Sunday, September 12, 2021

Former Albertsons #4435 - Miami, FL (Bird Road)

Albertsons #4435 / Publix #44
7805 SW 40th Street (Bird Road), Miami, FL - Tropicaire Shopping Center

     During Albertsons' 40+ years in Florida, the company was able to gain a presence in just about every part of the state in some form, from Pensacola to Jacksonville to Key West. However, one little corner of Florida had always perplexed Albertsons, and Albertsons stayed out of this part of the state for years, claiming intense competition and quite different demographics compared to the rest of Florida: Miami-Dade County. Miami-Dade County, home to Florida's second largest city, is quite a large place to stay out of in a quest to blanket Florida with stores, especially when the counties to the north (Palm Beach and Broward) were strong markets for Albertsons through the years, especially Broward. While Albertsons entered Florida in 1974, and South Florida two years later in 1976, it took until 1996 before Albertsons decided to put a store in Miami-Dade County - setting the course for one of the most spectacular mistakes during Albertsons' time in Florida. Albertsons made grand plans for Miami in the late 90's, just to see all those plans crash and burn hard. The store we'll be touring today was the first of the eight stores Albertsons had planned for the greater Miami area, and one of four to actually open before Albertsons' embarrassing retreat from the market a few years later. So what exactly happened to Albertsons in Miami, you ask? Just read on...

     Albertsons' original gut feeling about the Miami market from the late 1970's and early 1980's wasn't wrong - Miami was a very competitive market back then. During that time, Miami was dominated by Publix and Winn-Dixie, with other competitors like Hyde Park Market, Woolley's, and Pantry Pride in the mix, as well as the up-and-coming Sedano's and Xtra Super Food Center chains too, which were focusing on the area's growing Hispanic demographic. By the late 1990's, most of those competitors were falling apart (such as Hyde Park, Woolley's, Pantry Pride, and Xtra), leaving Albertsons an opportunity to jump into Miami to fill the void those chains were leaving behind. However, there was still another problem for Albertsons, the problem that would eventually set the stage for the huge debacle that was about to occur - demographics. Miami-Dade County has the largest Hispanic and Caribbean populations in Florida, and to be successful as a grocery store in Miami, you have to know how to serve these demographics. Publix and Winn-Dixie have done a very good job with this, and enjoy much success in Miami alongside the other modern-day ethnic chains like Sedano's (the largest of them), Presidente, Bravo, Price Choice, and Milam's. Albertsons decided to copy and paste one of their regular stores for their grand entrance to Miami, thinking if it worked elsewhere in Florida, it would work here too...and it didn't, as Albertsons would soon come to realize. Following the opening of the first Miami Albertsons store on January 31, 1996, additional Albertsons stores would open in Kendall, Miami Gardens, and Homestead, with additional stores planned to open in Hialeah, Coral Gables, North Miami Beach, and a second location in Miami Gardens. However, following the opening of those initial stores, they all proved to be money losers, since Albertsons' copy-and-paste model didn't match differing expectations and product needs the locals wanted in a grocery store.

     In November 2001, Albertsons finally admitted defeat in Miami, announcing the closure of all the area's stores due to poor sales, and cancelling plans for the remaining stores that had yet to open. Only being in the area for 5 years, Albertsons was just a small blip compared to other Miami supermarket mainstays, learning the hard way about entering a diverse market like Miami and not taking the time to research the needs of the community before throwing up a bunch of stores. Following the defeat, news sources were making it seem like the spectacular Miami debacle was the beginning of the end for Albertsons in Florida, allegations Albertsons denied, as you can read about at that link. While I wouldn't pin Albertsons' Floridian troubles on the mess in Miami, Albertsons' glory days in Florida were waning in the early 2000's, the splitting of the company in 2006 being the real beginning of the end for Albertsons in Florida.

     Following the announcement of Albertsons' retreat from Miami in 2001, Publix came forward as a buyer for two of the sites Albertsons was leaving behind - this location on Bird Road being one of them, the other being a store under construction in Coral Gables. Sedano's bought the Albertsons stores in Kendall and Homestead, and would later become the anchor to the planned second site Albertsons had wanted to be part of in Miami Gardens. Winn-Dixie took over an under construction Albertsons in Hialeah, and Publix was called on to be Albertsons' replacement for the North Miami Beach site. The eighth Albertsons store in Miami - #4455 in Miami Gardens - managed to live on until 2006, purely out of a geographic quirk. Store #4455 actually served the community of West Park in Broward County, but just happened to be located on the Miami side of the county line, which the store abutted. While officially in Miami-Dade County, Albertsons internally grouped that store with the Broward County locations, which is why it was spared following the Miami pullout. 

      Albertsons learned the hard way that a one-store-fits-all approach doesn't work well, and that venture all began right here with store #4435 on Bird Road, officially a part of Miami's Westchester neighborhood. With its January 1996 grand opening, the new Bird Road Albertsons was the last piece of the new Tropicaire Shopping Center to open. Joining fellow tenants Target, Best Buy, and Service Merchandise, the Tropicaire Shopping Center was a redevelopment of the long-standing Miami landmark Tropicaire Drive-In Movie Theater, which opened in 1949. Following years in declining attendance, the Tropicaire Drive-In, Miami's second-to-last at the time, closed in 1987. Following the drive-in's closure, the site was used for recurring flea markets and festivals before the property owners decided to redevelop the site into big-box retail, resulting in the shopping center we see today.

     Upon Albertsons' closure in November 2001, Publix spared no time in converting this store, reopening it as one of their own on January 31, 2002 - only three months following the sale, and exactly six years to the day after Albertsons' original opening at the site. I would have loved to see what kind of cheap conversion Publix would have done back then, as I sit here trying to picture an old mid-90's Albertsons with Publix's early 2000's Metallic Marketplace signage haphazardly hung around the store. That would have been something to see! Through the years Publix has remodeled this store to feel more like any other Publixsons of similar build we've seen on the blog so far, with the usual Classy Market era upgrades to the departments and signage. The place still feels very much like an Albertsons though, so I won't complain! While I talked over most of it giving you guys the history of Albertsons in Miami, the exterior is exactly as it would have been back in the Albertsons days, just painted yellow by Publix. The mid-90's Albertsons cart corral is pictured above, and everything about this store's exterior just screams Albertsons.

     Publix replaced Albertsons old swinging doors with some sliding ones, but that was the only major modification made to the exterior of this building in the last 20 years. That being said, let's head inside and see what we can find in there...

     Stepping through the front doors, we're bombarded by Publix's usual bins of the week's BOGO items. However, an interesting addition to this store, we find a Publix Cafe tucked into the corner next to the entrance.

     Publix Cafes aren't the most common feature to find, however I stumbled across quite a few of them during my recent travels to South Florida. While some of Publix's high-end prototypes feature cafes that serve coffee and ice cream, these cafes also seem to be common in areas with a large Hispanic population. Instead of serving coffee and ice cream, the other variant of the Publix Cafe I was seeing in South Florida served coffee alongside Hispanic pastries and snack foods, like empanadas and guava bars. I didn't purchase anything from the cafe at this store, but later this same day I got an empanada from the cafe at a different Publix - a nice little snack to keep me going after having visited 5 Publix stores and quite a few other places along the way!

     Looking beyond the cafe, we find the bakery in the building's front left corner. Most likely, the bakery was modified into its current configuration with the curved drop ceiling when Publix remodeled this store to Classy Market 2.5 around 2013, as that was around the time this bakery design made its debut.

     While heavily modified now, the bakery is still in the original spot where Albertsons would have had theirs.

     Here's one last view looking toward the bakery, before we spin around to venture into the produce department:

     Produce takes up the majority of the left side of the building, with the deli in its usual home in the back left corner, which we can see in the distance.

     For fun, here's a photo I found on Foursquare showing what the produce department looked like with its previous Classy Market 2.5 decor. It's not the greatest photo in the world, but I also found a glimpse of the produce department with the Classy Market 1.0 decor this store had prior to that. It's not apparent in that CM 1.0 era photo, but as you can see in this one, Publix left Albertsons' old Blue and Gray Market floor tile completely in-tact until the Classy Market 2.5 remodel! It seems like this store followed a similar track to the ex-Safeways stores we've seen on the blog previously - Publix reopened the store following a cheap remodel and restock, just to do a more thorough remodel later on. Since this store opened in 2002, and Classy Market 1.0 didn't appear until 2004, Publix must have waited 2-3 years before doing the more thorough remodel, like we just saw at the former Oakland Park Safeway a few weeks ago (however, unlike here, Publix went after the floors during the first through remodel in Oakland Park, rather than waiting 10 more years to take care of that!).

     Here's one last overview of the produce department, before we continue further back into the deli department:

     The Albertsons Publix Deli, which was as busy and crowded as you'd expect it to be, lies just beyond produce in the back left corner of the store.

     Besides Publix rearranging the cases to their liking, the actual design of the deli department hasn't changed much since Albertsons was here (unlike the bakery, which Publix has essentially rebuilt).

     Stepping back toward dairy, here's a nice overview of the deli counter in its entirety.

     Leaving the deli, dairy is the first department we stumble across on the store's back wall. Getting closer to the opposite side of the building, we'll come across meats, which we'll see more of later in the tour.

     Here are a few grocery aisles as we begin to meander our way across the store:

     The busy front end, which isn't anything uncommon for Publix (unless you're one of the smart shoppers or retail photographers that goes to Publix at 7:30 in the morning - there's a reason why I try to stack my Publix visits as early as I possibly can when planning my trips!).

     Leaving the madness of the front end behind for a moment, let's slip down this aisle. This aisle is one of the international aisles, featuring a larger than normal selection of Hispanic groceries compared to the average Publix. To the left are lots of large bags of rice, something Publix typically doesn't carry. Unlike the tenant before them, Publix will tweak their product selection to fit the needs of the area. While Publix certainly isn't as specialized as a place like Sedano's or Presidente when it comes to finding a full array of Hispanic food staples, Publix still carries enough specialized product to keep up with the special demands of a particular area.

     Returning to the back wall, we find ourselves in the dairy department once again. Just beyond aisle 9 or so, the dairy department transitions into meats.

     While this store currently has the normal Classy Market 3.0 tri-sided aisle markers to match the rest of the decor, back in the Classy Market 2.5 days, this store had an odd flat version of these aisle markers, which you can see here. I've only ever seen that flat aisle marker design at a few other Publix stores around Miami, although they could have been used elsewhere in heavily Hispanic areas. On the current aisle markers, the Spanish names are just written under the English ones on the same plaque.

     Reaching the middle of the store, we find frozen foods in aisles 8 and 9.

     We find more coolers in aisle 10 as well, with additional dairy space and lunch meats off to my left in the above image, and beer to my right.

     Snack foods and soda find their home in aisle 11, with aisles 12-14 home to non-foods (cleaning supplies, paper products, pet and baby items, and the assorted general merchandise selection):

     Grape jelly can be found to my left in aisle 15, and the fermented grapes to my right. I don't judge you on which version of grapes found in this aisle you prefer to pair with your peanut butter sandwich.

     Returning to the back wall for a final glimpse, here's a look at what we've covered so far. The dairy coolers have transitioned into meat coolers now, with the meat and seafood service counter located in the corner behind me:

     As usual for an Albertsons store from this era, the meat and seafood service counter is perched on an angle in the building's back right corner. We also get a good glimpse at the signage for these departments as well, showcasing the bilingual variant of the Classy Market 3.0 signs here.

     Aisle 17 is the store's last aisle, which is home to health and beauty overflow. Since this is the last aisle, it ended up being a bit wider than the others, leaving room for Publix to place a few bins of product down the middle, as well as using the middle of the aisle as a small waiting area for the pharmacy (which is out of view to my right, although a corner of one of the chairs happened to slip into this image).

     Turning the corner, here's a look at the pharmacy counter itself. Like the bakery, the pharmacy is in the same spot Albertsons would have had it, but rebuilt to fit Publix's modern standards. A few aisles of pharmaceuticals also extend out from the front of the pharmacy counter.

     Turning around, we return to the store's busy front end. All but 2 or 3 of the store's 10 registers were open, and it was still crazy up here!

     Here's one last look at the front end, from this much calmer view point where the lanes were closed.

     For our final interior photo, we have this view of the store's front wall, home to the customer service desk and the floral department. While Publix typically places floral somewhere near the produce department (as internally, Publix treats the floral department as an extension of the produce department), floral ended up in this random spot in front of the registers. I believe this spot would have been home to Albertsons' video rental department back in the day, or if not that, a bank or some kind of service counter. I just thought it was strange seeing floral tucked into the front end like this, but that's one of the fun things of seeing one supermarket inherit a building from another - lots of strange things can happen to make these conversions work!

     Back outside, here's a look at the former Albertsons liquor store, which resides at the front left corner of the building. In 2002, Publix wasn't seriously into the liquor store game, so they let this space become home to an independent liquor operation called Mega Wine & Spirits. It wasn't until the late 2000's when Publix bought those 49 Albertsons stores that they decided to go all-in with operating liquor stores of their own, but at least this space still lives on, operating with Albertsons' original intent.

     Even though Albertsons was a short-lived, mostly forgotten blip in Miami's supermarket scene, it's quite amazing how well preserved this place is 20 years after Albertsons pulled the plug on their disastrous Miami expansion. These short-lived former Albertsons stores are just a few of the many interesting supermarkets around Miami, and hopefully before long I can get around to sharing some of those other stores with you guys!

     Anyway, as the conclusion of this post nears, it's time for our usual round of satellite imagery, starting off this this overview of Tropicaire Shopping Center:

     Above you can see the entirely of the shopping center, which is pretty much just those four big box spaces you see there: Albertsons (now Publix) and Target are the two at the northernmost portion of the property (which I labeled), with the former Service Merchandise (now American Signature Furniture) and Best Buy occupying those buildings that back up to the Palmetto Expressway (the big road at the right side of the image).

     Since it was right next door, I grabbed this photo of the neighboring Target store. It's a typical late 90's Target that had been recently remodeled to the current P17 decor (the gray stuff), so I didn't venture in. I didn't get any photos of the remainder of the shopping center either, as the old Service Merchandise has been wiped of any of its distinctive characteristics, and the Best Buy...well, looks like a Best Buy.

     That out of the way, it's time for the Bird's Eye satellite images, courtesy of Bing Maps:


Right Side


Left Side

     And now the historic aerial images, courtesy of Google Earth:

Former Albertsons #4435 - 2021

Former Albertsons #4435 - 2014

Former Albertsons #4435 - 2002 - Publix in their earliest days here.

Albertsons #4435 - 1999

Future Albertsons #4435 - 1994 - The satellite image above shows the Tropicaire Drive-In Theater while it was still standing, although after it ceased showing movies. It appears either a flea market or festival was going on at the time of this capture, as there's a lot going on at the old drive-in in 1994! I put a link to some history about the old drive-in earlier in the post, but here's another link to a different site if you want to read more. The old drive-in was a Miami landmark, but like many old drive-in theaters out there, they provided too good of an opportunity to become home to a new shopping center as the land increased in value.

     So that's all I have to say about Albertsons' ill-fated foray into Miami for now. We'll see some more from the fallout of Albertsons' 5 years in the area in the future, but for next time, I'm doing something different. My next post is going to be an atypical subject for this blog, but that's all I'm going to say, as I think our next destination will be a fun surprise for most of you. The subject is still retail related though, but to find out more, be sure to come back in two weeks for that post!

So until next time,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger