Grand Union #511 / Albertsons #4424 / Burlington (Coat Factory) #580
9839 South Military Trail, Boynton Beach, FL - Boynton West Shopping Center
While the former Albertsons store we'll be touring today was at one time an average late 90's location, its backstory is average by no means. Like so many stores we've seen in the past, the story of this place is the perfect example of just how convoluted supermarket history in Florida is. Actually, the history of this place sounds more like the timeline of an old supermarket building in New Jersey than one in Palm Beach County, Florida. The more I dig into the history of Floridian supermarkets, the more convinced I am that Florida has had the most bizarre assortment of grocery stores of anyplace in the country back in the day - all this out of a place now totally controlled by a single chain. But in the end, it's Florida. If anything was to make sense here, online news sites would have nothing to make fun of, and I would have nothing to ponder over for hours on end. Just like how most Floridians are a bit crazy, our supermarket scene was apparently modeled after that theme, which brings me to the backstory of Albertsons #4424:
Upon its opening in 1981, the Boynton West Shopping Center featured anchor tenants Kmart, Grand Union, and SupeRx Drugs - your typical suburban "discounter, pharmacy, grocer" shopping center. Of particular interest to us in today's post is the Boynton West Grand Union store. Opened only a few years shy of Grand Union's slow but steady downfall, the Boynton Beach Grand Union would have been quite similar in appearance to this location in Greenacres upon opening. Even though Grand Union's store count peaked in the early 1980's, the company wasn't in the best shape at the time. As Grand Union's financial problems began to catch up with them, the company began to retreat from many of its far-flung operating regions, such as Florida. In 1985, all remaining Floridian Grand Union stores closed in one big sweep. In the time following the closures, many of the former Floridian Grand Union stores found new lives as other businesses and grocery stores, but as we'll see today, a surprise or two can come out of a sudden massive departure. In an only-in-Florida twist, an unexpected grocery chain made a surprise bid on the leases of four recently vacated Grand Union stores: ShopRite. Yes, that ShopRite. It took me a while to finally prove this, but ShopRite did go through with their bid on at least one of those Grand Union stores they were interested in. The single location I was able to find opened in 1986, marking ShopRite's first and possibly only Florida location, adding yet another Northeastern grocery chain to make the giant leap into Florida.
While I haven't been able to confirm if the Boynton Beach Grand Union transitioned into a ShopRite or not (or if anything came about of those other two stores ShopRite was interested in), the ad above confirms the former Grand Union store at 5025 Okeechobee Boulevard in West Palm Beach did reopen as a ShopRite in 1986. There is hardly any record of ShopRite's short tenure in Florida online, so I was excited when I found this ad on newspapers.com confirming that fact (an ad which MFR contributor Cape Kennedy Retail kindly clipped from behind a paywall for me). From what I can tell, the West Palm Beach ShopRite didn't last very long, closing by the end of the 1980's (as that's the last time any mention of ShopRite of West Palm pops up in a county record search). According to the ad, the West Palm ShopRite carried actual ShopRite branded products too, so those products would have had to travel quite a long ways to get here. While I don't know what ultimately killed ShopRite in Florida or what other issues could have been present, I'm sure this store's far-flung location and isolation from the remainder of ShopRite's other stores at the time didn't help the situation any here.
Even if ShopRite didn't operate in this building, I still find it a bit crazy they considered putting a store here. It's even crazier they went through with opening at least one of those potential 4 Florida locations too. While ShopRite's dealings with this building will remain a mystery, after Grand Union closed, this building spent a few years operating as Sun Supermarket. From what I've found, Sun Supermarket was a small Broward County based grocery chain that expanded in the 1980's by buying up empty Grand Union and Pantry Pride stores in South Florida. Sun doesn't appear to have been very successful, as after their mid-1980's supermarket shopping spree, the company went out of business in 1991. After Sun Supermarkets went out of business, the old Boynton Beach Grand Union store sat vacant once again. Even with Kmart remaining as an anchor, the Boynton West Shopping Center began to struggle without its supermarket. After a few years of sitting empty, a plan was developed to bring new life to Boynton West, a plan that included a much sought after new supermarket tenant: Albertsons. While the redevelopment plan was good news to those living around the plaza, construction of the new Albertsons store suffered a short delay after some controversy over the lack of a left-turn lane into the plaza from Military Trail. Once the turn lane issue was resolved, construction on the Albertsons could began. The new Albertsons store brought the demolition of the former Grand Union building, as well as the next-door SupeRx (later Rite Aid) to make room for the large new Albertsons store. Albertsons officially opened in Boynton Beach in 1996, bringing new life to the struggling plaza. Around the same time Albertsons opened, the Kmart store at the opposite end of the plaza underwent a large expansion. After a period of decline, the late 1990's were finally bringing some good news back to this shopping center.
While the Boynton West Kmart closed as part of the company's 2002 bankruptcy, the Kmart building was quickly re-tenanted with a Bealls Department Store. Albertsons hung around until 2006, closing in one of Albertsons' first closure rounds stemming from the company's 2006 breakup. By the end of the 2000's, the old Boynton Beach Albertsons became home to the tenant we see here today: Burlington Coat Factory. While these pictures still show the store with its old "Coat Factory" moniker on the front of the building, the front sign has been updated more recently to drop that portion of the name. Otherwise, nothing much has changed here since my visit to this store a while back.
Since this is an older Burlington store, not much was done to alter the facade of the building, with the exterior retaining its original Albertsons design. Albertsons' entryway was left completely in-tact too, with the swing-door setup common to these mid-90's built stores.
While the exterior was left alone, the interior looks like a rather typical Burlington store. The photo above was taken looking toward the right side of the building, not too far from the front entrance.
Burlington's front walkway zig-zags a bit as we approach the shoe department. This photo looks toward the front right corner of the buiding, where Albertsons' pharmacy counter once was.
I don't know what it is with people always throwing shoes on the floor, but Burlington's shoe department was looking a bit rough during my visit. While this sight will make most retail employees cringe with fear, it's going to be hard to beat what I witnessed during the great shoe-nado of 2016.
Shoes were located the store's front wall, in a small dip in the front of the building. Albertsons' service desk and video rental center would have been located in this area originally, their removal most likely contributing to the dip.
Here's a view across the front of the building, as seen from the front right corner. At 55,000 square feet, this place is rather large for a modern Burlington store. Until the last decade or so, Burlington ran extremely large stores for an off-price clothing retailer. Burlington used to have stores that ran as large as 80,000-90,000 square feet, some of which would take up the entirety of a former Kmart or mall department store anchor. In recent years, Burlington has streamlined their merchandise selection in order to cut their average store size down to 40,000 square feet. That's still a larger footprint than stores run by Burlington's main competition (Ross, TJMaxx, etc.), but nowhere near as large as the stores Burlington used to run. While some of the supersized Burlington stores still exist, in those stores you'll see large expanses of unused sales floor space, an unfortunate side-effect of Burlington's streamlining. Burlington is currently in the process of either replacing those large stores with smaller locations, or subdividing those large stores to get rid of the unnecessary space. At 55,000 square feet, the Boynton Beach Burlington will probably remain as-is. While larger than a modern Burlington store, there weren't any large expanses of emptiness in here. It's those stores with lots of unused sales floor space where downsizing or relocation will soon occur, if it hasn't already.
One of the more interesting aspects of how Burlington reused this former Albertsons store involves the former attached liquor store. Instead of keeping the former liquor store as a chronically empty separate space (as we've seen many times before on the blog), Burlington actually expanded their sales floor into the space where the liquor store once was. The photo above looks toward the area where the old liquor store entrance was located. Besides the creation of an alcove in the front right corner of the building, the transition into the old liquor store space is seamless from inside of Burlington.
The liquor store alcove is located to my right in this image, the old liquor store space occupied by racks of children's clothing now.
Here's a look down the length of the former liquor store space, toward the old entrance.
Moving along to the back of the store, we find Burlington's housewares department. The housewares are located in the area where Albertsons' meat cases were once located. The entirety of the housewares department is located under a lower ceiling. I feel pretty certain Burlington was the one to add the lower ceiling, as I can't picture an Albertsons from this era having a ceiling like this in the back of the store. The only way the lower ceiling could be an Albertsons remnant is if Burlington expanded into some of Albertsons' former service department/stockroom space, the lower ceiling being some kind of remnant of a ceiling height transition between the sales floor and ex-service counter space.
Here's a look across Burlington's back wall, under the lower ceiling section.
The ceiling height transition once again, this time seen going from low to high.
A random center of the salesfloor photo. Burlington's fitting rooms are located in an island to my right.
The left side of the Burlington building (pictured here), is home to men's clothing. In the Albertsons days I would have been standing within the store's fresh departments as I took this photo, facing the bakery from the center of the produce department. Albertsons' deli would have been located behind me.
Pictured here is a look down Burlington's left side wall, originally home to Albertsons produce coolers.
As we can see in the above photo, while Burlington no longer refers to themselves as a "Coat Factory" due to all the random kinds of merchandise they now sell...
...I still felt it wouldn't be right to leave this place without getting a photo of the coat department itself!
As we get ready to head back outside, we find ourselves at Burlington's front end. These check stands are located in the front left corner of the store, once home to Albertsons' bakery department.
While many older Burlington stores have remodeled and gotten the new queue style check stands, this store still had the older style check lanes during my visit (and, as far as I'm aware from looking at Google images, still has this older setup).
Here's one final look at the check lanes before we head outside...
While we had to use our imaginations to recreate the interior layout of this former Albertsons store, we don't have to do as much thinking to visualize the exterior. Looking down the front walkway, this is exactly what we would have seen in this building's Albertsons days (just with a gray and white paint scheme in place of all the current brown and beige). Those round inset lights along the canopy ceiling are a classic Albertsons trait.
Even though the old liquor store space is now a part of Burlington's main sales floor, its entrance blocked in many years ago, the liquor store facade is still here in original form. While the liquor store facade doesn't serve much practical purpose anymore, it does serve as yet another reminder of what used to be here.
From the liquor store, here's a glimpse through all the foliage toward the store's main entrance.
From Albertsons'/Burlington's entryway, here's a look at the strip of stores connecting the former Albertsons to the former Kmart building. Albertsons' main entrance is located where the old SupeRx Drug Store was once located, the remainder of the store built over Grand Union's footprint. While the Albertsons building is newer than the rest of the plaza, everything we see in the distance here is original to Boynton West's 1981 grand opening.
As I mentioned earlier in this post, the other anchor to the Boynton West Shopping Plaza is a Bealls Department Store, a rather large Bealls too. Bealls occupies the entirety of the old Kmart store, which received a sizable addition in the late 1990's. When Bealls arrived shortly after Kmart's departure in 2002, Bealls wasted no time gutting the old Kmart store and rebuilding the facade to fit their needs. However...
...sometimes you just can't hide that Kmart legacy. While Bealls added their fancy arched facade to the front of the building, the original Kmart ribbed concrete block still makes up the majority of the building's exterior. I had some extra time during this visit, so I popped inside this Bealls store for quick tour. That tour is in my archives for a later date, so for now, these few exterior photos will have to do.
Anyway, my ground coverage is done, so let's fly up to the sky for a look at some satellite imagery of the former Boynton Beach Albertsons. First up, some Bird's Eye aerial images courtesy of Bing Maps:
And now, some historic aerial images, courtesy of Google Earth:
Former Albertsons #4424 - 2019 - The former Albertsons is on the right, the Bealls/former Kmart on the left. The two-tone roof on the Bealls building shows the division between the original Kmart building and the late 1990's addition, the white part being the addition.
Former Albertsons #4424 - 2009
Albertsons #4424 - 2005
Albertsons #4424 - 2002 - Here you can clearly see where Kmart's original entryway used to be. Kmart left the entrance in its original place during the expansion, but modified the facade from its original design (this) to something similar to (but probably not as fancy as) this as part of the expansion.
Albertsons #4424 - 1999
Future Albertsons #4424 - 1995 - In this image we can see the original Grand Union and SupeRx buildings where Albertsons will eventually appear, both sitting empty in 1995. Kmart had yet to expand here too, a project that would coincide with the construction of the new Albertsons store.
Who needs to travel to New Jersey to have a discussion about Grand Union, ShopRite, and even Foodtown, when we can head down to Palm Beach County and find traces of all these stores right here in Florida? While Grand Union was in Florida for a while, ShopRite was a surprise dud, and Foodtown is still doing their own Floridian thing, you never know what surprises you might find when digging through Florida's supermarket history (or what surprises you could pull out of an Albertsons Coat Factory). So while the former Boynton Beach Albertsons seems rather unsuspecting at first glance, peel back a few layers, and the crazy competitiveness of the Floridian supermarket scene of the 1980's shines in all of its glory here in Boynton Beach. I'll finish off this post with an old photo I downloaded of Albertsons #4424 while it was still open, most likely from an old real estate listing. While that's all I have from Boynton Beach, more Albertsons will be coming your way in two weeks!
So until the next post,
The Albertsons Florida Blogger