Sunday, October 20, 2019

Publix Gourmet Winn-Dixie

Publix Gourmet Plus #360 / Gooding's of Lake Mary / Winn-Dixie #2380
120 International Parkway, Lake Mary, FL - Heathrow Square

     Most people look at this building and see a Winn-Dixie, probably a nicer than overage looking one too. I look at this building and think I have a really long backstory to begin typing up for you guys. There was a lot that went on here long before Winn-Dixie came into the picture! To begin the crazy story of this place, we have to start back in the late 1980's with Publix and one of their really obscure plans...

     The store we'll be touring today is located on the eastern edge of Heathrow, about 2.5 miles south of the former Heathrow Albertsons we toured previously on the blog. As I discussed in the post about the Albertsons store, Heathrow is a very upscale private development and the home to many wealthy residents. The majority of the homes in Heathrow are valued at well over $500,000, to give you an idea of what Heathrow is like. The first homes in Heathrow began to appear in the late 1980's, and with any new large-scale housing project, it wouldn't be long before the retailers wanted a piece of the action too.

     As usual with any new development in Florida, Publix wanted to be the first supermarket to build in this new community. As a classier place to shop, Publix would be a natural fit for Heathrow. However, with the large amount of wealthy residents that would be calling Heathrow home, any ordinary old Publix wouldn't do - there was already one of those a little over a mile to the east. Heathrow deserved better than an ordinary Publix, they deserved Publix Gourmet Plus!

     While the all the Average Joes still had their ordinary Publix down the road, Publix wanted to design a completely new concept to feed off the large number of millionaires expected to move into Heathrow. That's where we meet Publix Gourmet Plus. If you think Publix's current form is upscale as it is, Publix Gourmet Plus took things to a completely different level of fancy! Upon its opening in December 1988, Publix Gourmet Plus was designed to be a showy place filled with expensive treats and goodies. While a large portion of the building was designed with the usual architectural traits we all know and love from any old 80's Publix, things clearly went a bit further here. For example, instead of any ordinary Publix bakery, Publix Gourmet Plus had a "European bakery, which was designed and built in Europe then shipped here and reassembled at Heathrow," according to an article published in the Orlando Sentinel shortly after this store's opening. While that sounds like a very tedious and expensive pursuit to have an entire bakery shipped to the United States from Europe, that's just setting the stage for all the frills Publix Gourmet Plus offered. (Remember, this wasn't just "Publix Gourmet" - Publix threw in the word "Plus" for a reason!) In addition to the European bakery, Publix Gourmet Plus offered tanks of fresh lobsters that could be bought live or cooked in-store, exotic foods and vegetables, high end wines (topping $500!), ceramic and terrazzo floors, vaulted ceilings, and European-style display cases. In addition to all of those fancy things, one of Publix Gourmet Plus's most famous attributes was its use of gold shopping carts, as there's nothing more showier of excess than a gold shopping cart! Obviously, the shopping carts weren't made of real gold, as if they were, you could guarantee they all would have walked off within hours of the store's grand opening! While the carts looked gold plated, they were actually normal carts coated with a brass finish to give off a golden hue, the icing on the cake in Publix's gourmet palace of excess.

     With any over-the-top supermarket full of frills and excess, there come higher operating costs. With Heathrow building out at a slower rate than expected, Publix Gourmet Plus was burdened with the problem of slow sales amongst many high cost frills. There weren't enough well-off people around to support the high-priced nature of this store. After a little over two years in business, Publix had determined their venture into luxury grocery retailing was a flop. Publix announced the closure of the lone Publix Gourmet Plus in January 1991, with the store itself closing about a month after that announcement. As an interesting little side note, while being interviewed about the closure of Publix Gourmet Plus for an Orlando Sentinel article, the reporter asked Publix spokesman Bob McDermott about the future of the famous gold-colored shopping carts. When asked that question, McDermott replied, "We will find some use for them." (Which essentially translates to "We don't know what the heck to do with a few hundred shiny gold shipping carts!") With that being said, if for some reason you ever find an odd shiny gold-colored shopping cart floating around at a thrift store near you, you have Publix Gourmet Plus to thank for that! While the famous gold carts are probably long gone, there's still quite a bit of that long-forgotten prototype that remains here in Heathrow. However, I still have more backstory to go through before we get to the interior tour...

     Shortly after Publix Gourmet Plus closed, Publix sold their lease on this building to Gooding's. While Publix and Gooding's were comparable in terms of classiness, Gooding's was typically considered more upscale than the average Publix in the 1990's, but certainly not a showy as Publix Gourmet Plus was. Gooding's was a nice fit for this building, as it brought yet another upscale grocer to Heathrow to compliment the wealth of the locals. Gooding's lasted in this location until 2000, when this store was sold off to Winn-Dixie with nine other Gooding's stores around Orlando. Winn-Dixie has enjoyed quite a bit of success at this location, going as far as to give this building a rather extensive remodel in late 2014. While the 2014 remodel brought about an end to some Publix Gourmet Plus traits Gooding's never bothered to change, there's still plenty to see here. Considering the area, Winn-Dixie had done a really good job maintaining this store too. The 2014 remodel reinforced Winn-Dixie's commitment to providing a better than average shopping experience here in Heathrow.

     This building remained mostly original to Publix Gourmet Plus until 2014, when Winn-Dixie decided to carry out their extensive on this building. That remodel included a partial reconfiguration of the front of the building, as well as a complete gut and rebuild of the left side of the store where all the fresh departments are located. While this building isn't nearly as interesting now as it once was, Winn-Dixie did skip over some things in that remodel, preserving this building's legacy as a Publix even to this day.

     With that being said, let's head inside and see what fun lies in there...

     When Publix Gourmet Plus first opened, the building was designed with the usual split-vestibule set-up common of Publix stores built in the late 1980's and early 1990's. With that set-up, the doors faced the side of the building. From what I can tell, Gooding's was the one to reconfigure the design of the left side vestibule to what you see in the above photo, in order to add a liquor store into the front left corner of the building. To do that, the main door was moved from the side of the building to face the front. What was left of the hallway that once led to Publix's original door became used for cart storage. The right side vestibule was left completely untouched by Gooding's, as can be seen in this photo of the Winn-Dixie from prior to the 2014 remodel. During Winn-Dixie's 2014 remodel, the right side vestibule was sealed up in order to convert that space into a relocated liquor store. To make up for the removal of that secondary entrance, a new door was carved out of the front wall by the customer service desk.

     Here's a quick peek at the store directory on one of the shopping carts before we jump into our interior tour...

     Stepping through the front doors, we enter into the side of the store that was completely rebuilt during the 2014 remodel. The current layout brings you into the produce department, which wraps around the left side of an island containing the bakery and deli departments. The addition of the island was part of the 2014 remodel, following Winn-Dixie's prototype of the time. Unfortunately, I can't speak much for this store's exact layout prior to the 2014 remodel. I was only able to find one interior photo of this place from prior to the remodel, which doesn't tell me much besides the watermelons were ripe that day. The article about this store's grand reopening in January 2015 sheds a little light on the store's original layout, mentioning the deli was moved from the back of the store (typical of an 80's Publix) to the island. Anyway, if anyone can provide us with more information about what this store was like prior to the 2014 remodel, please let me know in the comments section at the end of this post. I want to say this store had a standard late 80's Publix layout in the beginning (just with all the "Gourmet Plus" frills thrown in where necessary). However, I don't know the extent of any modifications Gooding's may have done upon their arrival to this building either. I'm assuming any modifications from Gooding's were minor, but they did go ahead and reconfigure the one vestibule to add a liquor store...

     While it's unfortunate that Winn-Dixie went ahead and rebuilt a large portion of the interior, at least they only touched part of the interior, not all of it. We're going to start our interior tour in the rebuilt portion of the building before working our way over to the older part, where things get more interesting.

     With Winn-Dixie's new configuration, the "Freshly Prepared" department is the first thing you see when entering the store. Under the "Freshly Prepared" sign you'll find Winn-Dixie's prepared foods selection, which includes a carving station, a sandwich station, and the famous chicken wing bar. Prepared foods were a big focus of Winn-Dixie's Transformational remodels from 2011-2013 and the deluxe Green Interior remodels of 2014-2015 (which is what we see here). With prepared foods as a focus, that department was given prime placement directly inside the front doors, luring shoppers straight to it.

     Moving away from the prepared foods, Produce is the next department we enter. Between the prepared foods, produce, and floral (visible in the background of this image), you get a barrage of fresh when entering this store!

     The floral department is located in the front right corner of the store. If Publix Gourmet Plus followed the normal 80's Publix layout, the bakery (oh, sorry, imported European baking palace) would have been located where Winn-Dixie's Floral department is now. To complicate the layout even more, this part of the building was where Gooding's added a liquor store, so I don't know if that effected the location of the bakery upon Gooding's arrival. Like I said before, this building has a long and complicated past!

     The interior we'll be seeing throughout this post, which I call "The Green Interior" (for hopefully obvious reasons), is my personal favorite of the four interior decor packages Winn-Dixie has used since emerging from their 2005 bankruptcy. It's not a fancy design by any means, but the decor is modern, has some 3D elements to make the signage pop, and uses some subtle designs and decorations to break up what would otherwise be blank space on the walls. It looks really nice in person, and it's a shame this decor was only used for two years before being replaced by the current (and sometimes overbearing) Down Down/Red Interior decor.

     Here's a little sneak peek into the older, less altered portion of the building. We'll get some better views of the mostly original front end later in this post though, as I have to save the best for last 😁

     Rather than having a department name explicitly spelled out on the wall, a few departments in the Green Interior use only these series of icons to show what's featured in a particular area. As you can see, these icons symbolize the produce department.

     Returning to the center island, here's a quick overview of the deli.

     The deli counter is located just beyond the prepared foods in the center island, and was a popular place on the afternoon I visited this store! While Publix's deli (and accompanying Pub subs) are always packing people in, it was nice to see a little crowd here at Winn-Dixie.

     Here's a look back toward floral as we continue further into the fresh departments...

     The bakery is located beyond the deli, closer to the back wall.

     While Winn-Dixie's new bakery looks nice, I'm sure this is nothing compared to what Publix Gourmet Plus's original imported bakery looked like!

     Beyond produce, beer and wine take up the remaining sales floor space in the rebuilt portion of this store. You're not going to find the $500 bottles of wine here anymore, but a decent selection of more modestly priced wines instead.

     The beer coolers are located on the left side wall, picking up where the produce coolers leave off.

     The seafood counter is located behind beer and wine, along the back wall.

     One of the few "gourmet" offerings you'll find here now is a cheese counter, which is located in the back of the service island.

     Here's a close-up of the cheese counter, which will mark our transition into the older part of the store:

     Leaving the fresh departments, things will begin to feel much more like Publix now. Besides switching out the decor, the older part of the store was left pretty much how Publix left it.

     Winn-Dixie's meat department takes up the majority of the back wall in the older section of the building. Pictured here is a small portion of the meat coolers, as seen looking back toward the fresh departments.

     Aisle 1 runs along the back of the new service department island. From this vantage point, we're staring at The Beef People...

     ...but if we turn around, I think you'll begin to see how shopping used to be a pleasure here! The raised ceiling over the grocery aisles is a very obvious 80's Publix trait.

       We've seen a Publix in an old Winn-Dixie on the blog before, but how often do you ever see a Winn-Dixie in an old Publix? Not often at all, considering Publix is usually the one preying on the former homes of all the other supermarkets they've crushed through the years. Off the top of my head, I can only think of two other examples of Winn-Dixie stores operating out of a former Publix building: one in Cocoa Beach, and another in Margate. The Cocoa Beach Winn-Dixie took over a former Publix wing store in 1985, and essentially stripped and rebuilt that store before moving in. The Margate situation is a bit more interesting. The Margate Winn-Dixie opened in October 2010 as the first Transformational Winn-Dixie, opening in a former Publix from the same era as this one in Heathrow. The Margate store was actually the first new Winn-Dixie to open following the company's 2005 bankruptcy, and one of only a handful of new stores Winn-Dixie has opened since. Winn-Dixie completely gutted the Margate Publix building though, the only clues of the building's Publix heritage visible if you look closely at the exterior.

     The lower ceiling visible over the back aisle in this photo is another Publix remnant. Originally, the deli counter should have been located somewhere in the area of where I was standing to take this picture. However, there didn't seem to be any obvious traces of the old deli back here. Either Winn-Dixie did a good job covering over the old deli during the remodel, or the deli was located elsewhere in the building prior. This was a one-off prototype for Publix, so they could have changed things around with the layout in this store. Again, if anyone can provide insight into the original layout of this place, please let us know!

     Up next are a few more photos of the grocery aisles...

     On the transition between the two ceiling heights, paneling remnants from Publix's late 1980's decor are still visible, all these years and two other tenants later.

     The paneling remnants are a bit easier to see in this photo. If you pay no mind to any SE Grocers branded items that may appear in this image, you might think this photo was taken in an operational older Publix store. The Green Interior's color scheme looks a bit like some of the colors used in Publix's Classy Market 3.0 decor from a quick glance.

     The ceiling height lowers as we move further to the right.

     Here's another look across the back of the store, turned in the direction of the fresh departments. Looking at this image a bit closer, the back wall dips in some by those red display tables. I wonder if that's a remnant from the former home of the deli, as Publix 80's stores had deli counters that would have dipped into an alcove somewhere around there.

     Dairy products are located in the back right corner of the store, with more dairy items to be found along the wall in the last aisle.

     The last two aisles we find are home to frozen foods. If Publix Gourmet Plus used the traditional 80's Publix layout, Frozen Foods would have been located where the deli/bakery island is now.

     Pictured here is Winn-Dixie's last aisle, aisle 11. The coolers along the wall contain more dairy items. Dairy would have originally been located along that wall in the Publix days, so dairy was the only department to not be shuffled around in the 2014 remodel.

     Turning out of the dairy aisle, here's a look into the front right corner of the store. The back of the liquor store is located just out of frame to my right.

     Speaking of the liquor store, here it is! Like I said earlier in this post, the liquor store was carved out of the old right side vestibule during the 2014 remodel. In addition to the vestibule space, some of the sales floor was also taken to add the new liquor store. The removal of the old liquor store space probably made up for the portion of the sales floor eaten up by the new liquor store, but as I mentioned earlier, I don't really know how the old liquor store was set into the building to confirm that theory! 

     Even within all the reconfiguration, remodeling, and flip-flopping of departments that's been giving me a headache, one thing has remained tried and true all of these years later - the front end! Arguably, one of the best aspects of this store is that Winn-Dixie preserved Publix's giant angled light above the front registers. The giant light is classic Publix, and it's nice to see Winn-Dixie let this piece survive as a reminder of this building's long history.

     I couldn't decide which photos of the giant light to keep and which to toss, so in the end I threw them all together here. It's a fun sight, especially since this place isn't a Publix anymore, so I figured no one would think of it as overkill 😁

     Winn-Dixie's service desk is located in front of the registers, in what appears to be the same spot where Publix's service desk would have been too. To the right of the desk is the new exit door that Winn-Dixie carved out during the 2014 remodel. The space where the new door was carved out was home to some extra office space prior to the remodel.

     Above the service desk are more offices, which appear to have been unaffected by all the remodeling that's happened here over the years.

     That's all I have for the interior portion of this tour. It's always fun seeing these old supermarket buildings get reused by others, especially when so much of the predecessor/predecessors remain all these years later. That's going to be the theme for the next three posts as well, so get ready for more interesting supermarket conversions in the coming weeks!

     Now that we've seen a Winn-Dixie in an old Publix, what could make this situation any weirder? Well, the original Publix down the street relocated to a former Winn-Dixie in the mid-2000's! So for the people living in Heathrow, their local Winn-Dixie is in an old Publix while their Publix is in an old Winn-Dixie (or Albertsons, depending on which way you go). This area is full of odd supermarket conversions, as you can tell! The Winn-Dixie where the Publix is now was the original Winn-Dixie in the area. When Winn-Dixie bought the 9 stores from Gooding's in 2000, Winn-Dixie kept both stores open (even though they were only a mile apart from each other). When Winn-Dixie filed for bankruptcy in 2005, the original store was cut, probably because it was the weaker of the two locations. Publix jumped on the larger Winn-Dixie building shortly after it closed, relocating from the plaza next door. I have a full set of photos from the Lake Mary Pub-Dixie to come in the future (either here or on MFR), where I'll go into this story in much more detail! For now, let's get back to the Winn-Dixie at hand...

     On the right side of the building, here we find the entrance into the new liquor store (which is technically Winn-Dixie store #2356). The door into the liquor store was angled to face the front from its original side facing configuration in the old vestibule.

     Here's a quick overview of the entirety of Heathrow Square, as seen from above. The Publix Gourmet Winn-Dixie (or is it Winn-lix? Pub-Good-Dixie? Winn-Dixie Gourmet Plus???) is the large building at the bottom of the image.

     A few storefronts up from the Winn-Dixie is this strip mall CVS, which originally opened as an Eckerd. Strip mall CVS stores aren't as common as they once were, but there are still some floating around out there.

     Another photo of the CVS.

     Besides some Orlando Sentinel ads locked behind a paywall, one of the only remnants of Publix Gourmet Plus floating around on the internet was this brochure. This brochure appears to have been designed to explain what Publix Gourmet Plus was, probably in preparation for the grand opening of the store. This brochure was designed by a woman named Donna Wheeler, posted to a blog that acts as a portfolio showcasing some of her graphic design work through the years. The one nice thing about this brochure is that it shows us the custom designed logo created for Publix Gourmet Plus, in color too! The logo certainly gives off an upscale vibe, for what was a very upscale grocery store!

     With my post on Publix Gourmet Plus over, we can now raise a glass of $500 wine (or Two Buck Chuck, or even root beer - I don't care!) to Publix's long forgotten upscale concept that proved to be too upscale for its own good. Had Publix waited a little longer for Heathrow to build out, Publix Gourmet Plus may have had a chance at survival, and I could have experienced the joys of pushing around a shiny gold shopping cart. But since I don't have the budget to go around buying $500 wines, caviar, and $50 per pound imported prosciutto at the charcuterie, pushing around a gold shopping cart would have been the extent of my Publix Gourmet Plus experience anyway!

     To conclude this post, I'm going to give everyone a quick example of just how ritzy Heathrow is, and why Publix felt this was the place to pilot the Publix Gourmet Plus concept. In the photo above is a Rolls Royce that pulled along side me at a traffic light shortly after leaving Publix Gourmet Winn-Dixie. When you start seeing Rolls Royces driving around where you are, you know you've wandered into a high-end area!

     Anyway, there was a dog poking its head out the window of the SUV immediately in front of me. The driver of the Rolls saw the dog, and rolled down the window so his dog could say hi to the dog in the SUV. I just wanted to clarify that because at first glance, it looks like the dog is driving the Rolls Royce! However, a dog driving a Rolls Royce would be silly, as we all know dogs, even well off ones, prefer to drive a Subaru!

     So that's all I have for now. Get ready for more fun stuff next time when we jump into another former Florida Albertsons store! We're getting to the good stuff now!

Until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger