|Grand opening ad from the Mobile Register, January 26, 1977. Courtesy Newspapers.com|
Former Albertsons #4317
258 Azalea Road (4013 Airport Boulevard), Mobile, AL -- Azalea Center
Hi everyone! Retail Retell here, proprietor of the Mid-South Retail Blog (and sometimes-contributor to this blog's sister project, My Florida Retail). Earlier this year, your very own Albertsons Florida Blogger was kind enough to help me out by guest-authoring a post on my blog while I was busy earning my professional credentials. To return the favor, today I am serving as your guest author here on the Albertsons Florida Blog, showcasing my recent visit to the former Mobile, Alabama, Albertsons.
Albertsons opened its very first store in Alabama in the city of Mobile in 1977, while the chain was still partnered with Skaggs. The Alabama stores were considered part of the Florida Division of Albertsons, and Mobile likely made sense as a starting point because of the city's location along the Gulf Coast, just 30 miles or so from Alabama's border with the Florida panhandle. Over time, Albertsons expanded northward throughout the state of Alabama. However, compared to Florida, in Alabama Albertsons had a sparser footprint. This meant fewer stores spread farther apart, as can be seen in the map below:
Oh wait, that's a map of all of the Albertsons stores in Mississippi, the product of several weeks' worth of research conducted by AFB and myself a few years back! Silly me, how did that get there? 😄
Here's the actual Alabama map:
As you can see, Albertsons' presence never really grew very much in Alabama. The chain wound up with only seven stores in the entire state, scattered about. Following the 1977 grand opening in Mobile, it took Albertsons three more years before materializing anywhere else in Alabama, with three new stores in Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, and Dothan opening in 1980. Another in Montgomery and one in Huntsville opened in 1982, and the chain's final Alabama store was a second location in Huntsville, opened in 1983.
Just two short years after that, Albertsons called it quits in Alabama, selling all seven stores to Bruno's. This exit from Alabama was considerably early in comparison to Albertsons' large-scale exit from Florida, which wouldn't take place until 2008. As a matter of fact, Albertsons' stated reason for its retreat from Alabama was so that it could use the money gained from the sale to invest more in its stores in Florida and Texas, where business was better -- that's kind of ironic, in hindsight!
The 1985 sale to Bruno's was seen as a major success to that Alabama-based legacy family-owned chain, which continued riding high in the immediate years to follow. Unfortunately, Bruno's fortunes took a sad turn in 1991, when the crash of the corporate jet took the lives of all nine people on board, the two pilots plus seven corporate executives with the chain. The Wikipedia article for Bruno's sums it up succinctly: "Following the crash, the company was never the same, and within four years, it was sold."
|Ad from the Mobile Register, December 20, 1982. Courtesy Newspapers.com. Thanks to YonWooRetail2 for clipping and sharing these!|
Albertsons actually had several other dealings with Bruno's in the years that followed, including transactions in Memphis, Nashville, and Chattanooga, which have been covered previously on my blog. Likewise, information on the other six Alabama Albertsons stores has been shared before here on the Albertsons Florida Blog, most notably on the comprehensive store list but also in a series of two posts documenting both of the former Montgomery, AL, stores, with photos contributed by YonWooRetail2. But since the subject of this post is specifically the Mobile Albertsons, I'm going to leave it to all of those other resources to share the details of those other items; today, we focus on 258 Azalea Road.
After the Mobile Albertsons was sold to Bruno's in 1985, Bruno's continued operating in the building until around 2004-2005. The store sat vacant for a few years after that, while being actively marketed for new tenants. Due to the unique positioning of the building at the southwest corner of a major intersection (pictured below), it is the north, or right-hand, side of the building that faces the main road, rather than the front -- and thus it is that same northern/right-side wall that was subdivided, so that the two primary new tenants could take advantage of the roadside visibility. I was unable to track down exact opening dates, but it seems like both of those tenants opened in short succession, sometime around 2010: Dollar Tree, and Haverty's Furniture. (An odd pairing for sure!)
|Screengrab courtesy Google Maps|
Following a quick aerial view to help us get our bearings, we begin with this view of the north wall, facing Airport Boulevard, which is what the building considers its address today (as opposed to the cross-street of Azalea Road, where Albertsons and Bruno's both had their addresses). As you can see, the narrow side wall makes for a bit of an unusual conversion, not to mention the unconventional tenant duo here. The new façades for both Haverty's and Dollar Tree certainly look nice, but the unfortunate downside to carving those new façades out of the side of the building like this is that there are no former Albertsons traits to be had... and similarly, we'll soon find that the interiors of both stores were gutted as well.
We'll explore the Dollar Tree half of the subdivision first. Of the 56,000-square-foot structure, Dollar Tree takes up approximately 10,000 square feet in what would have been considered the front right corner of the grocery store. AFB informs me that this area would likely have been home to the pharmacy counter and health and beauty department during the Albertsons days, as well as a side entrance to the building, perhaps where Dollar Tree's entrance is now -- although of course, Dollar Tree's entrance does not reuse any old doors that may have been left over from Albertsons. Unlike the Florida stores, there would not have been an Albertsons liquor store on this side of the building, as Alabama's liquor laws disallowed those.
Inside, we find pretty standard Dollar Tree fare, up to and including the usual layout with seasonal goods on the right, as soon as you enter. One somewhat interesting layout feature to note is the center cut-through aisle, seen in the bottom image above, perhaps necessitated by the store's narrow width resulting in a deeper layout than normal.
The back wall of the store has some refrigerated and frozen foods coolers, again standard fare for Dollar Tree these days. I'm not sure if they would have been here originally when the store opened circa 2010, however. Between this and the Dollar Tree pantry department, at least the building still sells a tiny bit of food!
Walking down the left-side wall of Dollar Tree -- which would have been the front wall of Albertsons -- and circling back to the store's entrance. There is an emergency exit door on that left wall, which can be seen five images prior to the final one above. However, as best as I can tell, it doesn't actually open up to the outside of the building, so clearly there must be some stockroom space or other hallway/corridor of some sort hidden behind that Cleaning Supplies wall.
Exiting Dollar Tree and entering Haverty's. If even Dollar Tree didn't have any Albertsons remnants, then certainly Haverty's would not. The construction on this space was pretty extensive, even raising the ceiling here at the front foyer area for a grand first impression! We can see that the lighting is entirely different from Dollar Tree, and it seems that the drop ceiling is higher, too. (On that note, it is technically possible that Dollar Tree's ceiling and lighting remain unchanged from Albertsons and Bruno's, but I doubt it.)
Two pics looking toward the back of the store, one from the front entrance, the other from a spot already quite close to that Guest Services counter in the back right corner. Lots of nice-looking furniture in here! This was actually my first time in a Haverty's, so I enjoyed looking around. Even better, the salespeople were not pushy at all, and let my family and I look around in peace, which was very refreshing compared to the typical furniture store experience.
This pic looks back toward the front entrance to Haverty's, while the shot below looks across to the salesfloor's right-side wall, which is in fact the rear of the building. Gotta love those fake TV sets that furniture stores use as decorations for staging! And sarcasm aside, I actually do love the elegant-looking divider walls and columns that Haverty's constructed to add some sophistication and division to its interior layout.
Compared to Dollar Tree's 10,000 square feet, Haverty's takes up approximately 35,000 square feet of this 56,000-square-foot building: in other words, the majority of the space. As a result, it's probably fair to say that Haverty's salesfloor and backroom space spans all the way over to the opposite, left-side wall of the former grocery store. This would mean that the area now home to Haverty's would once have encompassed much of Albertsons' grocery aisles, its centrally-located frozen foods department, and the dairy, meat and seafood, and produce departments along the rear wall. (For a good visualization of all of this, be sure to check out this store's "number neighbor," store #4318, in Tampa.)
In addition, a good chunk of space behind Albertsons' salesfloor between it and the rear wall would have been home to the stockroom, with mezzanine offices above: but we see that Haverty's clearly tore all of that out, as those windows straight ahead indicate that the other side of that wall is indeed the exterior of the building. So, lots of work was done in converting the space from its grocery use to Haverty's, for sure.
One last shot from the interior of Haverty's shows us another angle on that grand front foyer area, with the curved, raised ceiling piece, complete with hanging chandelier-style light fixture, and the geometric-patterned windows comprising the main entrance, featuring some colored glass pieces to add some extra visual interest. This is absolutely a far cry from the dull-in-comparison Blue & Gray Market dairy décor that likely would have occupied this corner back in the Albertsons days! But still very fun to explore, nonetheless.
Thankfully, as we exit Haverty's and round the corner to the front of the building (facing away from the main road, Airport Boulevard), the difficult task of making out former Albertsons features becomes less impossible, and more like child's play! (Get it? Because this portion of the building is now occupied by a pediatric hospital? Okay, fine, I'll leave the puns to AFB from now on.)
Seriously though, over here at the true front of the building, we find the old Albertsons architecture virtually untouched, and easily recognizable. Quite the change of pace from the Dollar Tree/Haverty's side of the building.
Infirmary Pediatrics leased what I presume is the final 8,200-square-foot chunk of space in 2015, and while they did seal up and plaster over most of Albertsons' original door and window configuration -- compare to YonWoo's screengrab here -- the overall architectural design, again, is mostly unaltered.
As we'll see down below, the hospital's use of plaster continued across to the panels adjacent to the entrance on the left half of the front wall of the building, meaning that all of the trademark river rock detailing on the structure was replaced... all, that is, except for a lone, singular set of panels along what serves as Dollar Tree's left-side wall, in the very front right corner of the building. Naturally, I couldn't resist getting a close-up of that! Forget my actual master's degree; as a student of UAF (that's University of Albertsons - Florida Campus, where we are all just pupils under chancellor AFB), capturing that middle view above felt like graduation day :)
You can see better in these images that surviving section of river rock wall as discussed above, as well as the way Infirmary Pediatrics covered over Albertsons' old doorway setup and introduced their own. The parking lot, too, has been reconfigured somewhat here at the front entrance, in order to accommodate some handicap spaces. As a whole, though, the old Skaggs-Albertsons model still feels very much alive and well on this portion of the former Mobile store.
Some shots looking over toward the left half of the former front wall of the Albertsons store. Notice how Infirmary Pediatrics' sign is left-aligned along the main façade piece, to coincide with the awning the hospital placed above their newly-located entry vestibule.
That signboard you see outside of the front door informs us that the waiting room was still closed due to the pandemic. My visit to this former Albertsons was on June 3, 2021, while we were on vacation in nearby Fairhope, AL.
While the original rough stucco goes nicely with its newer, smoother counterpart below, I have to admit I am rather surprised that the smooth version was continued all the way across to the left-hand wall of the building, which simply opens up into an access alleyway. I was fully expecting the old river rock to have been left alone over here... oh well.
I should note that the stone detailing, carried over from the Dollar Tree and Haverty's side of the building, looks quite nice, too. And the trees in bloom as well as our angle up on a slight incline here certainly make the building look nice in this view.
Heading out to the edge of the parking lot for a series of views looking at the front of the building, for yet more of that Albertsons architectural goodness. As part of occupying the last available section of square footage, Infirmary Pediatrics was stuck with converting some of the toughest areas of the store: the former deli and bakery service departments, as well as a majority of the front end. That said, being a hospital, everything would have had to have been gutted anyway, so I suppose it wouldn't have mattered which departments they were stuck with.
(In other retail conversions -- for example, let's say a former Super Kmart -- you'll typically find that retailers will prefer to take over the general merchandise side before the grocery side, because there's less work involved due to less equipment having to be removed, etc. In a grocery store I imagine such hassles are spread pretty evenly across the entire building, but still, I'm sure some spaces are better to work with than others.)
While it was not at all on our radar as part of our initial vacation plans, I was very excited to gain the opportunity to see a former Albertsons building of this iconic architectural style in person for the first time. Even better, this store was part of the Florida Division, which is what made this Albertsons Florida Blog post possible. As you can tell, I had a great time visiting here, and like AFB, I was clearly more than thorough in documenting the exterior of the store!
The nature of the property layout meant that Infirmary Pediatrics, which presumably never has too awful many cars at a single time, was left with this enormous expanse of empty parking lot. But don't worry, I can top that: what if I told you that the *entirety* of the former Albertsons building was once overflow parking for the building next door?! While I didn't get any pictures of it (besides maybe the tiny sliver that can be seen in the image below), AFB informs me that that building was once home to Bellas-Hess, built in 1963 as one of the very early hypermarket concepts, spun out of an old catalog retailer. The company went out of business in 1971, so its Mobile store certainly didn't last very long, but it is still identifiable today by that funky grid-pattern roof. Neither AFB nor I had heard of Bellas-Hess before, but apparently they are rather famous in retail history, for the Supreme Court ruling which established the legal precedent that a business can only charge sales tax in a state where the business operates physically. Who knew! AFB was kind enough to share several links for those of you who may be interested in reading more about Bellas-Hess, so feel free to check those out here, here, and here.
Last but not least where my photos of the property are concerned, above you'll find a view of the road sign facing Azalea Road -- notice how this one is a lot shorter than the one facing Airport Boulevard -- as well as some final, straight-on views of the former Albertsons/Bruno's storefront. I think it's amusing how you can see, at the far right edge of the façade, the clear switchover to the façade style that Dollar Tree and Haverty's use! Additionally, I'm very happy with how that last pic above turned out.
We've now reached that point in the post where it's time to turn to some aerial imagery, first up from Bing Maps Bird's Eye View:
Zoomed out on the front -- here you can see the old Bellas-Hess building next door.
Back -- notice the windows along the wall, corresponding with those we saw inside Haverty's.
Next, some historic aerials courtesy of Google Earth:
Former Albertsons #4317 -- 2020
Former Albertsons #4317 -- 2016 -- Infirmary Pediatrics is new here.
Former Albertsons #4317 -- 2015 -- before work began on Infirmary Pediatrics. Note the old parking lot layout and the roof prior to its replacement.
Former Albertsons #4317 -- 2007 -- recently closed as Bruno's in this view. Before Dollar Tree and Haverty's moved in.
Former Albertsons #4317 -- 2002 -- Bruno's in full operation.
Finally, to go back even further in time, we must call on Historic Aerials:
Albertsons #4317 -- 1980 -- the only aerial view of Albertsons' short-lived tenure in Mobile.
Future Albertsons #4317 -- 1967 -- here we can see how the Albertsons was built on Bellas-Hess' overflow parking lot.
Future Albertsons #4317 -- 1955 -- no development yet along Azalea Road.
As a bonus before concluding this post: I mentioned earlier how, after hightailing it out of Alabama in 1985 and selling all seven of their stores in the state to Bruno's, Albertsons would go on in later years to have several other transactions with Bruno's, often becoming the purchaser rather than the seller. Interestingly, around 1996 or 1997, Albertsons assigned a store number (#4453) to a new property in Mobile, located at the northeast corner of Moffett Road (US 98) and Schillinger Road (CR 31).
This property is located at the outskirts of the city, and seems like an odd site to select for a new store and attached shopping center, not to mention how odd it is in the first place that Albertsons would attempt to make a return to Alabama more than a decade after they had exited the state. After discussing it with AFB, he says the more he thinks about it, the more he's convinced that this mysterious second property in Mobile was simply the result of one of those transactions with Bruno's in the 1990s, with Bruno's lumping the unbuilt property in Mobile into a package deal alongside several other existing stores that Albertsons purchased from them.
Albertsons would go on to rid themselves of the property in 2002, and it would seem from the circumstances that nothing was ever intended to materialize from it... but the fact that Albertsons assigned a store number to it, rather than just sitting on the property until they were able to sell it off, implies that perhaps there was a little more to the story than meets the eye. Alas, whatever that story may be, it will have to remain a mystery, as no other information seems to exist regarding Albertsons' motives with that property.
I hope you enjoyed this post as much as I enjoyed visiting the store and writing about it. Even though it's located in Alabama, visiting a former Albertsons Florida Division store feels like checking off a bucket list item to retail fans like myself, so I'm thrilled to be able to say that I've had that experience. As a matter of fact, while on this same vacation, I almost ventured into Florida itself, where I would have stopped by a true-blue former Albertsons Express convenience store in Pensacola that I had set my sights on... but due to time and travel constraints, it had to be strictly one or the other, so I opted for Mobile, seeing as how there was another fun retail destination in town that would make missing out on the Pensacola opportunity more than worth it. That said, I think being able to shed some light on the more obscure Alabama operations of Albertsons' Florida Division was ultimately a more worthwhile outcome anyway; and as for that other store that I visited in Mobile, you can "expect more" from that to appear on my flickr photostream sometime in the future!
Thanks for reading this installment of the Albertsons Florida Blog. Your normal blogger, AFB, will return in two weeks, with another former Albertsons store that will take the blog back into its familiar Floridian territory. So be sure to stick around for that; and for now, until the next post,