500 East Lake Road South, Palm Harbor, FL - The Shoppes of Boot Ranch
Jewel-Osco's history in Florida actually dates back to the late 1970's. While Jewel-Osco was a Chicago-based company with Midwestern roots, the company was always interested in new ventures and expansions. From dabbling in various industries (like Jewel's Turn Style discount stores and White Hen Pantry convenience stores) to expansions outside of the company's usual comfort zones (such as buying Boston-based Star Markets and Montana-based Buttrey Foods in the 1960's), Jewel wasn't afraid to take a chance in those days. Jewel's first crack at Florida came through the company's dabbling in the discount grocery industry, a store by the name of Jewel T (the store's name a nod to Jewel's origins as the Jewel Tea Company). To not erode sales of the parent company's stores in their Midwestern home, Jewel began to open Jewel T stores in far flung places, starting with a store in New Port Richey, FL. While Jewel T grew to a sizeable presence in Florida, Jewel T later branched out to other markets like Pennsylvania, Texas, California and other areas surrounding those mentioned states. While Jewel T got off to a strong start, increased pressure from other supermarket chains fighting back against off-price competitors eroded Jewel T's sales. After a few closure waves, the remaining Jewel T stores were sold off in 1984, ending that experiment. In addition to the failure of Jewel T, parent company Jewel-Osco was having financial troubles of its own. Later in 1984, Jewel-Osco was acquired by Skaggs Stores in a hostile takeover.
With Skaggs Stores (now known as American Stores Company following the takeover of Jewel-Osco) growing in power, American Stores (ASCO) began forming expansion plans of their own. With the Jewel-Osco name now in their hands, ASCO felt the opportunity was ripe to expand the brand. The first new market for Jewel-Osco following the buyout: Florida. Bringing Jewel-Osco to Florida would also mark the return of the Skaggs family to the state, after Skaggs (not-so amicably) dissolved its partnership with Albertsons in 1978, ceding the Florida stores to Albertsons as part of the termination deal. However, the Jewel-Osco stores to open in Florida would be nothing like the Midwestern counterpart - actually, the Floridian Jewel-Osco stores shared nothing in common with the original Jewel-Osco besides the name, as they were to be an entirely new concept altogether. ASCO decided to name their new Floridian venture Jewel-Osco to win over the many Midwestern transplants living in Florida, choosing to begin the expansion in the Tampa Bay area, a hotspot for Midwestern transplants. The first Jewel-Osco to open in Florida was located at the Largo Mall in Largo, opening in March 1989. More Jewel-Osco stores would follow in Clearwater, Palm Harbor, Hudson, Tampa, Temple Terrace, and Bradenton, with plans for an additional Tampa store, a Brandon store, and a Fort Myers store also in the works, along with an expansion to Florida's East Coast to begin after 1992.
Pictured above is the very Jewel-Osco store we'll be touring today in Palm Harbor, sometime in the store's early days following its opening in February 1990. YonWooRetail2 was able to dig up this classic photo, as well as one additional photo of this store we'll see later in this post. Like I said earlier, these stores were massive, breaking 70,000 square feet in size. That's a massive store for its day, the only other grocery chain to try such a massive prototype in Florida being the equally unsuccessful Xtra Super Food Centers in the South and Central parts of the state in the early 90's. ASCO pushed the size of their new Jewel-Osco stores as their defining mark, featuring over 60,000 different items, and extras like a juice bar, a newsstand with papers from out of town, a full-service floral counter and a soda fountain. Jewel-Osco even developed a new tagline for these Florida stores too, their massive size in mind: "Jewel-Osco: All the things you are looking for."
|Photo recreation courtesy of YonWooRetail2|
While Jewel-Osco's stores were a sight to behold, they turned into nothing but a money pit for the debt-beguiled ASCO. Expensive marketing and high overhead costs from operating such a massive store with so many frills was putting a strain on ASCO. Only two years into the Floridian Jewel-Osco venture, signs of trouble were very apparent. ASCO cut their Floridian corporate staff in half in 1991, and rumors of a sale to Albertsons were running rampant, with executives from Albertsons seen touring the Floridian Jewel-Osco stores and making offers for Jewel-Osco's Orlando distribution center. In 1992, after all the speculation, ASCO finally announced that the 7 Florida Jewel-Osco stores were indeed to be sold to Albertsons, who quickly converted all 7 locations to their name. In the end, ASCO's Floridian venture seemed to come off as nothing more than a showy, spiteful attempt for ASCO to try to get a one-up on Albertsons after the Skaggs-Albertsons partnership dissolved in sour terms in 1978. To observers, it seemed like ASCO was still upset that Albertsons was the one to get the coveted Florida stores out of the dissolution of the partnership, with ASCO having to give in to Albertsons once again upon the failure of Jewel-Osco. This article is a nice summary of everything that went wrong for Jewel-Osco in Florida, and also explains ASCO's bitterness toward Albertsons.
By the end of 1992, Albertsons had converted all 7 of the newly acquired Jewel-Osco stores to their own name. While two of the former Jewel-Osco stores would crash and burn once again under Albertsons (#4405 in Temple Terrace and #4406 in Tampa, both closing within a year or two of the conversions), the other 5 stores enjoyed success in their new lives. While Albertsons removed most of the frills from Jewel-Osco, Albertsons was no stranger to running such a large store like this, as large stores were always one of Albertsons' specialties. In later years Albertsons would remodel these stores, although most retained their original Jewel-Osco layouts until the very end (actually, the only former Jewel-Osco store Albertsons ever did any major work to was the Largo Mall store, and that was during its 2016 conversion into Safeway!). While the Largo Mall Jewel-Osco was clearly a successful store for Albertsons, who kept that one until the better end in Florida, Albertsons sold their 4 other Jewel-Oscos to Publix in 2008.
While Albertsons was no stranger to running such a massive store - Publix is. Publix's largest store prototype tops out at 61,000 square feet, and that store model is extremely rare. Publix is quite happy with their sweet spot of running stores in the 45,000-55,000 square foot range, with some even smaller designs thrown in there too. That being said, walking around a 75,000 square foot Publix is a bizarre experience, as you can tell Publix has no idea what to do with all the extra space they inherited. While this is a building with an interesting history and a tie to Albertsons, getting to experience a freakishly large Publix made this experience that much more intriguing to me! The four former Jewel-Osco buildings Publix operates out of comprise the four largest Publix stores in the entire chain, and nearly the entirety of Publix's ten largest stores are former Albertsons, per this list and discussion (which I must note, occurred before Publix bought the Largo Mall Jewel-Osco/Albertsons/Safeway, which is definitely in the top 4 now).
While Publix operates out of 4 of these super-sized buildings currently, they did have a fifth - the former Hudson Jewel-Osco/Albertsons. Unfortunately, Publix grew tired of all the extra space there, and closed that store for a tear-down and rebuild in 2017. On that site a typical 45,000 square foot Publix now stands, in conformity with most other stores in the chain. While none of the other former Jewel-Osco stores appear to be in any danger of Publix's on-call wrecking balls just yet, I can't help but think another one of these will suffer the same fate eventually, as their size is not doing them any favors in Publix's eyes.
However, Publix's persnicketies aside, we really need to take the time to appreciate these remaining Floridian supermarket oddballs. For whatever reason large supermarkets have never done well in Florida, and Publix and Winn-Dixie have never had any desire to dabble much with stores over 60,000 square feet in size. Even Albertsons had to keep their stores modest here, building stores in the 55,000-60,000 square foot range for the most part. However, I wouldn't say Floridians are completely turned off by large stores, but rather the chains that would have had any success at pulling off a large store here (Publix and Winn-Dixie) have never tried that format. While Publix
aims for world domination does their thing with modestly sized stores, Winn-Dixie is now turning to small stores rather than large ones in their latest turnaround plan. While Kroger, Albertsons, HEB, and Wegmans turn to large 80,000+ sqft. stores as their future, Floridian supermarkets are shrinking. Yes, Florida is a strange place, and we just have to accept that!
Longwinded backstories aside, we finally find ourselves at the front walkway of today's Publixsons store (or is it Publix-Osco? Jewel-Publixsons?). To give you an idea of how massive this store is, it has three entrances. The doors in the middle are what I would consider the "main entrance", and lead to a little entrance pathway between the check lanes. Immediately to my left is a side entrance into the pharmacy department, with another side door that enters into produce at the opposite end of the building (way down there in the distance).
Here's a close-up of the pharmacy side entrance, which has a single sliding door leading into a small vestibule.
Moving further down, we find the doors leading into the main entryway, consisting of two sets of sliding doors. The produce side entrance is visible in the distance, designed as a mirror image of the pharmacy entrance we just saw. For the full effect, we'll enter through the main entrance in the middle. Without any further ado, who wants to see what a 75,000 square foot Publix looks like inside?...
Stepping through the main doors, this is what we see as we enter the salesfloor. A few promotional displays line a small cut through between the two banks of check lanes, leading shoppers into the grocery aisles. While the spaciousness of this store starts to become apparent in this view, let me pan to the right for a better overview of what we'll be seeing a lot of throughout this tour: