Sunday, February 20, 2022

The Art Deco Publix Stores of St. Petersburg

     Many people consider Publix's famous "Wing Store" design to be the company's most iconic storefront from the company's 90+ year history, with its striking mid-century facade becoming a familiar sight across the many cities of the Floridian peninsula. However, the building design the Wing Store replaced was iconic in its own right, capturing the unique flare of Floridian architecture at the time. Prior to the debut of the Wing Store in the mid-late 1950's, Publix had a design commonly referred to as the "Art Deco" model. The Art Deco model was Publix's first store design from when the company began to grow into a chain, debuting in 1940. That was the year Publix's founder George Jenkins relocated his original Publix store in downtown Winter Haven to what he called his "dream store" - Florida's first modern self-serve supermarket. George Jenkin's "dream store" incorporated the popular art deco motif to create a modern showpiece of a supermarket, a stately building that would stand out in the urban and suburban communities of Florida. The Art Deco stores were typically built in downtown and urbanized areas, as that was where most business was conducted in the 1940's. With the dawn of the shopping center in the late 1950's, Publix's strategy changed, and the company began replacing many of these stand-alone Art Deco stores with new locations in shopping centers. The move to shopping centers also brought about the dawn of the Wing Store era, closing the book on Publix's Art Deco design. While many of these Art Deco Publix stores were replaced by larger shopping center-based locations come the 1960's, a surprising number of these buildings remain today in mostly original form, as can be seen here. Interestingly, St. Petersburg happens to have two very well-preserved examples of these former Art Deco Publix stores surviving to this day, both within 3 miles of each other, and both still serving a retail use. These are some pretty interesting examples of Art Deco era Publix stores, and a fun little look deep into Florida's supermarket past:

Photo courtesy of the Pleasant Family Shopping blog

Publix #7 (The Original)
1720 16th Street North, St. Petersburg, FL

     The first of the two Art Deco Publix stores we'll be looking at today is the 16th Street North location, just north of Woodlawn Park. This building holds a small bit of significance, as it was the very first Publix to operate in the city of St. Petersburg when it opened its doors on June 15, 1950, and was the 7th store in the Publix chain overall. Before we get to the pictures from the present below, above you can see what this building looked like in its original form. The above photo appears to have been taken sometime in the 1970's, based off the design of those two cars in the image. Publix #7 was one of the last Art Deco stores the company held onto, managing to survive until August 21, 1982. From what I can gather, Publix #7 was closed outright, due to its small size and how outdated the building was for the time, with no opportunities to expand the building due to the size of the lot it was on. Coincidentally, the store ID #7 was recycled for a new Publix that opened behind St. Petersburg's Tyrone Square Mall in 1983, but that store was in no way connected to the old Art Deco location on 16th Street North. At that time, when Publix closed a store outright, the store number of the closed location would become the next available store number to be assigned to a new location, and it just happened the next new store to come into development following this one's closure was on the other side of town.

     Following Publix's closure in 1982, an independent grocer named Howell's Supermarket took over the building. Howell's Supermarket was owned by a former Publix manager, who closed his store after only two years in order to open a new store that was more meat-centric (as Mr. Howell's experience was in the meat business, however, his new ventures were short lived and took a bit of a sad turn after closing Howell's Supermarket, those events you can read about in more detail here and here - thank you Sing Oil blogger for clipping those articles for me!). Following the closure of Howell's, this building housed a short-lived furniture store called Easton Furniture, and by 1989 had become home to the League of Mercy Thrift Store. League of Mercy lasted in this building until the late 1990's, after which the Manhattan Hairstyling Academy took over. Manhattan Hairstyling Academy closed around 2009, and within the next year the building's current tenant took over the space:

     Since 2010 or so, this former Publix building has housed the world's only known Art Deco Family Dollar store. What's even more amazing is that even with all the different tenants this building has housed between Publix and Family Dollar, the exterior is virtually unchanged. I see the curved glass block panels on the corner of the building have been covered over, as well as the glass block above the front awning, but amazingly everything else still looks the same as it had since 1950!

     Of all the former Art Deco Publix buildings still out there, this is probably one of the most original ones left in the wild, although I do know the Orlando Art Deco Publix-turned-camera shop is up there on the originality list too. A lot of times these buildings have the center tower over the door and the sign frames cut off, or just get remodeled quite a bit over the course of time to where only a few of the distinctive traits remain. For whatever reason no one bothered to modify this building over the last 72 years, but I'm not complaining!

     Glass block was a big design feature in these Art Deco Publix buildings. The glass blocks were used as decoration on the facade (a trait that was better preserved at the next store we'll be seeing), and to act as windows too. Both sides of the building are lined with glass block windows like the ones seen above, which let a little bit of natural light into the salesfloor.

     A small loading bay sits at the back right corner of the building. The back of the building bumps up to the property line, so all the receiving doors were moved to be on this side of the building.

     While the back of the building is just as original as the front, there's no denying the front is a little more fun to look at than the old loading bay in the back! I like how Family Dollar was able to fit their sign onto the old Publix frame. Even with the odd shape of the sign frame, Family Dollar's logo doesn't look odd on it either.

     Family Dollar hung posters over the windows on the right side of the building, but kept the windows on the left side exposed. However, the water machine, the ice cooler, and the propane cage block a lot of the remaining windows, but I guess a little bit of light is better than nothing.

     While all the sidewalk machines block it on this side, on the right side we can see some of the original marble detailing that was commonly used in older Publix stores. The marble detailing around the doors and windows was a design trait that originated from the 1940 "dream store", and was used by Publix on their store facades well into the 1970's. Marble is an expensive building material, and the stuff you see here is the real deal (and not just a fake coating), so I wouldn't be surprised if Publix stopped using marble because of the cost. Even though marble isn't used anymore, one of the "dream store's" major building design traits actually lives on into Publix's modern stores of the 2020's - that being the terrazzo floors.

     The setup of the entryway is still original to Publix as well, with two doors in the middle of the building like this. Originally, these would have been "electric eye" automatic doors, but through the years these have been downgraded into traditional manual pull doors.

     Stepping inside, we still have a vague old supermarket feel, although the interior has certainly seen much more modification than the exterior. In the photo above, you can see the glass block windows on the side of the building still open up to the interior, which certainly enhances the aesthetic.

     Looking down the right side wall, we see the old terrazzo floors have been tiled over. Really old Publix stores also used fluorescent tube lighting like we see here, although I'd be shocked if these lights actually dated back to the Publix days (as lights seem like something that would get replaced by someone over a span of 72 years).

     Even with all the stuff Family Dollar crammed onto the wall, it wasn't tall enough to block over the glass block windows, as another one pokes out from above the shelving in the above image.

     Besides the glass block windows, nothing else on the interior was jumping out at me as being a definitive relic of the building's Publix days. Above is the back wall of the store, where Publix would have had a rather large meat counter originally, from what I can tell from the few old photos I found online. I'm not super familiar with how an Art Deco Publix was laid out though, considering how long ago all of these stores closed. This other image I found appears to have a more pulled back view compared to the last image I linked to, showing the building was mostly a few short grocery aisles with the big meat counter in the back. Full service departments like bakeries, delis, and such weren't really a thing in the 1940's and 1950's, so it makes sense these older Publix stores would have had a larger focus on dry foods with a little bit of meat, frozen, and produce sprinkled in.

     Those old photos I linked to of a 1940's/1950's-era Publix really made this place feel spacious back in the day. The Family Dollar in here now was actually quite claustrophobic, with the tight aisles and tall shelves. The old Publix was pretty comparable in size to your average Family Dollar in an old drugstore space, but felt super cramped.

     A very narrow cut through separated Family Dollar's aisles into two halves.

     Unfortunately, the glass block windows on the left side of the building were blocked by this row of tall coolers, which were set against the wall.

     One last interior photo looking across the front of the store, into the front left corner where two of Family Dollar's three registers were located. The third register is located in the front right corner all by itself, and was visible in my first interior shot. That register seemed to never be used, with these two serving as the store's main checkout counter.

     Back outside, here are a few more images to take in the building's wonderfully preserved Publix facade.

     The left side of the building looks identical to the right side, just minus the loading bay at the back.

     Due to the layout of the property, the parking lot here is split in two, with a separate lot on each side of the building. The left side lot was the more popular of the two, as it sits right on the corner of 16th St. North and the cross street of 17th Avenue, making it easier to get in and out of. The right side lot was completely empty when I was here.

     Family Dollar's road sign, which was located in a small island in the middle of the right-side parking lot. The road sign isn't original to the building, and according to Google Street View, was added by Family Dollar. The road sign does match the aesthetic of the building though.

     Here's one last look as this amazingly preserved Art Deco Publix as we begin to transition into the second half of todays post. Traveling three miles north of here and then heading seven blocks east, we find this place:

Photo courtesy of the Pleasant Family Shopping blog

Publix #27 (The Original)
5420 9th Street North, St. Petersburg, FL

     Our second Art Deco Publix of the day is this slightly newer store. Opened five years after the location we just toured, the original Publix #27 held its grand opening on February 1, 1955. Being a little newer, this store featured a slightly different exterior design compared to store #7 down the road, and was a little bit bigger. This store was built right as Publix was starting to transition into the Wing Store era, which is why this location has more Wing Store-like signage compared to the previous store we toured. Also unlike the previous location, this building was very short-lived as a Publix, closing after only 8 years on June 10, 1963. Publix relocated from this building to a new Wing Store further north on 9th Street at the new Gateway Mall complex (now Gateway Market Center). The new location, which carried over the store #27, opened on June 11, 1963. Publix still has a store in the modern Gateway Market Center complex today (store #688), which opened in 1999 following the redevelopment of Gateway Mall into a power center.

     After Publix left the 9th Street North Art Deco building behind, the building became home to a Lindsley Lumber store, which opened in 1965. Lindsley Lumber was a chain of hardware stores based out of Miami, with locations scattered around South Florida and the Tampa Bay area. Lindsley Lumber didn't last long at this location, with Cloth World taking over by 1968. Cloth World left in the mid-1970's, with Bob's Carpet Mart being the building's next tenant come the late 1970's. Bob's was another short-lived tenant, as by the turn of the 1980's the building had then been converted into an S&H Greenstamps Redemption Center (a bit of a fitting reuse, as Publix was a longtime distributor of S&H Greenstamps). The redemption center closed in 1987 after Publix announced they would no longer offer Greenstamps, following the general decline in popularity of the Greenstamp program in the late 1980's. In 1988 the building's current tenant came along. While the current tenant did make some major modifications to the Publix building (much more than we saw at the last Art Deco store we toured), the building is still quite original, and I'm quite impressed with the amount of effort this chain did in restoring the old Publix building rather than demolishing it:

     In 1988, Walgreens came along set up shop in the old Publix building, and has remained here ever since (becoming this building's longest lasting tenant too). There was certainly enough room here for Walgreens to have torn this building down and built one of their generic boxes, but they didn't. While Walgreens was building stand-alone locations in the late 80's, it wasn't until the late 90's when the drugstore industry really began to push for the free-standing corner stores we see all over the place today. Since this was an early free-standing location, maybe Walgreens was more willing to take on the adaptive reuse of this building rather than flattening it completely, compared to when the cookie-cutter stores began popping up left and right a decade later. Like I said with the last store, I'm not going to complain, as the old Publix building got to survive, and Walgreens was still able to add in all the usual modern features (such as a pharmacy drive-thru) with this building.

     Walgreens replaced the windows along the front of the building with their standard ones, and closed in Publix's old entrance in the center of the facade (underneath where Walgreens' logo is now) for a new entrance carved out of the front left corner of the building. Interestingly, Walgreens splurged and bought new matching marble to patch up all the holes left behind when they closed in Publix's old entryway and replaced the windows.

     The photo above shows Walgreens' current entrance, which is setup like you'd find at any other Walgreens store out there.

     With how standardized Walgreens' stores are, it's refreshing to find a unique one like this for a change! While we're here, let's head inside and see what it's like in there:

     While the exterior is unique, the interior of this store was completely rebuilt to feel like any other Walgreens. The only odd thing about the interior was this little sliver of the store containing the beauty department, which lined the left wall. This part of the store was under a lower ceiling than the rest of the building.

     These large columns mark the transition between the lower and higher ceiling parts of the store. The lower ceiling part of the store is in the little wing that sticks out from the main portion of the Art Deco facade, appearing to have been a separate room when Publix was here. I'm guessing the left side of the store was a stockroom of some kind when Publix was here, which Walgreens (or one of the building's other tenants before) expanded into.

     From the store's back wall, here's a better overview of the transition in ceiling height on the left side of the building.

     Moving further to the right, it begins to feel more and more like a regular Walgreens in here.

     While our tour of the Family Dollar down the road included a photo of an aisle stocked full of Christmas merchandise, here at Walgreens we find Halloween stuff! I promise you I took these photos on the same day, within an hour or so of each other - Family Dollar was just way ahead of themselves with putting out the Christmas merchandise!

     Spinning around from the Halloween stuff, here's a look toward the back of the store from that same aisle. Walgreens' classic mirrors line the back wall, this scene looking like it was captured at just about any other Walgreens store out there.

     The store's pharmacy counter was located in the last aisle, along the right side wall heading into the corner.

     Looking away from the pharmacy counter, the remainder of the right side wall is home to a row of coolers, followed by the photo counter in the front right corner.

     Fairly standard Walgreens front end here, with one last look at the odd ceiling transition on the left side of the building before we head out.

     Outside once again, here's a look at some of the decorative curved glass block on the building's facade. These curved panels were covered over at the Family Dollar, but were preserved here. Interestingly, the ramp remains in the middle of the building noting where the building's original entrance was too.

     On the right side of the building we find Walgreens' liquor store, tucked into the little expansion wing on this side.

     The pharmacy drive-thru is located on this side of the building, with a close-up of some of the detailing on the side wall visible too.

     And we'll end our tour of this Walgreens with one final photo of the well-preserved Publix facade, still sitting here as a reminder of what was. It's amazing that after so many years and so many tenants, both of the Art Deco Publix stores we saw are in such original condition. It's great to see these buildings have survived the years and still serve a retail purpose, a great reminder of the past while still serving us in the present.

     I hope everyone enjoyed this little dive deep into Publix's past today, seeing these well-preserved classics. Pinellas County is a fun place for old retail, and we'll see more from the area eventually. Next time we have more retail conversions coming to the blog, this time in the way of a former Albertsons store, so be sure to come back in two weeks for that!

So until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger


  1. It's pretty neat to see rather ordinary retailers such as Family Dollar and Walgreens in these old grocery stores! We have at least a couple of Family Dollars here in Houston that are in quite old supermarkets, the two I have in mind are both old Weingarten's, but neither are nearly as well-preserved on the outside as this old Publix (Publix Dollar? Family Publix?).

    The Walgreens is no less neat, but I was hoping for the interior to look a little less modern. It doesn't look bad, but there's not much special about it. Some of the remaining older Walgreens in Houston that are from the 1980s or earlier still do have some vintage interior aspects, but that's not so much the case here. Perhaps it would have been more appropriate for Florida's favorite grocer to turn into Florida's favorite pharmacy, Eckerd, but I guess Walgreens isn't too far off.

    Have you ever seen this 'Publix Market' in the US Pacific territory of Saipan? I think it's safe to assume that this has absolutely nothing to do with the 'real' Publix Market, lol, but who knows. Maybe there is a good story here. Link:

    On another note, in the continuing saga of the expansion of Sears Hometown, there is some more interesting news to share. It seems Sears has a new Hometown format called Sears Hometown Plus. A Hometown Plus store recently opened in the Milwaukee, WI suburb of Cudahy in an old Kmart building. Hometown Plus stores have all the things a Hometown store has, but they also have some day-to-day household items like paper goods and laundry detergent. It looks like they may even have some electronics. It's kind of like a small version of Sears Essentials in some ways! I must say that I like the Sears Hometown Plus logo and I hope some of our Sears Hometown stores in Houston get expanded to this format. Here's the Cudahy Hometown Plus Facebook page, they have some photos there of the store if you want to see it. Link:

    1. Family Dollar seems to really like old strip center drugstore spaces around here, although I do have one locally in a small sliver of an old Winn-Dixie. I've also visited a Family Dollar in a sliver of an old Albertsons too (which will come to the blog eventually), but that one didn't have a lot left from the building's original occupant inside.

      Besides the decor signage, every Walgreens seems to have that same interior design and feel, even some of the remaining old strip center locations from the 1970's and 1980's that managed to cling on until the present. I will give Walgreens points for consistency over such a long period of time, but it was a decent compromise between old and new that we saw at the Walgreens featured in this post. Walgreens has been in Florida for about as long as Eckerd was, and both were equally as prominent through the years here. Eckerd may have gotten the bonus of being headquartered in Florida, but both have/had long legacies here!

      I've never seen that "Publix Market" in Saipan, although someone did show me another knockoff Publix elsewhere around the world (in South America possibly - I can't remember!). Yeah, that's certainly not related to the Floridian Publix chain, unless their current expansion plans have gone a bit wild!

      Yes - I saw the Sears Hometown Plus news the other day! It's basically a mini Sears Essentials like you say in some ways. I've yet to see photos of how much of that old Kmart the Hometown Plus store takes up, but it probably doesn't occupy the entire building. It's an interesting concept that would probably work well in small towns, but being owned by Transformco, who know if anything more will come of this concept, or if it will just end up like the original Sears Essentials.

  2. It's very cool to see both of these buildings still surviving with so many original traits left intact, especially with such big-name operators that more often seem to eliminate such vintage things! I'm especially surprised with the Walgreens, and how they even patched up the old marble. Neat stuff!

    1. These were definitely interesting relics to explore! I don't know if the city forced these chains to keep the old buildings in-tact or if it was just easier to remodel what was already there. I feel the latter scenario was most likely the case for Family Dollar (who's pretty low budget to begin with when it comes to remodels), but the Walgreens conversion is certainly unusual!

  3. That Family Dollar reuse is quite striking!

    1. Sure is! They did a great job of incorporating their usual design with the original building's features.

  4. I'm glad I was able to help out on this post, and it is neat how you were able to find the story about Mr. Howell. It is really sad what happened to him but at least he was found innocent.

    I love how original this store still looks and how Family Dollar even managed to keep Publix's sign. The way they painted the vertical portion red / orange and added the horizontal stripes seem to compliment the architecture well.

    I agree that the lighting looks like it has been replaced. I'd imagine Publix would have used an older style of dropped ceiling, probably containing asbestos, that was removed which would have made replacing the lights all together easier.

    I've been in a newly-built Family Dollar that still felt claustrophobic. Maybe they like to maximize the use of their real estate?

    It is great how Walgreens did such a good job renovating the exterior to make it suitable for them while still honoring the historic past. It is a shame how they did modify some of the original characteristics, but I'd rather a few subtle changes rather than razing the building!

    You are right, the inside looks like any other Walgreens! Even more of a surprise for a building of this age.

    1. Thank you again for clipping those articles about Mr. Howell for me! It certainly was a sad story of what happened to him, but even with the innocent verdict he still lost a lot in the journey to that.

      I know Family Dollar and extensive remodels aren't two things that ever go together, but it was nice to see some small details like the old sign frame and some of the detailing on the building get incorporated into Family Dollar's design, and not ripped off to make the building feel more modern and sterile. Family Dollar stores are certainly cramped (and this wasn't the first super cramped one I've been to), but I've been to some where the aisles were a little wider and easier to navigate. Using tall shelving in a small space and packing the shelves full doesn't make a small store feel very open though!

      Walgreens had all the room necessary on that lot to build a modern store, so I'm still impressed that the old Publix building was saved (and somewhat restored) rather than knocked down for a modern building. Surprising, but a nice little nod to the past!

    2. On Nebraska Avenue in Tampa is a 'new' Art Deco Publix. I've heard it was rebuilt from an old Publix, but I'm not sure.