828 Southern Boulevard, West Palm Beach, FL - Southdale Shopping Center
Spetember 6, 1930 is a day that would forever change the retail landscape of Florida. After being snubbed by the new owner of the local Piggly Wiggly store which he managed, a young George Jenkins quit his job, deciding that would be his cue to go out on his own and start his own grocery store. To drive the message of his anger home, George Jenkins opened his new grocery store immediately next door to that of his former employer. A price war began, with George Jenkin's new store coming out as the victor in the end. With Piggly Wiggly gone, George Jenkins's new store, named Publix, would go on to prosper. From that original location in Winter Haven, FL in 1930, to a chain of 1,250+ stores serving seven Southeastern states 90 years later, Publix has come a long way. In those 90 years, Publix has solidified its position as Florida's grocery store, becoming just as a much of a symbol for the state as palm trees, pink flamingos, and sandy beaches.
Since we've discussed the detailed history of Publix's founding in this post, which included a tour of the very first Publix store, I won't go through all of that information again today. Today we're going to celebrate Publix's latest milestone by taking a look at a store that's been open for the last 61 of those 90 years Publix has been around. Today's featured store, Publix #50 in West Palm Beach's Southdale Shopping Center, is a very special store for Publix, as it's Publix's oldest continually operational location. Opening as a Wing Store in October 1959, Publix #50 has never left this spot. For a chain that loves nothing more than to modernize and replace really old stores, it's really impressive this place has gone 61 years without the bulldozers being called in. And as far as I'm aware, there aren't any plans to replace or rebuild this store either, so store #50 will still be around for a while longer. Of course, Publix being Publix, this store has been modernized through the years. Since it opened in 1959, this store has been expanded twice - once in the mid/late 1970's, and then again in the late 1990's, the second of those expansions bringing the store into its current form - all the usual timely decor swaps occurring too. Between the two expansions and how old this place is, this store does have its quirks. However, it's always nice to find a Publix with a little bit of unique charm to it, rather than the usual cookie-cutter type feel you find at their other stores.
Publix has always done something to mark the company's milestone anniversaries. For Publix's 50th anniversary in 1980, the company created special product packaging and gave every associate at the time a special gold coin. Of course, big parties would occur that year too. Publix's 75th anniversary in 2005 was a big deal too. Special signs were printed to hang in every store, and commemorative merchandise was all over the place too - including toy trucks, pins, and even a special ice cream flavor. Even Publix's 80th and 85th anniversaries in 2010 and 2015 got some special commemoratives, like this toy truck and reuseable bag, respectively. This article from the official Publix blog does a good job of summarizing all the ways Publix has celebrated their milestone anniversaries in the past, and the little things they did to make each celebration special. All that being said, I was excited to see what Publix was going to do to celebrate their 90th anniversary in 2020. A special lecture was arranged in February 2020 where Publix's CEO Todd Jones addressed an audience at Florida Southern College in Lakeland, where he spoke about the company's impacts over the last 90 years. That seemed like a good start for the anniversary year, but then...silence. Publix has only made few references to their 90th anniversary publicly since the lecture in February, most of those having occurred in the week leading up to the anniversary itself. Some of of those more recent anniversary musings from Publix include this Facebook post, as well as a nice retrospective article on the nine decades of Publix over at the Official Publix Blog, a great read you can view by clicking here. However, perusing the internet, I did stumble across a remnant of something bigger Publix was probably planning before the world fell to pieces, that being these anniversary-logoed water bottles for sale at Publix's online corporate store. Anyway, it's really weird seeing Publix being so quiet about such a huge milestone for the company - no signs, no banners, none of the usual pomp and circumstance that usually goes on. I know things are crazy and all, but it's still strange that not even a sign in-store or a commemorative tote bag can be found. However, the year isn't over yet, and Publix still has the time to do something to mark the company's 90th anniversary this year if they wanted to. But, if the 90th anniversary does slide under the radar this year, at least we'll have this blog post to commemorate the occasion by. (Update - as of the afternoon of September 6, 2020, a bunch of Publix 90th anniversary posts and references have begun popping up, including this one from Publix themselves. A store even made a special display of their own this morning too, which was pretty neat. I guess Publix was just waiting until the big day to start any celebrating!)
When Southdale Shopping Center originally opened, the anchors in the plaza were Publix, W.T. Grant's, and Liggett Drugs. Pictured here at the right end of the plaza is the former W.T. Grant's space. Grant's opened their Southdale store in February 1960, the final major tenant to open in the complex. Grant's lasted in this space until the chain's demise in the late 1970's. In the time since Grant's departure, their former home has since been divided into some smaller storefronts, the largest of which is currently home to Pet Supermarket.
However, let's finally turn our attention to the star of this post: the Publix store. The plaza's current facade came about during Publix's last expansion in the late 1990's. I've seen at least one other late 90's Publix with a similar design to this store, however the arched windows along the vestibule are something I've never seen before. The entrance vestibules here are designed similarly to those from a store built in the early 90's, the entryway split in two with the service desk in between. However, I'm not entirely sure when the current vestibules were added, as this entryway design would have been retired by the late 90's when the second expansion happened. It is possible those were added during an intermediate remodel between expansions, but I can't say for sure. The unusual arched windows aren't helping with approximating when the entryway was reconfigured either!
Like any older Publix store - it's just not complete without a tile mural! However, the two murals at this store aren't original to its 1959 grand opening, as Publix didn't begin using tile murals until the mid-1960's. Since these are Pati Mills' murals, it appears these were added during the store's first expansion in the mid-1970's, that era being the peak of Pati's mural commission for Publix.
The two tile murals featured at this store utilized the common food/wine/cornucopia theme, which was the default mural design when a unique local flare theme wasn't used. The mural pictured here is located on the right side of the building, and is the smaller of the two pictures. We'll see the other mural on the opposite end of the building at the end of this post, where the cornucopia itself is featured.
So what does a 61 year old Publix store look like on the inside, you ask? Let's step through those doors and find out...
If there's any company that can keep a 61 year old building looking well-kept and modern, it's Publix! Stepping inside, here's a look along the store's front wall, home to the service desk and an interesting little cafe. We'll see more of this area later in the post, as we're going to spin around and begin by entering the right side of the store, which is the late 1970's addition space.
Turning immediately to the right after leaving the vestibule, we find the store's pharmacy counter. The pharmacy counter with the curved awning is the current pharmacy design, added when this store remodeled to the Classy Market 3.0 decor in the mid-2010's. According to Florida's Pharmacy License database, the pharmacy license for this store was issued in 1999, pinning the addition of the pharmacy to the second expansion. However, I don't know if the pharmacy has been in this corner since 1999, or if it moved during the Classy Market 3.0 remodel (a common occurrence when older Publix stores with a pharmacy remodeled). The layout of this store is so funky from all the expansions though, it's hard to pinpoint many things from the past here!
Looking out from the pharmacy counter, here's the scene looking across the front of the store. The pharmacy and dairy departments, along with current aisles 1-6, are located in the 1970's expansion space.
Delving deeper into the store, we find the dairy department lining the wall in aisle 1, with the beer coolers located on the opposite side.
One thing to note about the dairy aisle is that is still contains an exposed terrazzo floor. This aisle, the back aisle in the 1970's addition, and the late 90's expansion are the only parts of this store to still utilize terrazzo. The original Wing Store portion and the rest of the 1970's addition have had their terrazzo tiled over.
Turning the corner out of the dairy department, here's our view across the back of the store. Like any really old supermarket that's been expanded multiple times through the years, the placement of the support columns sometimes doesn't make for the best photographic sight lines!
Taking a step to the right, here's a better look across the back of the store, a view actually possible now without that column blocking everything! Dairy overflow takes up these coolers along the back, with meat coolers following them. Most likely the 1970's expansion brought the deli into this corner of the store, where the coolers on my right currently are. The 1990's expansion would bring the deli to its current home, which we'll see later in this post.
Health and beauty products had their home in aisle 2, which is situated in front of the pharmacy. In stores with pharmacies, Publix will try to keep the health and beauty products in the same general area as the pharmacy counter.
Looking across the front of the store, the feel of this place seems pretty typical of an older Publix, the lack of terrazzo being the only clue there's something odd about this store.
However, you know there's something funny about this store when you see giant columns running down the middle of a grocery aisle. These columns mark the dividing line between the original Wing Store building and the 1970's addition. I'd have to guess the columns in this aisle designate the Wing Store's original exterior wall. Two aisles down from here are more big, thick columns, which probably designated the former location of an interior wall that separated the sales floor from a side stockroom.
Returning to the back aisle, here's a much better view across the back of the store. At least pyramids of canned corn are much less obstructive than giant columns!
More columns in the canned foods aisle. As obstructive as the column placement in this store is, it's just another reminder we're shopping in a 61-year-old store that was expanded twice.
Poking out again at the front end, we're now standing in the original portion of the building. The original building now contains aisles 7-15. Between the two expansions, this store has been doubled from its original size.
Cutting through another grocery aisle, we see the meat coolers in front of us as we near the back wall.
In the distance we see the meat and seafood counter, located near the original back left corner of the 1959 Wing Store.
The meat coolers take up the largest chunk of the back wall space, ending at the full service counter pictured here.
Even though this store looked and felt like a 1980's or 1990's Publix after all the work it's had done, strolling through the grocery aisles, I still had moments where this store gave off a strong old supermarket vibe, like you'd get in one of those small town independent stores. It was strange getting such a feeling in a Publix, in the heart of West Palm Beach too.
Beneath these tiles we'd see the classic Publix green and white striped terrazzo. To keep all the mismatched flooring from the multiple expansions in check, most of the center store was tiled over, although as we saw before, some more modern terrazzo around the perimeter of the store was left exposed.
Here's a closeup of the meat and seafood service counter, where the 'S' in seafood appears to be getting a little bit tired!
Moving away from the meat and seafood counter, here we're looking across the back of the store toward the late 1990's expansion space, where the rest of the service departments are located now. Unlike the transition into the 1970's expansion, the transition into the 1990's expansion space is much more apparent, but we'll see more of that later.
Cutting down aisle 12, we'll pop out in front of the wine department:
The wine department is tucked into a corner between the check lanes and the deli counter. The placement of wine in this spot isn't too unusual, as I've seen some older Publix stores have similar placement for their wine departments. There's also a chance the pharmacy could have been located in this spot prior to the Classy Market 3.0 remodel as well, but I don't know for sure, although the tile patter under the wine shelving appears to be a bit different from the rest of the store (the white tiles in the wine department being a brighter white than the tiles in the rest of the sales floor) .
Before we enter the 1990's addition, the last department we have to enter is frozen foods. The two frozen foods aisles take up the remainder of the original building.
The transition between the original store and the 1990's addition can be seen on the right side of the image, above the coolers.
Here's a final look into the original store, as we turn our attention to the fresh departments in the 1990's addition:
Entering the 1990's addition, we find the deli counter located in the store's front left corner, under the amalgamation of lower ceilings and transitions.
The transition into the 1990's addition is extremely apparent when you see the flooring switch back to terrazzo, and the ceiling change into the open warehouse type. The open ceiling in this part of the store makes it feel so much different than the rest of the place - almost a jarring difference between the quaint, old-school feel of the rest of the store and the modern feel of this addition.
Stepping back into aisle 16, the store's last aisle (and "grand aisle", so to speak), we get a better overview of the deli department. I visited this store right as the school across the street was letting out, so a bunch of parents were coming over to the deli counter with their kids to pick up some dinner. That being said, this part of the store was quite busy!
Next to the deli is the bakery, whose prep space is located along the left side wall. Lots of tables with baked goods for sale here too - the more to tempt me with!
The establishment of Publix's bakery only predates this store by two years. When Publix opened its first in-store bakery departments in 1957, the bakery was actually located in a separate storefront next to the main store, called the Publix Danish Bakery. Most likely, this store was set up the same way when it opened in 1959, with the bakery department moved into the main sales floor during the 1970's expansion. It's entirely possible the 1970's expansion took over the adjacent bakery storefront to expand the main sales floor. If you're interested in learning the entire history of the Publix Bakery department, this post on the Official Publix Blog does a nice job explaining everything. While we're here celebrating 90 years of Publix, I'll again point you off to some more Publix history reading: I actually did a post featuring the site of the very first Publix Bakery, located in the historic Southgate Shopping Center in Lakeland - a plaza very significant to Publix's history!
Moving along from the bakery, the next department we come across in the grand aisle is floral, with produce peeking out from behind that.
Produce takes up the back left corner of the store, and about half of the 1990's expansion space.
In this part of the store, it's really hard to tell the true age of this place!
From the back of the produce department, here's a look into the older part of the store, looking toward the meat and seafood counter.
Between the meat and seafood counter and the produce department was this small nook for grilling supplies. It looks like this spot would have had a more significant use before the 1990's expansion, but Publix still found a way to make this area useful today.
Here's one final look across the back of the store, as we turn around to focus on the 1990's addition once again:
We'll cut through produce one more time before working our way up the grand aisle and back outside.
This photo gives us a nice overview of the grand aisle, showing the placements of the deli, bakery, and floral departments in relation to each other.
Back into the original building we go as we enter the front end, preparing to make our way out of the place.
A total of 10 registers lined the front end, with an express lane on each side.
Thank you for shopping at the oldest surviving Publix, but first, what's that cafe all about?...
Publix Cafes aren't very common to begin with, much less at a Publix store built before the mid-2000's. That being said, I was quite surprised to walk in here and see the oldest store in the chain had a cafe! I'm not sure when the cafe was added here, but my guess was sometime in the mid-late 2000's. I believe that's the time frame when these first began to appear, the cafe most likely replacing a photo counter or some other dead space next to the service desk.
A steady stream of customers were going up the the cafe the few times I walked by it. These Publix Cafes offer your usual cafe fare - coffee, teas, smoothies, pastries, etc. Depending on the location, I've seen the cafes offer fancier things like ice cream or gelato, or in more Hispanic areas, the cafes will feature Hispanic pastries and snacks. The cafe here seemed to be of the smaller, coffee/tea/pastry type, but it had a following.
Here's a view of the cafe from the left side vestibule. Due to the proximity of the cafe to the left side doors, shopping carts are bumped against the side of the cafe for people entering through this side of the store.
Back outside, we have one more mural to take a look at. The left side of the building features the larger of the store's two tile murals, this one featuring the famous cornucopia and orange grove scene.
In the past, remodels and expansions have proven to be a bit tough on the tile murals. During this store's 1990's expansion, a fire door had to be carved out of part of the mural, right in the middle of the harvest flowing out of the cornucopia. However, I don't know how good a fire door is being blocked with shopping carts like this, but I'm not the one who put them there!
Here's one final look at the tile mural, this time focusing on the orange grove portion of the picture.
Publix's 1990's addition goes all the way to where the ceiling drops lower in front of me. Following that are the last few stores that call this side of the plaza home, the vast majority of that space being taken by CVS.
Trekking further down the walkway, here's a look toward CVS's entrance. The space CVS occupies was originally the Liggett Drugs store, which would later become an Eckerd. In 2004, Eckerd became a CVS, which has stayed in this spot all the way until the present.
I peeked inside the entrance to CVS, and as usual, there wasn't anything striking from Eckerd left behind inside. However, here's a photo of the store's facade, yet another example of the increasingly harder to find shopping center drug store.
Here you can see CVS in relation to Publix, Publix's left side entryway poking out from the corner of the picture.
And once again, the Publix store itself, amazingly alive and well 61 years after it first opened in this spot.
With all this talk of expansions throughout the post, I thought it may be helpful for me to outline all of the expansions this store had from above. The red box in the satellite image shows the current extent of Publix #50. The green box signifies the original Wing Store, the blue box is the 1970's expansion, and the yellow box in the 1990's expansion. These days, with all the expansions factored in, this is a fairly large Publix for its age at 45,000 square feet in size.
While I don't usually include historic aerial images in bonus store posts, I figured I'd do it today, especially considering the long history of this place and all the changes that have occurred through the years. That being said, here are the historic aerial images, courtesy of Google Earth and historicaerials.com:
Publix #50 - 2019
Publix #50 - 2005
Publix #50 - 1999 - The most recent expansion was brand new when this image was captured.
Publix #50 - 1995 - I couldn't find any images of what this store looked like after the 1970's expansion but before the 1990's one, but I imagine it looked something like this during that time. That was the store design Publix was using when the 1970's expansion would have finished.
Publix #50 - 1979
Publix #50 - 1968 - The store (and accompanying plaza) are all in their original form here. Even more fun - the shadow of the building on the parking lot clearly shows the top of Publix's wings!
Future Publix #50 - 1958 - Prior to the construction of Southdale Shopping Center, it looks like there was a small neighborhood on this land.
While a lot has changed at Southdale Shopping Center since its first stores opened in 1959, there is one thing that hasn't changed about this place since - the presence of Publix, their store in the middle of the plaza for 61 years and counting.
It was fun getting to see the oldest surviving Publix store in person, and the only operational Publix store dating back to the 1950's as well. While this place has been modernized and reconfigured through the years - seeing a 60+ year old Publix is still something to talk about! Like I said earlier in the post, I haven't heard anything of a replacement being in the works for this place, so it's going to keep going forward as is for a while longer. I'm not going to complain though - seeing how these older Publix stores constantly fall victim to the wrecking ball, it's nice to see a well cared for blast from the past from time to time! Publix has kept this really old store looking great, as in the hobby of exploring the retail around us, finding stores that are both old and well cared for can be much harder to find than you'd expect!
To conclude this post, we'll go all the way back to this store's beginning. Above is a photo of Southdale Shopping Center from the plaza's grand opening write-up in the Palm Beach Post from February 1960. Thanks to MFR contributor Cape Kennedy Retail, he was able to clip this photo and associated article from newspapers.com for me to share with everyone. While Publix opened at Southdale in October 1959, the plaza's grand opening didn't occur until the following February. The delay was necessary to allow all the stores in the plaza to be open for business at the grand opening, the missing link being W.T. Grant's opening. Anyhow, the entirety of the plaza as it appeared in February 1960 is pictured above, even if Publix's wings are slightly obstructed by the plaza's road sign! It's still a fun glimpse into the past of this 61-year-old Publix, which will hopefully stick around for a few years more!
I hope you guys enjoyed this look at Publix's oldest store, yet another lesser know slice of the chain's storied history. Even though Publix's 90's birthday seems to be getting swept under the rug this year, we're only 10 years out from Publix's centennial. I highly doubt that anniversary will pass with a whimper like this anniversary did, and I'm excited to see just what may happen then! Speaking of Floridian supermarket centennials, Winn-Dixie will turn 100 in 2025. Winn-Dixie has never made much of a deal about the company's anniversaries like Publix has (at least from what I've seen), but who knows if they might do something big for their 100th birthday - that is, as long as a going out of business sale is not it!
Anyway, happy 90th birthday Publix! Even at 90 years old, you're certainly showing no signs of stopping - so who knows where you'll be another 90 years from now!
So that's all I have for today's post. Until next time,
The Albertsons Florida Blogger