Albertsons #4307 / Rowe's IGA Market / Publix #1177
7117 Merrill Road, Jacksonville, FL - Dames Pointe Plaza
While Winn-Dixie is riding high with their new stores, Publix continues to do what they do best - dominating Florida's grocery industry in just about every way possible. It will probably be a while before Publix becomes overly alarmed by whatever the pesky red checkmark is up to, as even with a handful of shiny new stores, Winn-Dixie has a lot of ground to make up if they ever wish to be the thorn in Publix's side again. For now, Publix and their 816 (and growing) Floridian locations will continue to serve as the state's grocery powerhouse, while Winn-Dixie gets their feet wet with a few small steps in the right direction for the first time in years. It's quite crazy to think that a single grocery chain can operate such a large number of stores in one state - 816. Florida is a big place, yes, but to put things in perspective - Albertsons/Safeway, the largest grocery operator in California by market share, only has 608 stores there (as of 2018). Publix's "saturate and dominate" strategy is one of the reasons they've become the grocery king of Florida and the powerhouse they are, operating so many stores in one area to the point where they strangle out the existing competition, and also prevent others from wanting to enter due to the high store saturation. While Albertsons is the king of California, they were no match for the king of Florida, who successfully strangled Albertsons out of the state for good in 2018. In the years long process of chasing Albertsons out of Florida, Publix came into ownership of approximately 60 of Albertsons' former Floridian locations - or roughly 8% of Publix's store count in Florida - a small but decent chunk when you think about it. As our adventure through the former Albertsons stores of Florida continues, today we find ourselves in that relatively fascinating 8% of Publix's store count, exploring another Publixsons.
Opening in 1975, not only was store #4307 one of the first few Albertsons to open in Florida, but it was one of the two stores Albertsons opened to establish their presence in Jacksonville (with #4307 opening alongside of, or very shortly after, its counterpart #4305 on University Blvd. in the city's Southside). Through the years, Albertsons never seemed to penetrate Jacksonville as well as other major cities in the Florida, ending up with only 7 stores total in Jacksonville and the counties surrounding it by the time the company pulled out of the area in 2005. Even though the stores closed not long after, Albertsons did go through and thoroughly remodel their three oldest Jacksonville locations around the turn of the new millennium (#4305, #4307, and #4325) - each store receiving an identical facade upgrade and interior reconfiguration to bring the stores in-line with the Grocery Palace design being used at the time. Whether or not the three remodels were spurred by semi-decent sales at these locations, or if those remodels were a last ditch effort to prop up an ailing division, we'll never know, but Albertsons did a really good job of modernizing these stores at the time. In 2005, Albertsons sold this store, along with all the other Jacksonville-area stores, to former supermarket executive Rob Rowe. Rob Rowe's goal with the newly acquired Albertsons stores was to use them to launch his own new chain - Rowe's IGA Markets. As we've discussed in the past, Rowe's new stores got off to a really rough start, the story of that you can recap in this post. With sales struggling, Rob Rowe sold three of his stores to Publix in 2007 - this location in Jacksonville's Arlington neighborhood being one of them. After a little light remodeling, Publix opened this store shortly after acquiring it from Rob Rowe, using it as a replacement for a much older and smaller store nearby. Besides an exterior repaint and a single decor swap in the early 2010's, Publix has done very little to this place - so little, in fact, that if you look closely at the exterior, Albertsons' labelscars still bleed through the new paint. That makes this place quite interesting from a grocery archaeology perspective, but also seems concerning to me, as we all know how picky Publix can be about the buildings they call home...
As far as I'm aware, Publix doesn't have any known plans to tear this building down for a new store anytime soon, so we're free to enjoy the glimpse into supermarkets past this store provides us. Besides the blue paint, everything about the exterior is courtesy of Albertsons' ca. 2000 remodel. While the blue paint seems very Albertsons-like, Albertsons had this store painted beige through their entire 30 years here. Publix even kept the original beige paint scheme mostly in-tact until sometime in late 2019/early 2020, when the blue paint scheme came about.
While it's blatantly obvious in person, zooming into this photo is probably the best chance you have at making out some of the Albertsons labelscars still on the front of the building - 14 years after Albertsons left too! Right above the 'Entry' sign on the textured arch above the door is a "Food" labelscar, and to the left of Publix's logo is a very clear A-leaf logo, with the text 'Albertsons' going behind and to the right of Publix's sign. The scars are a little more apparent in Google Street View, but not by much.
While this is a traditional Skaggs-era Albertsons building at its core, the entire front was reconfigured to resemble the usual design of an early 2000's Grocery Palace store, with the two sets of sliding doors between a wall of windows.
Stepping inside, the half-wall to our left separates a cart storage area from the main store. The deli lies in the front left corner straight ahead, which we'll meander toward as we start our tour.
Since this was an older building, the two sets of doors were set much further apart from each other than a typical new-build Grocery Palace store, engulfing the entirety of the original Skaggs-era vestibule. That makes for a lot of room to store carts between the two doors, which probably comes in handy for Publix, considering how busy their stores always seem to be.
As usual in recent remodels, Publix has moved their service desk to an island next to the front check lanes. Albertsons' (and Publix's pre-2010's) service desk would have been against the front wall toward the opposite side of the building from where we're standing, and we'll see the remains of what (I believe) was the old service desk later in the post.
Another fun little Albertsons relic we'll be seeing throughout the store (if you haven't noticed it already), is all the white trim and crown molding - an pretty big holdover from the old Grocery Palace decor. This perspective in particular showcases one of the biggest Grocer Palace remnants in the entire building, that upper corner at the start of the deli wall, which Publix merely painted over in their last remodel. While not the same perspective, here's a similar taste of what the molding and texturing would have looked like with the original decor.
Grocery Palace stores were given a rather large space for their delis, as part of the expanded prepared foods programs Albertsons was piloting in the early 2000's. Originally, the deli space along the front wall would have been a prep area for the fresh foods, with the main deli counter around the corner on the left wall. Going even further back into this building's history, these really old Floridian Albertsons stores would have had the deli located along the left wall, the bakery following the deli counter in the back left corner of the store. That meant Albertsons did some serious reconfiguration of this side of the store during the Grocery Palace remodel, with the service departments moving around like that!
Here's a look at the main deli counter along the left side wall. Most of Publix's service counter is located here, with the exception of the sub counter, which is located around the corner on the front wall.
An island of prepackaged deli foods occupies the center of the department, and a cooler of deli teas takes up the remaining space along the front wall. Due to the unusual-for-Publix layout of this store, Publix's dump bins of the week's BOGO deals got pushed all the way over here between the deli and bakery. Publix usually places these bins by the front door so they're the first thing you see upon entering, so it's weird seeing them anywhere but up front by the doors!
The floral department resides in an island in front of the bakery, next to which a short aisle of groceries projects out.
Turning our attention to the left side wall again, we find the bakery, and more Classy Market 2.5 decor set atop the Grocery Palace remnants. When this store opened in late 2007, it most likely would have opened with the Classy Market 1.0 decor, the remodel to Classy Market 2.5 happening in the early 2010's (probably around 2012/2013 or so). While it wasn't unusual for Publix to leave some Albertsons decor remnants after the initial conversions (which was common with the 49 Albertsons stores Publix bought in 2008), it's a bit unusual to see Albertsons remnants (like the molding and texturing) remain after the second remodel. Publix's second remodels are usually more thorough, stripping out what was left of the Albertsons remnants that were missed the first time around. While its fun to see so much original stuff left behind in here, it also concerns me that this store could be higher on the replacement list than the Publixsons stores more work has been put into (like this one).
While Publix will usually remodel the bakery to their more standard curved design of the last 10 years or so, the bakery was never touched here, remaining in the exact placement and configuration that Albertsons left it in. The left side wall actually angles out just a bit when you approach the bakery, giving the bakery more prep space, and also allowing for some prep space for the produce department in the back left corner of the store.
Here's one last look toward the bakery and deli as we work our way into the produce department:
Produce is located in the back left corner of the store, with Grocery Palace Albertsons stores usually having produce pushed toward the back corner like this.
As we look across the produce department, we see the windows for the offices on the mezzanine level in the back of the store, a classic feature of these 1970's and early 1980's Albertsons stores.
Here's a nice overview of the store's spacious grand aisle. While the size of these Albertsons stores can sometimes be a bit too much for Publix to handle, at 55,000 square feet, this one is just right for Publix. The size of this building is large enough to keep the store from feeling cramped, but isn't excessively large to the point we'll see anything like this here. 55,000 square feet is right around the maximum size of Publix's comfort zone. Going too far beyond that, Publix runs out of ideas for how to fill up all the extra space.
The bulk food dispensers you see to my right were attached to the back of the Floral island, with a short grocery aisle just beyond that. Aisle 2 is the full-length aisle that sticks out straight in front of me. The short aisle between the floral island and aisle 2 is officially unnumbered, but should have been aisle 1 (so I don't know why that couldn't have stuck a '1' on the aisle marker, especially since Publix went through the trouble to hang a marker here anyway!).
As we leave the produce department, here's a look up aisle 2, the front entrance located straight ahead.
In the back of the building, leaving produce, we find the meat coolers.
We'll return to the meat department before long, but first let's zig-zag through a few grocery aisles...
Up front once again, here's a look across the width of the building. While the row of support poles obstruct our view of it, the pharmacy is located straight ahead in the distance, and the check lanes are to my right.
Meats occupy the majority of the back wall space, with the service counter roughly centered along the back wall.
Frozen foods occupy the center of the store, a coffin cooler of frozen goods visible to my left. While we have that cooler, the rest of the aisle I was standing in was actually home to beer and wine.
Moving further up that same aisle, chilled beer occupies the cooler to my left, with more wine to my right.
Jumping over one more aisle, we officially enter Frozen Foods.
I believe frozen foods were located in the center of the store during Albertsons' time as well, even dating back to the days before the Grocery Palace remodel. Many Grocery Palace remodels would have pushed frozen foods to the side wall like this, but based on how little Publix did in converting this store, I can't imagine Publix moving the coolers around from how Albertsons had them.
Nearing the end of the aisle, here's another look at the back of the store and the upstairs office windows.
The service meat and seafood counter can be seen in detail here. During Publix's last remodel, the tile backsplash was changed out. I point that out because I always liked the Classy Market 2.5 meat and seafood tile backsplash, which used rainbow tiles on a blue background to represent bubbles floating up through the water.
Here's a more pulled-back look at the meat and seafood counter, looking in the direction of the produce department.
After passing the service counter, the last little bit of the meat department we see contains pre-sliced lunch meats. After that, we transition into dairy, where the color of the wall changes to yellow.
As we near the right side wall, we'll zip through the last few aisles in the store:
Baby supplies and overflow health and beauty products occupy the second to last aisle, which resides near the pharmacy counter.
The store's last aisle, aisle 13, is home to dairy and loaves of white bread. Besides that little bit on the back wall, the majority of the store's dairy selection was located in this aisle.
Located in the store's front right corner, we find the pharmacy counter. The pharmacy counter has been located in this spot since Albertsons' Grocery Palace remodel. Prior to the Grocery Palace remodel, there was a side entrance located here, the removal of which allowed for the addition of the new liquor store as well (which we'll see at the end of this post). Before the remodel, the pharmacies in these older Albertsons stores would have been located in the back right corner, very much like store #4301 in Clearwater was arranged until the day that store closed in 2015. The Clearwater store was basically a carbon copy of what this store would have looked like prior to the Grocery Palace remodel. You can take a look at the Clearwater store here if you wanted to picture the original pre-remodel layout.
The pharmacy department is one of the few areas of the store Publix put a little bit of work into through the years, as the counter feels more Publix-like than most other areas of the store (probably because all the Grocery Palace relics were removed). If Publix wanted to get fancier, a more in-depth remodel would have made the pharmacy counter look more like this, as the curved fronts are typical of a modern Publix store. Rowe's IGA Market wouldn't have used the pharmacy counter (as they don't run pharmacies), so Publix probably had to uncover and undo whatever Rowe's did to block off the counter from the main store during their few short years in this building. In the process of reopening the pharmacy counter, Publix probably decided to remodel the entire counter to be more in-line with their standards.
A few short aisles of pharmaceuticals extend out from the pharmacy counter, a typical arrangement for Publix. While I've seen some Albertsons stores with a similar arrangement, I can't say for certain if they also had pharmaceuticals here, or something else. I do know the wall to the right of the pharmacy counter was home to something else when Albertsons was here - most likely a video rental center if I had to guess, but I can't say for sure. It definitely was something that Publix (or Rowe's) decided to cover up.
Nearing the end of the pharmaceutical merchandise, here's another look at the front wall, moving closer to the front entrance. This seems to be the most likely original home for the service desk during the Albertsons days, and most likely the home for Publix's service desk during their first few years as well. There was definitely something in this spot when Albertsons was here if it wasn't the service desk, as evidenced by the gap in the molding and yellow patch Publix used to hide whatever signage scar Albertsons left behind.
As we begin to work our way out, here's one last look at the pharmacy counter. Prior to the Grocery Palace remodel, we would have been looking at Albertsons' side entrance. The fact this was an old entryway explains why the pharmacy counter is recessed into the wall like it is, an odd remnant from this building's original design.
Before we leave, here are a few photos looking across the front end. The photo above looks toward the pharmacy...
…and with this photo, we spin around to look back toward the deli.
Looking though the check lanes, here's another look toward the (presumable) former service desk, as well as the front door.
We'll end our interior tour of the former Arlington Albertsons the same way we began - looking across the vestibule. While small things, this photo gives us a nice recap of the Grocery Palace remnants still lurking in this place all these years later - certainly an interesting sight, especially since Publix has been in this building for 14 years now.
Back outside, here's a nice overview photo of the entire storefront, including the attached liquor store next door.
The liquor store we see here was added as part of the Grocery Palace remodel, covering up the former side entrance I mentioned before. Interestingly, per this old ad uncovered by YonWooRetail2, it appears Albertsons never had a liquor store at this location prior to the Grocery Palace remodel (as the ad states "Jacksonville, Merrill & Townsend - Liquor not available"). Offering the full liquor stores were a big part of Albertsons supersized, one-stop-shop format of the late 1970's and early 1980's, so it was very uncommon to see a Floridian Albertsons without one. That ad I linked to mentions the only other Floridian locations I'm aware of to also lack liquor stores - #4308 in Belleair Bluffs and #4321 in Tampa. #4308 and #4321 both lacked liquor stores (and in the case of #4321, sale of all alcohol) due to local opposition of having one when the stores were about to be built, so it seems likely a similar situation prevented the opening of a liquor store here as well. Like #4307 here in Arlington, #4308 eventually gained a liquor store during a remodel later in that store's life, and #4321 never lived long enough to see the day when Albertsons may have wanted to try for a liquor license again. I wonder if this store (and those others I mentioned) were built with a liquor store space completely in-tact, just never occupied, with Albertsons holding out hope they'd be able to open one eventually.
The faint vertical seam between the liquor store and the main building marks where the two attach. Other than that, it appears as if the liquor store had always been here, as Albertsons upgraded the entire facade during the remodel to give the building a unified look. However, the remodel did miss a spot. After adding on the liquor store, Albertsons never bothered to stucco over the remainder of the right side of the building behind the liquor store, leaving this relic of the past behind!
I've been to a number of Publixsons stores now, however, this particular location had to be one of the more interesting ones I've been to, considering how little Publix has done to this place over the years. Albertsons labelscars and decor remnants inside a Publixsons are a rarity anymore, and there was plenty of both to see here in Arlington. Considering the entire theme of this blog, it's no surprise that I like a good supermarket conversion (and associated remnants of the past), and this place certainly delivered!
Rounding the corner on the left side of the building, here's a picture of the small sliver of building that sticks out from the rest of the plaza.
While Albertsons opened in 1975, it sat by itself on this property until 1987, when the remainder of the plaza you see here was constructed. The plaza contains mostly smaller storefronts, with Family Dollar and Bailey's Fitness occupying junior anchor-sized spaces (one of which was probably a drugstore back in the day).
With my ground coverage pretty much complete, it's time to fly to the sky for some satellite imagery, starting with some Bird's Eye aerial images courtesy of Bing Maps:
Right Side - You can see the original river rock panels from this vantage point too.
And now for the satellite imagery through the years, courtesy of Google Earth and historicaerials.com:
Former Albertsons #4307 - 2019 - An overview of the entire plaza here.
Former Albertsons #4307 - 2011
Former Albertsons #4307 - 2007 - Rowe's had already closed, but Publix had yet to move in.
Former Albertsons #4307 - 2006 - As Rowe's IGA Market
Albertsons #4307 - 2005
Albertsons #4307 - 1999 - The building in its original form here, as the Grocery Palace remodel had yet to begin.
Albertsons #4307 - 1994
Albertsons #4307 - 1983 - Albertsons was still all alone, as the neighboring plaza had yet to be built.
Future Albertsons #4307 - 1970 - A big empty lot primed for development, which would come its way in a few more years with an exciting new-to-Florida grocery chain.
I couldn't find any actual photos of #4307 online while in business, so this recreation by Yon Woo will have to act as a substitute. Since Publix didn't do much to the exterior through the years besides painting everything blue, add in some signs and beige paint, and you have yourselves an Albertsons once again! Jacksonville has no shortage of interesting supermarkets and strange conversions within its 875 square miles, which has made it a fun place to explore my few times up that way. We'll stay in Jacksonville for one more post in two weeks, before switching to something different for a little bit. Finishing this post, you now know the entire story of the Albertsons that once occupied this building. However, what we saw today is only part of the story for Publix. Like I said before, Publix moved here from an older location nearby - that older location being our subject for next time, so be sure to come back in two weeks for that!
So until the next post,
The Albertsons Florida Blogger