Sunday, August 25, 2019

The Winn-Dixie That Time Forgot

Winn-Dixie #2302
429 E. 3rd Street, New Smyrna Beach, FL - Beach Plaza (later Outback Plaza)

     A photo of an abandoned, overgrown, and decrepit looking supermarket building kicks off this post. What does that mean, you ask? To the longtime readers of AFB and the other retail fans in this world, a picture of an abandoned supermarket can only mean one thing - this post is gonna be good! To the average person who randomly found this post in a Google search, you're probably just thinking to yourself right now that whoever is writing this is crazy. While I may be a little crazy for dedicating much of my free time to documenting the retail stores of past and present, I think what we're going to see in today's post may be just enough to convert anyone into a retail fan. This place is a good example of why I enjoy searching out and documenting these old stores, as this place is a true relic of the past.

     Retail fan or not, something that both of these groups are probably thinking to themselves right now is "Ok AFB, enough with all this fluff talk, just tell us why we're here today!" Alright, alright, I'm getting to the point now! If you've been following AFB's sister blog My Florida Retail over the summer, then you've seen my series featuring the remodel of a Publix and a Winn-Dixie store located on the mainland side of New Smyrna Beach. While that series was looking forward at some new and remodeled stores in town, today's post will take things in the opposite direction as we set our sights on the ghost of supermarkets past. Prior to the opening of the mainland NSB Winn-Dixie in 1996, Winn-Dixie served the citizens of town from this building. Located at the eastern end of New Smyrna's South Causeway, this shopping center is one of the first things you see entering New Smyrna's beachside. Constructed in 1984, this Winn-Dixie was built in a time when New Smyrna Beach was experiencing one of its first retail booms. The early 1980's brought quite a bit of commercial construction to the New Smyrna Beach area, as the sleepy beach town began to see a large amount of residential growth. With this plaza serving as a gateway to the beaches, Winn-Dixie felt this would be the perfect location to grow with the community. I believe this store replaced a much smaller Winn-Dixie located somewhere over on the mainland, probably along Route 1 in the older part of town, but I haven't been able to confirm that fact.

     Even though this store was one of the first places you saw coming off the causeway, Winn-Dixie felt they had some better opportunities back on the mainland as the years went on. In 1996, after only 12 years in business at this location, Winn-Dixie jumped back across to river to a modern Marketplace store (the one we toured over on MFR, both pre and post-remodel). This building has never seen a new tenant since Winn-Dixie left in 1996, meaning this place had been sitting empty for 22 years by the time I made my visit here. While the Winn-Dixie space has been empty for that long, some other small businesses remained in the plaza in the 20 years following the anchor's closing. The far left side of the plaza was the longtime home of an Outback Steakhouse, the plaza's junior anchor. As the main draw to the plaza in recent years, this shopping center would eventually be renamed "Outback Plaza". However, the New Smyrna Beach Outback Steakhouse closed suddenly in 2016, followed a few months later by the plaza's last tenant (which was a medical office). Since 2016, this plaza has held a 100% vacancy rate. There are some plans going around as to the future of this property, but I'll discuss those plans later in this post. Right now I just want to enjoy what's here now, as unsightly as it may be to the casual observer when driving by on A1A.

     This place is a very 80's Winn-Dixie in just about every way. Like most Winn-Dixies from this time period, the entryway consists of a glass vestibule with sliding doors on each side. The above photo was taken looking toward the entryway on the left side of the building.

     While this might be the way in, those doors aren't opening for anyone anymore...

     The decals on the entryway doors are original to this store's opening in 1984. This is a closeup of the decal on one of the doors, where some of the faded writing can be seen better. These decals are something you never ever see anymore, as these decals were usually removed when most Winn-Dixies remodeled to the Marketplace decor of the 1990's or the Purple/Maroon decor of the early 2000's. So if there are decals from 1984 still stuck to the doors, the inside has got to contain something really cool!

     Looking through the doors and into the vestibule, what do we see but some random junk, wood paneling, and roof damage - everything you'd expect from a supermarket building that hasn't been touched in 22 years, right?

     Stepping away from the left side doors, here's a look across the front of the building. All the windows you see to my left look into the store. With a camera in hand, let's get to the fun part of this post and take a peek through these windows...

     To start off our interior tour of this old Winn-Dixie, our first view inside of the building doesn't show us much more than a foggy glimpse at some more wood paneling and a board where the weekly circular would have been hung. (Curse the 22 years of dust on these windows!) While the first few photos I took through the windows came out foggy from all the dirt that built up over the years on the glass, these photos will get clearer as we move further down the vestibule.

     A little bit more is coming into view here...

     And there we go - here's what makes this post so special. Disregarding all the glare from the dust on the windows, we can still make out the super old Winn-Dixie decor present in this building all these years later. This store opened with the decor you see in 1984, and was never touched in the 12 years this place was in business. This decor was the one used prior to the rollout of the shiny neon Marketplace decor of the late 1980's. There might have been some overlap of this decor with the shiny neon one, as Winn-Dixie was still opening both Marketplace and non-Marketplace stores simultaneously in the late 1980's. By the 1990's though, it was all about those Marketplace stores. While this decor package was used by Winn-Dixie for the majority of the 1980's, it has more of a 1970's vibe to me (probably due to the choice of colors and fonts). I don't know when this decor was first rolled out, but it probably has its origins in the late 1970's.

     Before continuing on with more interior overviews, this was my attempt to get a close-up photo of "The Beef People" slogan on the store's back wall. I had to play with the lighting in this photo to get the text to be mostly legible, although the darkness of the store's interior, the dirt on the windows, and the poor zoom capabilities of my phone's camera weren't helping any! Thankfully, cflretail on flickr got a much nicer close-up photo of  "The Beef People" sign when he visited this store in 2017. Interestingly, something changed regarding this sign between his photos taken in September 2017 and mine taken in April 2018. That change effected the cowboy silhouettes on each end of "The Beef People" slogan in cflretail's photo, which were taken down from the wall and placed on the floor. In my photo above, you can see the two cowboys leaning against the wall in the center right part of the image.

     Here's another speckled image looking toward the old service center. In front of the service center would have been the checklanes, with the deli/bakery counter around the corner to the left. I believe the deli/bakery in this store would have looked something like this.

     Moving along to a different window, all that annoying dirt has vanished, giving us some clear views into this store's interior. Straight ahead we can see "The Beef People" slogan on the wall, which was placed above this store's former meat department. 

     It's not quite visible in this image, but frozen foods would have been somewhere at the far left side of this photo.

     More of "The Beef People", just minus its cowboys now. When I first noticed the cowboys were missing from the wall, I thought some vandal took them as a souvenir, but that turned out to be wrong. Regardless of how those cowboys came off the wall, someone was at least courteous enough to prop them back up against the wall!

     I'm not sure if the floors in this building are just really dirty, or if the tiles were ripped up at some point. Anyway, this decor would have featured striped tile floors that looked like this. It looks like that striped pattern is still somewhat visible here, so I think the tile colors may have been dulled out by layers of dirt from years of neglect. 

     This photos shows off more of the decor on the back wall of the store. There were lots of funky patterns and colors in this decor, and it's quite amazing that an example of it still exists in 2019 (even though the store itself is closed and abandoned). Most Winn-Dixie stores that held onto this decor were remodeled to the Purple/Maroon package of the early 2000's. However, it appears at least one Winn-Dixie store held onto quite a few traces of this pre-Marketplace decor until it closed in 2016. That store was located in Enterprise, AL, and I've linked to a few photos of it already in this post. Here's the complete post about that store in Enterprise if you're interested in reading it.

     The right side of the building had more random junk lying around than the left side, including a sign from a medical clinic that was once housed in this plaza.

     On the far right side of this image you can see a sign that once read "Luncheon Meats". After the poor results of my close-up of "The Beef People" sign, I didn't attempt to get one of the "Luncheon Meats sign. Thankfully, cflretail did.

     If you zoom in on the above photo, you can see a labelscar on the blue panel to the left of "Luncheon Meats" that reads "Fisherman's Wharf". Under the "Fisherman's Wharf" was Winn-Dixie's old Seafood counter. There also appears to be a labelscar on the brown-ish colored panel to the left of "Fisherman's Wharf", but I can't make out what it says. It was probably a sign related to the meat department though.

     Turning our attention to the far right side of this building, we find the old produce department (as well as a sickly potted plant). On the far right side of the image, you can see a sign that reads "Potatoes". To the left of that appears to be where the main Produce sign would have been, although the lettering has since been removed. The symbols on each side of the old Produce sign do remain on the wall, however.

     I'll wind down this interior tour with a few parting shots of the center sales floor, showing off the old decor on the back wall and more of "The Beef People" sign.

     With that wood paneling coming into view once again, we find ourselves in the store's right side vestibule.

     This place is not lame, whoever you are that tagged this building as such! This is one of the most interesting abandoned supermarkets I've seen in a long while! I guess whoever spray-painted that on the wall must be a Publix loyalist 😀. Anyway, here we have a look at the doors leading into the right side vestibule, which are slightly more vandalized than the doors on the other side of the building.

     Looking through the right side doors, here we have a clearer view of the Service Center, even if it is from an vantage point much further back. From this vantage point we also have a better look at the large hole in the ceiling. Even with that hole present, for a building that's been abandoned for 22 years, this place isn't in too horrible of shape considering the circumstances.

     Here's our last look at this store's old interior, which will be forever frozen in 1984 until the wrecking ball finally takes this building down...

     So when I first approached the doors on the right side of the building, I thought they looked a bit crooked. As I looked closer at the doors, I confirmed my theory - they were slightly misaligned. The reason why? It turned out these doors don't have a lock on them anymore! I don't know how long the doors have been like this, but this must be how vandals keep getting into the place (as I'm sure you noticed the graffiti on the back wall). Yes, I know it was very tempting to push on the doors and step inside one of the best preserved Winn-Dixie relics in all the land. However, the last thing I needed was for the police to find me poking around in here (as a guy taking pictures through the windows isn't weird enough). And not only that, but I was alone, and if I can get in easily, who know who else could have gotten in here easily (and still have been lingering around too). So before I ended up like the poor retail fan in this tall tale I may or may not have made up, I figured it was my best choice to not push on these doors.

     Putting temptations aside, here's a look from Winn-Dixie's right side entrance toward the far end of the old Beach Plaza.

     In most recent times, these storefronts to the right of the old Winn-Dixie were combined into medical offices. The sign for the medical office remains, although this space has been empty since 2016.

      As we continue along to view the remainder of this abandoned plaza, here are a few more exterior shots of the old Winn-Dixie as we pass by.

     The former Outback Steakhouse can be seen in the background of this image, where the walkway roof goes up to form a peak.

     While this place seems like it would normally be quiet and empty since it's 100% abandoned now, there was a small bit of action going on when I was here taking photos. A landscaping crew was parked over by the Outback Steakhouse, using this parking lot for their trucks as they took care of the landscaping needs of the Dunkin' Donuts located in front of this plaza. Two cars also drove by the front of this plaza when I was taking photos, which is something I was not expecting! Apparently there's a small fishing area behind this plaza, as part of the parking lot behind the building bumps right up to the river (something I later discovered looking at satellite imagery). Both of the vehicles that drove by disappeared behind this building, so I'm guessing that's where they were headed. (Either that, or they were trying to figure out what the crazy guy with the camera was up to. The cops never showed up, so they must not have thought of me as much of a threat!)

     About three of four storefronts separated the old Winn-Dixie from the Outback Steakhouse at the far end of the plaza, those storefronts visible here.

     Stepping back onto the plaza's walkway, here's a look from Winn-Dixie's left side entrance toward the old Outback Steakhouse.

     The Free Spin Internet Cafe left its signage up after it closed, occupying the storefront closest to the old Winn-Dixie. These "Internet Cafes" were essentially casinos in disguise, created to exploit a loophole in Florida's gambling laws. These places were really popular for a while, and they were popping up everywhere for a number of years. Eventually one of the larger "Internet Cafe" chains in Florida was discovered to have been a front for a bogus charity that some high ranking state politicians were involved with, revealing a large corruption scandal that led to the resignation of the then Lieutenant Governor of Florida. Because of that scandal, Florida changed its gambling laws in 2013 to close the internet gambling loophole, essentially shutting down all the "Internet Cafes" in the state. Some "Internet Cafes" have reopened since the 2013 change to the gambling laws, trying to exploit other legal loopholes to continue offering casino-style games to patrons. However, these places are still a gray area in terms of legality, and you still see the state shutting down these places for taking the loopholes too far from time to time.

     Anyway, getting back from that sidetrack, my guess is this particular "Internet Cafe" has been closed since the 2013 change to the gambling laws.

     Here we have a view looking from Outback Steakhouse toward the old Winn-Dixie. The angled columns from Winn-Dixie's facade continue throughout the plaza (except for where Outback modified them them to better match their standard facade design).

     With all this talk about Outback Steakhouse, here it is finally. Like I said earlier in this post, Outback Steakhouse was one of the last tenants in this plaza, closing in February 2016. Articles about the closure of this restaurant state under-performance as the official reason for closure, however right around the time this restaurant closed some plans for the future of this property were announced (which I'll discuss at the end of this post). As for how long Outback was here, I do know they weren't an original tenant to this plaza, as the first Outback didn't open until 1988 (and this plaza was built in 1984). Outback was founded in Florida, so it's likely this restaurant could have been an earlier location that opened in the 1990's, although I can't find an exact year of its opening. (UPDATE 4/1/2020 - thanks to commentor andsome96, he discovered that this Outback location opened in May 2002).

     This looks like it was a fairly typical Outback location. Outback remodeled this portion of the plaza to their liking, fencing off the walkway to create space for an outdoor dining area.

     Stepping up to the front doors, the proprietor's name is still there above the door, three years after this place closed.

       These days there are no worries and no business here, regardless of what time you show up. If you really want that bloomin' onion now, you're going to have to get back in the car and drive up to Daytona for it.

     Here are a few photos taken through the front doors of the old Outback Steakhouse, showing the empty dining room.

     Lastly, here's another walkway view, showing the former outdoor dining area.

     That pretty much sums up this former Winn-Dixie and its adjoining storefronts. I certainly enjoyed my trip back in time to 1984, and I hope everyone reading this did too.

     Here's one last photo of the exterior before we leave Beach Plaza, showing all the weather-worn, sun-baked highlights from this post.

     As we leave, here's a shot of the plaza's road sign. The blank spot at the top of this sign once featured Outback's logo, declaring this place as "Outback Plaza". With no one wanting to take over the old Winn-Dixie space, Outback was able to get prime billing here.

     For perspective, here's a satellite image overview of Beach Plaza, showing this store at the base of the causeway right next to the river. That little fishing hole I mentioned earlier in this post is visible at the back left of the old Winn-Dixie building. Had I known that was there during my visit, I probably would have driven over there to see what it looked like. However, why go down to the ol' fishin' hole when we can go see the main draw to New Smyrna: the beach!

     Being right on the barrier island, I had to pop over to the beach for a short visit. It was a nice spring beach day when I was here, and others certainly felt the same way!

     Like Daytona Beach, New Smyrna's Beaches are also comprised of extremely hard packed sand. The hard packed sand allows for people to drive their cars onto the beach, which is a popular thing for tourists to do in this area (especially up in Daytona, which is famous for beach driving). However, it costs $10 to bring your car onto the beach, so I opted against it (especially since I wasn't spending all day out here). I instead chose to park on some dead end side street next to a condominium complex. While that situation doesn't sound as fun as driving on the beach, I wont complain, as the parking there was free!

     Here we have one last view of New Smyrna Beach, as our time on the beachside comes to an end...

     To conclude this post, here's an image originally posted by cflretail showing the old New Smyrna Beach Winn-Dixie in modern times, juxtaposed with an image of the store just prior to its 1984 opening. Other than some of the usual decay, not much has changed between 1984 and 2019 here, at the building where Winn-Dixie will forever be frozen in time.

     So what does the future hold for this property, you ask? Shortly after Outback Steakhouse closed in February 2016, the owner of this property announced he was in talks with a developer to bring something new to this property. In late 2016, it was announced that those talks were with Hyatt Hotels. According to the plan, a new Hyatt Place hotel would be built on the Beach Plaza site, with all of this redevelopment being part of a plan to re-imagine the gateway to New Smyrna Beach. The proposed hotel would include 114 rooms in 5 stories, and be built using a Florida Vernacular architecture theme. The Florida theme would also be incorporated into the hotel's interior to showcase the Florida lifestyle. In addition to the hotel, some new restaurants would also be included on the property as a part of the redevelopment plan. While it appears the hotel plan passed the city approval process in 2017, nothing has been done at this site as of mid-2019, so I don't know what's going on with those plans. The old Winn-Dixie is still here, still in all of its 1980's glory. A hotel is actually a fitting reuse for this property, especially considering its riverfront status and being the first thing you see upon entering the beachside. A June 2018 Loopnet listing mentions the planned development of the new Hyatt Place hotel, but nothing about the hotel has been mentioned since. This article from October 2017 describes the hotel plan in more detail if you're interested in reading about it.

     Until the day that hotel begins to rise from this site, this old decor from the glory days of Winn-Dixie will continue to live on here in New Smyrna Beach. This store was built in a time when Winn-Dixie was just as powerful, if not more powerful, than Publix was, and there were numerous other competitors out there trying to make it big in Florida. Boy, how the times have changed...

     I hope everybody enjoyed this little taste of New Smyrna Beach these last few weeks, both here and on My Florida Retail. I still have more to show from this town on MFR, so always keep a look out for that amongst all the other places we're going to see over there too!

So until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger

UPDATE 5/26/2021 - The plans for the hotel project have officially gone through, and the entire shopping center has been razed as of early 2021.