slated for destruction in the 1990's because of the newer store on the south side of town, which was built much later than the 70's as described in the article. I think it was in the late 80's??? Anyway, doesn't really matter. What kept it open was a second Winn-Dixie located in the eastern downtown area closing, thus giving it a new lease on life. When I was there, there were still 20 or so stores in the chain and this location was either the top or second highest sales store. Great memories there.

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  8. I worked at USave store number 33 on Fletcher Ave in Tampa FL while attending University of South Florida from 1970 to 1973. It was a fun place to work. I still keep in touvlch with several of my USave work associates to this day.

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  9. Great article, I wish I had more info to offer, you'd think I would. My dad worked for U-Save for many years. He managed, and opened I think, the Belle Glade store, managed the Bearss Ave store till he was asked to become the Area Supervisor of the Ft. Myers and Lake Okeechobee stores. I remember one of the "lake" store burning down, Belle Glade I think. Dad was there for his weekly visit, talking to the store manager in the parking lot when they noticed the store on fire. My dad retired in the late '90's and passed away in 2010. Glad he didn't see the true fall of the company, which is so sad. The Beaver family was always good to us.

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  10. There was one in clewiston, a weird little highway town. i'm not sure if its still there, but it was a year ago

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