Sunday, March 31, 2019

Former Albertsons #4478 - Estero, FL

*** All photos in this post are courtesy of YonWooRetail2 ***
Albertsons #4478
22100 S. Tamiami Trail, Estero, FL - Williams Place

     Like I said at the end of my last post, there are many different ways you can reuse an old Grocery Palace Albertsons store. You can chop them up, turn them into a Walmart, install weird anthropomorphic decor, or my personal favorite: do nothing. However, the former Grocery Palace Albertsons store we'll be taking a look at today has met a different kind of fate - a spiritual kind. Today's former Albertsons store has become a church, one of about 4 "Churchbertsons" floating around Florida if my memory serves me right. Thanks to AFB contributor YonWooRetail2, we'll head out to Lee County for a look at what is arguably the fanciest of the Churchbertsons in Florida...

     The Estero Albertsons store first opened in 2001, using a rather unique and somewhat upscale design than the traditional boxy Grocery Palace store. The many arches at this store really do a good job dressing this place up, and at least to me, make for a very fitting design for a church too.

Once a grocer, now a church

     In the video above, YonWoo gives us a short overview of the former Estero Albertsons building, including pointing out some of the labelscars still visible on the facade.

     Anyway, now that you've seen the video, let me get back on track with the history of this store. When this Albertsons was first built, Estero was in the middle of a growth boom. Until the mid-90's, there really wasn't much in Estero. Besides a state park and some small neighborhoods, Estero was mostly undeveloped land. Once ground broke on the area's first major new development, the Shadow Wood Country Club, in the mid-90's, numerous other new, upscale gated communities began to pop up in Estero as well. In 2005 the Coconut Point Mall, a large "lifestyle center", opened and made Estero the shopping destination for Southern Lee County. With all the growth in this area, it seemed like Albertsons picked a winning location here, right? However, since this is the Albertsons Florida Blog, my stories concerning Albertsons don't typically have a happy ending...

     After a somewhat short 8 year run, the Estero Albertsons closed in October 2009 when Albertsons closed their last few Southwestern Florida stores. By that point, the only Albertsons stores left in Southwestern Florida were this one and one in nearby Bonita Springs, both of which were newer locations built in the early 2000's. Albertsons cast off the majority of their remaining Southwestern Florida stores in the sale of 49 locations to Publix the year prior.

     In the above photo, YonWooRetail2 highlights where the Albertsons signs were placed on the facade. In all of the above exterior photos, if you zoom in, you can make out the very faint labelscars from the Albertsons signage discussed in the video, even after the church repainted the building during their remodel.

     Albertsons sure used lots of arches here, and I quite like it! I just find arches to be aesthetically pleasing for some reason, and they can really make a store look much classier.

     Heading up to the church's front walkway, here's a look at their main entrance. This is also the location of Albertsons' old entryway, the church replacing the old sliding doors with these manual ones. Even though the doors and the bottom windows are new, the panel of windows above the doors are original to Albertsons. The address number stenciling is also left over from Albertsons.

     Besides the new paint, Living Waters Church did very little to the exterior. The windows and the lighting are all from Albertsons. YonWoo took this photo looking up into the grand archway above the main entrance, a very distinctive sight at one of these early 2000's era Albertsons stores.

     The church was closed during YonWoo's visit to this store, so he decided to press his camera against the front doors for a peek inside...

     I figured there wouldn't be much from Albertsons left inside this building, although the church did keep the original warehouse ceiling. Regardless, this certainly looks like one very nice church!

    This appears to be some kind of lobby/lounge for the church just inside the entryway, a nice little gathering place before and after services too I'm sure.

     Turning to the right from the main entrance, here's a look down the arch-lined walkway toward the old liquor store and the small plaza off to the side of the building. When the church took over the old Albertsons store, it also took over all the empty storefronts that comprised the small plaza off to the right side of the building. The small storefronts off to the side of the church serve various uses, including church offices and a private gym for churchgoers.

     Turning around, here's another look down the front walkway. This photo looks from the main entrance toward Albertsons' old exit doors.

     Behind these windows was once Albertsons' cart storage area, as well as a wall that once pronounced "Welcome to your neighborhood Albertsons". Now behind these windows is more of the church's lobby.

     More from the front walkway here, looking back toward the main entrance.

     Straight ahead is Albertsons' old exit doors, which now serve as a secondary entrance into Living Waters Church.

     Here's one last look inside this former Albertsons, as seen through the old exit doors. I believe the main worship area (I guess that's what it's called, the area where the services are held), is located straight ahead, through the double doors by the word "RESOURCE" on the wall. Here's what that part of the building looks like now, previously home to Albertsons' produce and deli area. And while we're looking to the lobby, here's a photo of it posted to Google showing what it looks like from the inside.

     Before heading back out into the parking lot, here's one last walkway view, looking toward the left side of the building.

Beautifully Preserved!

     YonWoo also made this video, which recaps much of what we just saw from the front walkway. It's a pretty comprehensive view of the highlights of this former Albertsons store.

     Lastly, here's a look at the old liquor store. As YonWoo mentioned in the first video in this post, the "Liquor" labelscar is still very clear here.

     Here's a closer-cropped photo of the liquor store to better showcase the labelscar. The church does use the liquor store for their purposes, but I don't know exactly what the church houses in here.

     To wrap up this post, here are a few more exterior photos to give us one final overview of this former Albertsons store.

     Like I said before, the design of this former Albertsons led to one very nice looking church in the end. As usual, it was really a shame to see all of these newer Albertsons stores be cast off from the chain after relatively short runs as a grocery store. However, that wasn't a very unusual case when looking into the history of Albertsons across the country, especially during their huge expansion push from the late 90's and early 2000's that eventually led to the company's troubles later in the 2000's.

     To close out this post, here we have a photo of the Estero Albertsons that YonWoo dug up from a newspaper archive. For that reason, the photo is in black and white, but at least we get some kind of glimpse at this store back when Albertsons was still in the building.

     Thanks again YonWoo for the photos of this store, and be sure to check out more of his retail documentation on his flickr photostream here. YonWoo is also a contributor on AFB's sister site My Florida Retail, where myself and some other contributors document the less-Albertsons related retail history around Florida.

     However, that's not all for today! Keep scrolling down for some coverage of the now-closed Chinese themed Winn-Dixie in Kissimmee.

So until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger

Zai Jian, Winn-Dixie

*** All photos in this post are courtesy of Reviewer Jay ***
Goodings of Kissimmee / Winn-Dixie #2379
7840 West Irlo Bronson Memorial Highway, Kissimmee, FL - Formosa Gardens Village

     As I'm sure you're all aware, SEG announced the closure of 22 of their stores throughout the Southeast back in February. Among those 22 stores that were announced to close, one of them was a vary special Winn-Dixie location - that location being this particular one in western Kissimmee. Located in the shadows of Walt Disney World, this unique Winn-Dixie had a custom designed Chinese-inspired decor, a vestige of this building's days as a Gooding's as well as a reminder of the long-gone Splendid China theme park once located behind this shopping center. However, more detail on the history of this plaza can be found in my original post about this store, which you can read here.

     Since I was unable to make it out to this store's closing due to a scheduling conflict on the day I had planned to journey out this way, the photos you'll be seeing today were taken by AFB contributor Reviewer Jay. Reviewer Jay took the photos you'll be seeing in early March 2019, only two or so weeks into the closing. The above photo was a signboard located on the store's front walkway, announcing the store's last day in business. Since the merchandise at this location sold through rather fast, this Winn-Dixie actually closed on March 23, 2019 instead of the originally planned date of March 25th (as seen on the sign above).

    Stepping through the front doors, here's a peek to the right. The area above was home to Winn-Dixie's fresh departments, including the deli and a small bakery. We'll see some more from this part of the store in just a moment, although it was pretty barren at this point in the closing.

     The souvenir shop is empty. This section of the store you see above was located inside this pagoda.

     Stepping back into the fresh departments, here's a look at the pagoda-themed island Winn-Dixie used for prepackaged deli and bakery items. According to Reviewer Jay, this island was originally Gooding's cheese shop.

     More of the former cheese shop island, with the deli counter in the background.

     Behind this wall, which lines the left side of the grand aisle for the fresh departments, lies the mysterious abandoned Chinese restaurant. From what I have been told, behind those pegboards remains a fully furnished restaurant, complete with tables, kitchen equipment, and a menu board, all left frozen in time from the Gooding's days.

     There weren't many fresh products left by this point in the closing, so what merchandise remained in this part of the store was mostly toys and souvenirs. In the background we can see the old bakery department, located on the right side wall between the deli counter and produce.

     On the same island as the old Chinese restaurant, we also find Gooding's old in-store pharmacy department peeking out from behind those pegboards. I don't think Winn-Dixie ever operated the pharmacy at this store, but either way, the pharmacy has be closed off for a very long time.

     Mostly emptiness in the produce department. The old produce displays have been cleared out, and what little produce remained was relocated into the cooler in front of the produce prep counter.

     Mr. Panda Bear and his friends won't have much to look over anymore as this store clears out. It's going to be lonely up there until something happens to this place, or someone comes to rescue these guys from getting tossed into the dumpster...

     Only two weeks or so into the closing when Reviewer Jay took these photos, this store was quite devoid of merchandise. This is a look down one of the grocery aisles, where you can see just how little was left in this place.

     95% off greeting cards, a discount that was raised to 98% off as this store neared its final days (one of the most generous closing discounts I've ever seen - they might as well have given these cards away at that point!). Greeting cards seem to be one of the hardest things to get rid of during a liquidation sale, as I've seen so many cards left over on a store's last day.

     Here's a look across the back of the store, where the coolers were being emptied out, shut off, and disassembled.

     Not much merchandise left to see here...

     The final photo from Reviewer Jay's batch takes us to the frozen food department, which lines the left side of this store. The ice cream in those coolers seems to be one of the most plentiful items remaining in this place!

     To finish off this post, here's a video duckman66 brought to my attention. This video was posted to YouTube about 3-4 days before this store closed for good, posted by Youtuber TheDailyWoo (no relation to YonWooRetail2 from flickr). The video provides a nice little tour of this store as it entered its final days, showcasing the funky decor and yet more emptiness.

     So what made Winn-Dixie close this unique store you ask? I don't have a concrete reason, but talking to some others I've been presented with the following information: According to a store employee Reviewer Jay spoke with during one of his visits to this store, this store was chosen to close because the owners of the shopping center (who are still the original developers of the plaza and the Splendid China theme park) wouldn't give Winn-Dixie permission to do any remodeling to this store. From what I was told from another contact, the owners of this plaza also own all the funky decor in this store (and not Winn-Dixie), so they control if any remodeling can happen (a reason that would also explain why Winn-Dixie kept all the funky decor in the beginning as well). Since that's the case, that also makes a fixture sale less likely to happen, as it all depends now on what the plaza's landlord wants to do with all this stuff. In addition to that, this store was dedicated to the tourist crowd. This store was not popular with locals since it did not honor Winn-Dixie's weekly circular or the rewards card, leading locals to shop elsewhere for their groceries.

     With this store now gone, what exactly will happen to this building going forward is a bit of a mystery. Finding a new grocer for this space would be difficult, as Publix is the only other mainstream option out there. Publix already has a store a mile and a half away from here, but since when has proximity to another location ever stopped Publix in the past?! Other than Publix, there are some independent ethnic-focused grocers popping up around Orlando of late (for example, Presidente Supermarkets from South Florida bought three Orlando area Winn-Dixies that were shut down last year). I don't know if any of those grocers would want to have a store in the tourist district though. Otherwise, this is just a matter of wait and see. However, if the owners of this plaza ever feel the need to part with their funky Chinese-themed decor, I can imagine that a line will be forming to rescue Mr. Panda Bear from an impending doom!

So that's all I have for now. Until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Former Albertsons #4471 - Sanford, FL (Revisited)

Albertsons #4471
300 W. Lake Mary Boulevard, Sanford, FL - Boulevard Plaza

     About a two and a half years ago, I presented everybody with two posts about this former Albertsons store in Sanford. In the first post, we took a look at this former Grocery Palace Albertsons in its abandoned form. In the second post, we got an even closer look inside this former Albertsons store when I caught it being used as a pop Halloween store in the fall of 2015. Both of those posts are quite interesting, and I highly recommend scrolling through them again if you haven't seen my coverage of the former Sanford Albertsons before.

     Anyway, as you can see in the above photo, some big changes have happened here at the former Sanford Albertsons since we last saw it on the blog. In mid-2017, it was announced that LA Fitness would be taking over half of this former Albertsons store. After the announcement of LA Fitness's arrival, the landlord was also able to fill the remaining half of this former Albertsons store with two new tenants: Fancy Fruit & Produce and Learning City. Fancy Fruit opened around the same time as LA Fitness in late 2018, with Learning City still under construction as of my visit in early 2019. In today's post we'll take a quick look at the rather dramatic changes that have occurred here over the last two years, which did a good job of removing many of the remaining traces of Albertsons that once lurked around this site.

     To start off this revisit, we'll begin on the LA Fitness side of the building. LA Fitness takes up the largest chunk of this former Albertsons building, occupying the right half of the building where the pharmacy island, meat and seafood counters, dairy, frozen foods, and the bulk of the grocery aisles were located when this building housed the Albertsons. Unlike in the past, where LA Fitness would take up the majority of a former Albertsons building, they only took a small chunk of it here. I'm not sure if LA Fitness has been shrinking the size of their gyms of late, or if this smaller location is due to an existing full-size LA Fitness being located just four miles to the west of here in Lake Mary (in the same plaza as this former Albertsons store).

     In addition to LA Fitness talking over half of this former Albertsons store, LA Fitness has also begun demolition on the former Longwood Albertsons (#4353) located 5 miles south of here on US 17-92 for yet another new gym. LA Fitness gyms have been popping up like crazy around here, as have strip mall gyms in general. With all the empty retail space becoming available, there certainly has been plenty of opportunity for these gyms to move in.

     However, as we just saw, LA Fitness stripped away just about every trace of Albertsons from their half of the building. Moving over toward Fancy Fruit & Produce, the original Albertsons facade was preserved, just painted gray from its original rusty orange color.

     Fancy Fruit & Produce is actually a small chain of produce stores, with 5 or so locations around Orlando. This location is the chain's newest, opening in late 2018. Fancy Fruit takes up the portion of the building that once housed Snack Central and Beverage Boulevard in this Albertsons store.

     Albertsons' grand archway and entrance has been preserved by Fancy Fruit & Produce. However, this spot where I was standing is pretty much the last place in this plaza where a strong Albertsons presence can still be detected.

     Walking inside Fancy Fruit & Produce, this is what we see. It's certainly not as striking of an impression as what was once here! Fancy Fruit put a lot of work into reconstructing this place, replacing all the floors and even installing a drop ceiling.

     Anyway, straight ahead is the produce department, which takes up about half of the salesfloor in here (and since "Fruit & Produce" is in the name of this place, you'd hope a good chunk of the store was dedicated to that!).

     Even though this store is brand new, the coolers and produce cases look like something out of the 1990's. My guess is these cases were probably bought used, which is a common practice with these smaller grocers to save money.

     Looking toward the front of the store, we can see the small bit of Albertsons entryway that was preserved in the distance. After the first aisle, which was dedicated entirely to produce, the remaining aisles contain a small amount of other grocery items. However, since this is Fancy Fruit & Produce, pretty much all of the center grocery aisles were topped with even more displays of various produce. You just have to push that produce!

     Here's another look down one of the center grocery aisles (complete with the extra produce cases), looking toward the back of the store. In addition to the large produce offerings, this place also had a decent selection of meats. The meat and produce were certainly the two biggest draws to this place.

     Here's a quick look across this store's back wall. While this store looks big from the front, going inside, it's actually quite tiny.

     Frozen foods are located in the last aisle, aisle 6. the yellow and green painted area in the front of the store is also something was added by Fancy Fruit for their service desk and offices. When Albertsons was here, that area would have been home to the restrooms and the beginning of the deli (primarily the prepared foods department). There's a chance some of those walls remain from Albertsons, but even so, they were heavily altered in the remodel if that was the case.

     Here's one final look across the front of this store. The checkouts were located to my right, with the bulk rice and such straight ahead. I wasn't this store for very long, somewhat because it was so tiny, but mostly because it was so cold in here! While it was a chilly January morning when I visited this store (well, chilly for Florida, meaning temperatures in the mid-50's), it was even colder inside this store than it was outside! I was freezing the entire time I was in here, the cold air outside actually warming me up! While this is probably a refreshing store to shop in during the heat waves of July, the cold temperatures inside were less than pleasant on this winter morning.

     So that's Fancy Fruit & Produce. Here's another look at the exterior, pretty much the last trace of Albertsons here now that the renovations have been completed.

     Surprisingly, the landlord was actually able to find a new tenant for the liquor store here. It seems like these old Albertsons liquor stores sit empty for years, even after the main store gets re-tenanted. However, that will not be the case here, as a new restaurant called Akira Sushi and Steakhouse will be opening in this space sometime in 2019. A restaurant is an interesting reuse for one of these old liquor stores, a reuse that I'm surprised doesn't happen more often.

     Between the old liquor store and Fancy Fruit and Produce, we find this storefront, which takes up the space of Albertsons' old deli and produce departments. This is the space that will become home to Learning City, which sounds like it will be an after-school tutoring place.

     So that's what you'll find if you choose to visit the former Sanford Albertsons today - just a sparse reminder that Albertsons was once located here in years gone by. However, after 8 years of sitting empty, it's nice to see something this this building once again... long as we keep in the back of our minds the memory of what was once here. So to finish off today's post, here's an old photo of the Sanford Albertsons from when it was still open. I forgot I even had this photo, as I just found it going through some of the older files in my archives. I probably downloaded this photo from a real estate posting that's no longer active, but at least I thought to download it way back when!

     However, while you can take a Grocery Palace Albertsons and chop it up into multiple new tenants, there's more than one way to repurpose an old grocery store. Next time we'll take a look at another former Grocery Palace Albertsons, however this next store has met a different kind of fate, but more on that in two weeks!

So until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger