Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Remembering the Grand Union



Grand Union #506 / Big Lots #578
4515 Lake Worth Road, Greenacres, FL - Mil-Lake Plaza

     Jumping across the street from the former Albertsons store we looked at last time, what do we find but Big Lots. Yes, that's true, we are going to be looking around a Big Lots store today, but the hunt for closeout bargains wasn't the reason that Greenacres was the place for me on this particular afternoon. It was this building's past tenant that brought me here, because the hunt for interesting old supermarkets is the life for me! (OK AFB, that's enough references to old TV shows). Anyway, if you haven't realized it by the distinctive arches that grace the front of this building (or the title of this post), this Big Lots is housed in a very well preserved Grand Union supermarket building.

     I've searched through quite a few former Grand Union stores that have operated around Florida through the years, and this has to be one of the best preserved ones I've found. There are some other decently preserved Grand Union stores around Florida from a variety of eras, but I found this one particularly intriguing due to it being one of the later built stores during Grand Union's tenure in Florida. Most of Grand Union's Florida locations were built from the 1950's through the 1970's, however this was one of the very few Grand Union stores to have been built in Florida in the early 1980's with the distinctive arched window design, a design more commonly seen in Grand Union's home turf of New York and New Jersey (like this store in Toms River, NJ, also a Big Lots now. However, here's a similar looking store photographed when it still was a Grand Union, just for fun).

     So, you're asking, "Just what was Grand Union, a supermarket synonymous with New Jersey, New York, and parts of New England, doing way down in Florida?" Trying to get a piece of the fast growing supermarket scene in Florida, that's what, where numerous people from up north were moving to escape the harsh winters. Grand Union first entered Florida in the early 1960's, during that's chain's peak of growth and expansion. While Florida may seem like a rather strange place for Grand Union to have operated, the company at one point boasted stores in some far flung places like Ohio, Texas, and the Carolinas from various expansion and acquisition efforts. Even at their peak, Grand Union's Florida presence was contained mainly to South Florida, Tampa Bay, and Southwestern Florida, with South Florida in particular having quite a large number of Grand Union stores at one time. Things were looking good for Grand Union until the late 1970's, when some management changes caused Grand Union's position as one of the largest supermarket chains in the country to crumble. With that fall from grace also began the curtailment of some of Grand Union's outlying divisions, such as Florida. Grand Union managed to last in Florida until 1985, when the last few of their stores closed in order to focus more on their core set of stores in the Northeast.


     Like I said before, what makes this particular former Grand Union location so special is the fact that it was one of the very last Grand Union stores to open in Florida before the chain pulled out of the state. The Greenacres Grand Union opened with the rest of the plaza in 1982, just three years before Grand Union left Florida for good. Grand Union never sold out to anyone in particular when they left Florida, so all of their stores would later become reused in a variety of ways. At one point in 1985, shortly after Grand Union pulled out of Florida, ShopRite (yes, that ShopRite) even made a bid for a few former Grand Union stores in South Florida. I don't believe ShopRite ever carried through with getting those stores, but would't it have been crazy if they did?! ShopRite in Florida, who would have ever thought that? It just goes to prove that at one point, there was nothing stopping all these supermarkets from entering Florida. As for this store in Greenacres, I'm not sure of its exact closing date, but regardless of when it closed, it was extremely short lived as it could have only operated for a maximum of three years. I'm not sure what, if anything, operated in this building during the 15 year span from when Grand Union closed to when Big Lots opened. My guess is this place sat empty for those 15 years, or at the very least was something that would do very little to this building, as this place is still seeping with Grand Union relics over 30 years after Grand Union left Florida.


     Big Lots opened in this former Grand Union building around 2000 and did hardly anything to the place since they moved in. Here we're looking at the left side entry and exit doors to the old Grand Union. Big Lots only uses the right side doors, leaving these locked all the time. Even though these doors are now just an emergency exit, they're original to Grand Union, as are the magic carpets, the sun-baked address stenciling above the door, and possibly those really faded stickers on the doors themselves. The bright red stickers on the doors are from Big Lots, announcing these doors are now for emergency use only.


      Stepping around to the other side of the building, here's a quick look from the front doors toward the plaza's entry from Military Trail. The plaza's road sign is visible in the distance here. I don't know if the road sign is original, but with the way the rest of this plaza has been so well preserved, I wouldn't be surprised if it was.


      The door has been left open for us, so let's see what kind of Grand Union relics we can find by stepping inside...


     See, I told you guys that you wouldn't be disappointed in this place! 35 years later, this place still feels like a Grand Union inside. Knowing Big Lots, I'm pretty sure they replaced the overhead lighting with the fluorescent strips you see now, but all the remnants on the walls and the dingy floors are relics of Grand Union. I'm a fan of the row of arched windows that run across the front of the store, which not only look nice, but bring a lot of natural light into the building.


     Stepping out of the entryway and moving to the right just a bit, Big Lots' front registers come into view. Above the registers we see that large orange rectangle, which designates where Grand Union's old checkstands once were. More than likely, the area within that rectangle would have just been a lower ceiling when Grand Union was here, similar to this. However, some 80's Grand Union stores got a slightly more deluxe treatment over the checkstands, getting this awesome looking stained glass fixture over the registers. Wouldn't it have been neat if this store had that stained glass light, and Big Lots kept it!


     Moving away from the front end, we'll dig deeper into the interior as we move into the front right corner. I really don't know much about how Grand Union stores had their departments laid out (I've never been to a Grand Union), although from other pictures I've seen online, I believe this part of the store was home to the produce department. And yes, all that painted over wood paneling running above the tops of Big Lots' shelves is a remnant of Grand Union's old decor. Grand Union loved using wood paneling in the 1980's, as seen in this picture from a Grand Union store when it was still open. However, the Grand Union decor remnants aren't limited to a bunch of painted over wood paneling - it get better!


     Turning the corner from where we were standing in the last photo, what do we have here? Yes, you can still see the marks on the wall from where Grand Union's department signs used to be! The wood paneling curves out of the way so signs could be mounted to the wall, and all Big Lots did was paint over it. I was oddly excited when I saw this. I really don't know what Grand Union's 80's decor looked like, but I'm imagining it looking quite similar to this, considering the use of wood paneling and the somewhat 80's-esque look of the decor in that photo.


     Nothing like some 35 year old decor remnants to make a place all the more interesting, right? Anyway, moving on, here's a look down the right side of Big Lots. This side of the store is home to all of the housewares, with the furniture department in the distance.


     But before we move further toward the back of the store, here's another look across the front end. The front end is located under this lower ceiling, with the ceiling rising over what was Grand Union's (as well as Big Lots') main sales floor.


     Looking toward the front from one of Big Lots' main aisles, we can see more wood paneling remnants on the transition between the lower and higher ceilings.


     Now that we've spent a decent amount of time up front, let's head deeper into the store to see if any other Grand Union remnants are still lurking in this place...


     Big Lots' furniture department took up the majority of the back of the store. I want to say Grand Union had their deli and meat departments back here based on some photos of other Grand Union stores I've seen, but again, I'm not 100% certain on anything from Grand Union's original layout.


     More furniture can be see as I turn the camera toward the left. Beyond the front end and the right side wall, there weren't too many Grand Union remnants left in the back of the store, unfortunately. The back of the store was probably redone by Big Lots when they covered over all of the old service departments, which led to the demise of any remnants back here (such as more wood paneling).



     The seasonal department was located in the back left corner of this store, home to patio furniture at the time. I will say this Big Lots store had a very nice, wide open space for their furniture selection. I've seen many Big Lots stores cram all of their furniture into a corner, so the extra space they had in this building really worked in their favor.


     While Big Lots has their perimeter aisles running parallel to the front of the building, the center aisles, like this one, run perpendicular to the front like Grand Union would have had them. In this view looking toward the front, the wood paneling remnants become visible to us again.


     The left side wall of this store was home to storage containers and some other odds and ends. I don't know what would have been over in this part of the building when Grand Union was here.


     Back up front, here's a better look toward the unused left side entryway into this store. The area leading up to these doors is currently used as a small clearance section for Big Lots, this part of the store rather untouched from the Grand Union days.


     We'll wrap up our tour of this former Grand Union store with a few last looks across the front end, where most of the obvious traces of Grand Union still remain.



     Like I said before, I really like these arched windows, both for the look and the amount of sunlight they let into the store.


     From the previous photo where we were looking out the arched windows, we now must look in as we go outside to conclude our tour of this former Grand Union store. All you need to do is slap this logo up were Big Lots' has theirs, and you could call this place Grand Union again!

     For the remainder of this post, we'll take a look at some satellite imagery, starting off with some Bird's Eye views courtesy of Bing Maps:


Front - Here you can see the old Grand Union with its neighbor, a former drug store. I haven't been able to figure out exactly who the drug store tenant in this plaza was originally, but more than likely it was an Eckerd. I also am thinking it was an Eckerd based on the fact that a CVS was built in the parking lot of the old Grand Union around 2005. CVS bought all of Eckerd's Florida locations in 2004, and I could see the store in the parking lot being a relocation of one in the strip behind it. Interestingly enough, CVS actually closed their fairly new freestanding store in the parking lot without replacement in 2017, making for an interesting sight now, an abandoned freestanding 2000's CVS store.


Right Side


Back


Left Side

     And now for historic satellite imagery, courtesy of Google Earth and historicaerials.com:


Big Lots #578 - 2017 - In this image you can see the entire plaza. The Grand Union building is the large building at the right end of the strip. The large anchor at the left side of the strip is a former Scotty's Hardware (now Habitat for Humanity ReStore).


Big Lots #578 - 2010


Big Lots #578 - 2005


Big Lots #578 - 2002 - The little red building in front of the Big Lots (which was demolished to make way for the new CVS) was originally a Wag's restaurant. Wag's was the sit down restaurant division of Walgreens, who operated 91 of these Wag's restaurants throughout the country before getting out of the restaurant business in 1988.


Former Grand Union #506 - 1999 - It doesn't appear that Big Lots has moved in just yet from the above image.


Former Grand Union #506 - 1995


Future Grand Union #506 - 1979


      That's all I have to say about the former Greenacres Grand Union. Even though Grand Union left Florida more than 30 years ago, they left quite an impact on the state. Unlike stores such as Florida Choice and Jewel-Osco, which faded into obscurity rather fast after such short runs in Florida, Grand Union managed to last over 25 years in Florida. That isn't too shabby in the grand scheme of things! Even though the legacy of Grand Union is much stronger in the Northeast, Grand Union put up a good fight in Florida, operating over 70 stores here at one time. While many of those former Grand Union stores have been demolished or made unrecognizable over the years, there's still a surprising number of well preserved Grand Union stores floating around the state. If you're interested in looking through some old Grand Union Florida locations, I have a list of them hosted on the AFB Retail Database. To end this post, I have the above image showing the Greenacres Grand Union with its neighbor, Albertsons #4328, visible on the opposite side of Military Trail. We toured that former Albertsons last time, and you can review that post by clicking here.

     With that being said, not only is this post finished, but so is AFB for the year 2018. Posting will start up again on January 20, 2019, so I'll be sure to see everybody then!

Until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger

16 comments:

  1. Really cool to see all those remnants inside, and I agree - love those windows!

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    1. Very! I always like surprises like this when out visiting old supermarkets!

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  2. Speaking of groceries stores turned Big Lots, are you going to feature that WD turned Big Lots?

    This Big Lots remind me a lot of that with the painted over paneling, nice find.

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    1. I have the pictures of that store (Avon Park) in my archives (with many photos of that funky old floor especially). At some point I'll get around to posting those (most likely on My Florida Retail once I finish moving everything over from flickr).

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  3. That's an awesome store! If I'm not mistaken, ShopRite had bought (or considered buying) other Florida stores as well, and I had thought that at least one had opened. They never had a significant FL presence, though, as Grand Union and others did. (On a random side note, the headquarters of Big V Supermarkets, which is a now-defunct ShopRite member, had their headquarters in the town of Florida, NY!)

    More recently, I heard that NY-based America's Food Basket and Food Fair had both independently been considering Florida store openings (under the Ideal Food Basket and Food Fair Wholesale Fresh Market banners, respectively), although I'm not sure whether either actually went through.

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    1. Sure is! There used to be an article online that mentioned ShopRite's interest in buying some old Grand Union stores, but unfortunately that article is now behind a paywall :( I want to say ShopRite was interested in 4 stores total, but I don't remember what the article said exactly. I was also never able to find any confirmation if any of those ShopRite Florida stores ever opened, although that would be really neat if one did! And how ironic!

      I haven't been able to find anything about Ideal Food Basket's or Food Fair Wholesale's plans going through yet, as I can't find any operating Florida locations under either name. It looks like those plans are either still in the works, or have been canceled. However, Seabra Foods has two rather new stores in Florida, one in Orlando's tourist district (the first) and a second location in Pompano Beach. Orlando Seabra looks pretty nice (https://www.google.com/maps/uv?hl=en&pb=!1s0x88e77ef1fea3e8fd:0xa013c8d1e6e1b3b5!2m22!2m2!1i80!2i80!3m1!2i20!16m16!1b1!2m2!1m1!1e1!2m2!1m1!1e3!2m2!1m1!1e5!2m2!1m1!1e4!2m2!1m1!1e6!3m1!7e115!4shttps://lh5.googleusercontent.com/p/AF1QipNUeGwxJsP_hn5h3aqE4aW4_jz7WXwIxBjDTnpx%3Dw252-h160-k-no!5sseabra+foods+orlando+-+Google+Search&imagekey=!1e10!2sAF1QipNUeGwxJsP_hn5h3aqE4aW4_jz7WXwIxBjDTnpx&sa=X&sqi=2&ved=2ahUKEwiI5pf9l7zfAhXBwosKHa-ADu0QoiowFHoECAYQBg) and the Pompano store uses the same interior. Also see Reviewer Jay's comment below.

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    2. Most of Seabra's stores are very nice. I think you actually have that backwards, since Pompano Beach actually opened first (with the A&J Seabra Supermarkets branding), then Orlando opened later. Pompano Beach was then renovated with the same decor package that Orlando has as well as most of the northeastern stores.

      I can't find right now the plans for either of the two stores I mentioned, so they might have fallen through.

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  4. On I4 through the Orlando area there are billboards that say Key Foods based in the northeast is coming to neighborhoods near you. Thinking they are looking to open stores yet haven’t seen anything to confirm this

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    1. Interesting! I'd like to see just what they plan on doing should they be scouting the area.

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    2. Yikes. I worry, as usual, that they'll last a few years and then pull out. They had two stores in North Carolina very briefly. On the other hand, Key Food has entered New Jersey and failed a few times, each time with about 2-3 stores. In 2015, they entered with over 20 stores, some of which were successful. Hopefully they'll try that strategy, and if I were them, I would target existing independent ethnic stores to join the cooperative. As far as I know, the only NY/NJ area operator who has succeeded on a large scale in Florida is Bravo.

      I check the Key Food website at least once a week, so I'll let you know whether there's any news there!

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  5. Really neat reuse. Let's hope Big Lots doesn't mess it up with a remodel.

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    1. Very! I've heard Big Lots is supposed to be bringing their remodeling spree to Florida this year, so who knows what will end up happening here. I hope they don't alter the interior too much.

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  6. Is Publix #1663 still in remodeling stage #2? (fully transition to Publix in 2019)

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    1. I haven't heard anything about any further remodeling happening yet at any of the three former Safeway stores. I'll be sure to let everyone know if I do hear anything.

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  7. I was not aware that they had stores in Florida. Given the fact that Grand Union's headquarters (At least when I was growing up) was at the Willowbrook Center in Wayne, New Jersey I just naturally assumed that they were a local supermarket chain like ShopRite, A&P and Pathmark whose main concentrated market was the Tri-State Area (New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania). This was a very enlightening read, thank you.

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    1. GU once had a rather large presence that stretched up and down the East Coast. However due to the company's troubles in the late 70's and early 80's, they cut down on their outside territories in order to strengthen their core in the tri-state region. GU pulled out of Florida so long ago that it's become just another blur in the state's retail history that many don't know about. Anyway, I'm glad you liked the post!

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