Sunday, November 17, 2019

A Publix "Teetering" On The Edge

Harris Teeter #32 / Publix #1022
11406 San Jose Boulevard, Jacksonville, FL - Mandarin Oaks Shopping Center

     Like I said in the last post, things just kept getting better and better during my brief tour of the retail in Southern Jacksonville on this fantastic day. Having left the Publixsons up the road only minutes earlier, the next stop on my retail road trip brought me 1.5 miles south on San Jose Boulevard to yet another Publix. As you can see in the above photo, this isn't just any ordinary Publix - it's Pub Teeter! Today on AFB, we'll be looking at another example of how Publix has thrived off the remains of its former competition in Florida, in addition to giving me the chance to explain the strange story of Harris Teeter's failed Florida expansion...

     For those of you who are unfamiliar with the company, Harris Teeter is a grocery chain based out of North Carolina. Since the 1990's, Harris Teeter has been known to run higher-end stores, making them comparable in shopping experience to Publix. While Harris Teeter is a very healthy chain that continues to grow in the modern day as a wholly-owned but semi-autonomous subsidiary of Kroger, Harris Teeter had much different expansion plans in the late 1990's. Those late 1990's expansions are where the story of Harris Teeter in Florida comes into the picture...

     It wasn't until 1986 when Harris Teeter began to expand outside of its home state of North Carolina, 26 years after a merger between Harris Super Markets and Teeter Food Mart created the modern Harris Teeter company. The late 1980's were a time of rapid change for Harris Teeter. Not only was the company expanding further out from its home base of Charlotte, NC, but the chain was evolving to become more upmarket than it had been perceived in the past. From the late 80's onward, Harris Teeter's expansions became focused on higher income areas, an evolution that has made the company what it is today. With the majority of the late 80's and early 90's being used to expand Harris Teeter into neighboring states, specifically northern South Carolina and the Hampton Roads regions of Virginia, the company felt there were still more opportunities out there for expansion. With a new CEO coming in to lead Harris Teeter in 1997, the new chief executive, Mr. Fred Morganthall, wanted to push Harris Teeter even further. After taking over the CEO position, Mr. Morgnathall identified Nashville, Atlanta, and Jacksonville as the next regions of expansion for the growing chain. While those areas all sounded promising, well, you'd be hard pressed to find a Harris Teeter in any of those three cities today. Harris Teeter's Atlanta expansion was a complete disaster, with the company pulling out of that region in 2001 after only 4 years. In Nashville, Harris Teeter remained in that market until 2015. While Harris Teeter was doing fairly well in Nashville, the isolation of those stores from the rest of the chain in addition to overlap with the much stronger (at least in that area) Kroger banner may have pushed the brand out of Tennessee. As for the Jacksonville expansion, let me explain:

     Harris Teeter's first store in Florida is the one we'll be touring today. This store is located in the very well-off neighborhood of Mandarin, which as I explained in the previous post, is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the city of Jacksonville. With all the money in the area, this was the perfect location for Harris Teeter to make its Floridian debut. The Mandarin Harris Teeter opened in December 1998 to a huge fanfare. When this store opened, it was the largest turnout for a new Harris Teeter store in the entire company up to that time. 4,000 shoppers visited this store in its first few hours of operation, so it seemed like Harris Teeter was on a path to success in Florida. Following this store's opening, two more Harris Teeters would open in Northeastern Florida. Shortly after the opening of the Mandarin store, a second Harris Teeter opened in Ponte Vedra Beach later in December 1998. A Fernandina Beach location followed in 1999, and that was it. Harris Teeter only grew to three stores in Florida, picking three of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the northeastern corner of the state to operate in. With all the Publix stores, Winn-Dixies, and even Food Lions in Jacksonville at the time, Harris Teeter was outnumbered. After only six years in business, Harris Teeter's first Floridian casualty happened. The Mandarin store was announced to close in early 2004, with the store officially closing on May 15, 2004. The large number of competing grocers in the area at the time was blamed for the Mandarin store's demise, with this location having to face a Winn-Dixie, Food Lion, Albertsons, The Fresh Market, and three Publix stores within a three mile radius. Harris Teeter was the odd one out. 2006 brought the demise of the Ponte Vedra store, also strangled out due to low sales and intense local competition. Amazingly enough, the Fernandina Beach Harris Teeter remains in operation to this day, marking Kroger's only official retail presence in Florida (as Kroger only invested in Lucky's - they don't own Lucky's outright). Kroger even remodeled and expanded the Fernandina Beach Harris Teeter in 2016, meaning that store does some decent business if Kroger was willing to dump millions of dollars into the place to nearly double its size. The Fernandina Beach Harris Teeter has a small buffer from any nearby competition, so I'm sure that's helped to keep the place afloat (unlike the two fallen Floridian Teeters, which were built in highly competitive areas).

     It wasn't long after Harris Teeter shut its doors in Mandarin that Florida's favorite competition predator grocery chain announced it would be opening a new store in the shell of the fallen Teeter. The new Publix store opened in September 2004, replacing an older Publix location a mile to the south of here at 12200 San Jose Boulevard (former Publix #309, now a Bealls Department Store). As usual, besides the expected decor updating, this place is still fairly original to Harris Teeter in most aspects: department layout, architecture, feel. I really like the exterior design of this store. Yes, it's a bit flat and rectangular, but the exposed steel beam design and glass block really adds detail to what would otherwise be a boring, flat facade.

     The Pub Teeter was probably the highest ranking destination on the list of stores I'd been wanting to visit in Jacksonville. Yes, the old Albertsons stores were fun and all, but this is (as far as I'm aware) the only Pub Teeter in existence. I really wanted to see it, so I was looking forward to this moment. The above photo is a close-up of the store's main entrance, which also gives us some more detail on the funky steel beam architecture. And this isn't the last of the funky steel beam design we'll see, as the theme also carries through to the inside!

     Here's a look across the store's front walkway, as seen from the entrance. I'm sure everyone is curious as to what the interior of this place looks like, so without any further hesitation, let's go inside...

     Welcome to Pub Teeter Publix, it says on the faux brick wall immediately upon stepping into the store. Walking inside, we're greeted by a fancy display of wine and beer, housed in decorative wooden crates. The wine department is located in an alcove around the corner, so these promotional displays are used as an extension of the main department.

     However, faux brick walls aren't what we came here to see - we came for this! Walking through the main entrance and looking straight ahead, this is the view we see. Produce, the deli, the bakery, meats, and seafood are all clustered into the "grand aisle" on the far right side of the building. Making the grand aisle feel that much more grand, we have those arches spanning the entire width of the aisle.

     We'll be seeing more from the grand aisle in a little bit, but first, let's turn around to explore the very front of the store and the wine alcove:

     Turning around, here's a look back toward the door through which we just entered. Above the front end is a second level mezzanine, home to management offices and the employee break room. The stairs to the second level were located just inside the entrance, behind the "Welcome to Publix" wall we saw a few photos ago.

     Going up the stairs to the second level, you had to walk over the steel arch bridge to get to the offices and break room. I don't know if Harris Teeter's intent was to make this look like a bridge, but it sure seemed that way. It would have been fun to walk up the stairs and look down at the store from the bridge, but I didn't feel like getting dragged out of here for poking around in places where I shouldn't be. If I was going to get dragged out of here, it was going to be for excessive photo taking on the sales floor and nothing else!

     Anyway, the service desk is visible in this photo, and beyond that the front registers. We'll see more of the service desk later in this post, as we need to explore the grand aisle first...

     Beginning our tour of the grand aisle, the wine department is the first thing we'll explore. Wine is located in an alcove in the front right corner of the building. While Publix's entire layout is fairly true to what could have been seen here in the Harris Teeter days, it seemed (at least to me) that the wine alcove would have been home to something else when Harris Teeter was here. I could be wrong on that though, as Harris Teeter isn't one of my stores of expertise (and I've never been to an operation Teeter before)

     I took this photo from within the wine alcove, looking into the department from the vicinity of the front entrance.

     Stepping away from the wine, the next department we find is the deli. While I wasn't able to track down a currently operating Harris Teeter that was 100% identical to this store, I did find one in Virginia Beach that would have been fairly similar to this one back in the day. While I'm not sure if the Virginia Beach store I found still has its original decor from 1998, this store would have looked something close to this back in the Harris Teeter days. Classy Market 3.0, or even Publix's original decor when they opened here, Classy Market 1.0, is certainly no match to the classy Harris Teeter decor seen in Virginia Beach. Publix's decor is much blander compared to Harris Teeter's decor. While Classy Market 3.0 isn't as fun as old/older Harris Teeter decor, at least we have those big arches to serve as a reminder of this store's past. The Virginia Beach Harris Teeter I linked to lacks those arches, although I did find a similar Harris Teeter-turned-Kroger in Atlanta that also uses similar big arches over the grand aisle.

     Looking back out into the main aisle, we find more arches for our viewing pleasure.

     Produce gets prominent placement under the arches, with all the other service departments surrounding it. From the looks of the Virginia Beach Harris Teeter, there were probably some service islands out here in the Teeter days for prepared foods, with produce pushed further toward the back. With Publix's rather small prepared foods selection back in 2004 (and even to this day), Publix opted to remove the islands and expand the size of the produce department.

     While Publix's prepared foods selection pales in comparison to that of Harris Teeter, the deli was as busy as always here, with a healthy line forming at the Pub Sub counter as the early lunch rush began.

     While Publix is a relative newcomer to offering expanded selections of prepared foods in-store, prepared foods have always been one of Harris Teeter's strengths, even going back into the 1990's. Since this store is smaller and leaning toward the older side of things, Publix only has their usual sub counter and fried chicken selection here. Tangent aside, here's a better look at this store's deli counter, with the bakery poking out just beyond the deli.

     As I'm sure you've been able to figure out by now, I was really liking these arches over the grand aisle!

     Straying back to the perimeter of the grand aisle, here's a closeup of the bakery department.

     The bakery takes up the back portion of the right side wall. Turning the corner, the perimeter wall transitions into the seafood department.

     Frozen cakes on the right, frozen shrimp on the left. 

     Panning to the left just a bit more, the seafood counter comes into view.

     As we wrap things up in the grand aisle, I must conclude with a few final photos of the arches...

     Harris Teeter really had some neat architecture in the late 1990's, and it's nice to see it still thriving here in Jacksonville, 15 years post-Teeter. I like how Publix decided to accent the arches with the brown paint to make them stand out, rather than painting the arches to match the rest of the ceiling beams in a poor attempt at concealment.

     Leaving the grand aisle behind us, here's a final look toward the meat and seafood counter. Well, the view of the Seafood counter is somewhat blocked by the Apron's Simple Meals counter, but we do get to see the meat department signage here.

     The meat coolers run along the back wall of the store. The back wall dips in around aisle 5, a transition we'll see better in the next photo:

     Where the back wall dips in, the meat coolers transition into dairy coolers. As such, the wall color changes from maroon to brown around the corner.

     The first grocery aisle we find is this one, aisle 2, containing beer and snack foods. Being a little wider than the rest of the grocery aisles, Publix was able to put a display of potato chips in the middle of the aisle without making things feel too cramped in here. At 45,000 square feet, this former Harris Teeter building was the perfect size for Publix. The average modern Publix store is 45,000 square feet, so there was no feeling of excess space in this store. The layout of this store is much different than that of a typical 2000's/2010's Publix, but you don't get the feeling of wide open, unused space in here like you do in the 60,000 square foot Publixsons stores.

     Harris Teeter's steel beam motif continues throughout the front end, as can be seen here above the check lanes. The manager's offices are located along the hallway that runs above the check lanes.

     Before long we'll be up front again, but for now, we slip down a grocery aisle to return to the back...

     Moving to the back of the store, here's a look at the transition from meat to dairy as the wall dips inward.

     Dairy takes up the remaining space along the back wall, with this department wrapping into the last aisle as well.

     The pharmacy counter is located in a small island between the check lanes and frozen foods, sticking out from the front wall of the building.

     A small selection of pharmaceuticals was located in these small aisles in front of the pharmacy, with the remaining health and beauty products located in a main grocery aisle nearby, typical of Publix.

     Looking around the side of the pharmacy, we see the last few grocery aisles coming into view.

     The overflow health and beauty items are located in this aisle, aisle 8. From here, let's look down the last few grocery aisle between aisle 8 and the last one, which is number 13:

     As I mentioned earlier, dairy lines the wall in the last aisle of the store, with the pre-sliced breads located opposite the dairy coolers. What you see here is exactly how a modern Publix would be set up. If it weren't for those frozen food coolers in this distance, you'd think you were in an average Publix from this perspective.

     The last department we've yet to explore is frozen foods. Frozen foods is located in an alcove in the front left corner of the building, behind the pharmacy.

     The frozen foods alcove is oddly deep and narrow, allowing for the creation of a decently long aisle that loops around in a horseshoe configuration. The corners of the alcove are angled too, making the horseshoe shape that much more apparent.

     On the wall to my right, some of the exposed brick look from Harris Teeter comes into view. Publix painted over the bricks to match their decor, but it's a remnant nonetheless.

     Looping around to the other side, here's the other half of the frozen foods department.

     Exiting the alcove, here's a look back toward the pharmacy box as we make our way back to the front end...

     Returning to the front, the check lanes return into view, with the service desk and the wine alcove visible in the distance.

     Like the arches in the grand aisle, I was also a fan of the exposed beam look over the front end. This was certainly a modern architectural treatment for the late 1990's and early 2000's, when corrugated steel and steel beams were all the rage in supermarket decor design. Oh, those were the days...

     Just like the arches in the grand aisle, I took plenty of photos of the exposed beam design over the front end. These are some of the most obvious pieces remaining in this place from the days of Harris Teeter, so of course I was drawn to them!

     Here's a final overview photo of the front end, giving us a better look at the service desk.

     Located behind the service desk was this narrow little corridor, which connected the main entrance to the back of the check lanes. Besides that purpose, this little corridor also allows for access to the elevator up to the mezzanine level, which can be seen here.

     As we say good-bye to the Pub Teeter, here's one last look at the front end as the exit doors appear before us...

     After many years of waiting and wanting to visit this place, I was not disappointed with my visit to Pub Teeter. While Pub Teeter may not be as odd looking as the dearly departed Pub Lion was, this place was still nothing like your average everyday Publix. With all the ordinary Publix stores out there, isn't it fun seeing some of the more offbeat things to come out of this company? Amongst those 1,231 operating Publix stores, there are plenty of surprises to be found (like Pub Teeter), in addition to many of the other Publix conversion and oddities I've covered here on AFB (and will cover in the future).

    Unlike many of the other supermarket crash-and-burn stories I've told on the blog (most of the time through a Publix conversion, if you haven't sensed the theme), Harris Teeter still has that lone Florida location going strong in Fernandina Beach. While Harris Teeter's grand plans for Florida may have been squashed by Publix, Publix hasn't completely thrown Harris Teeter out of Florida yet. I haven't visited Florida's last Harris Teeter yet, but it's on the list of stores I'd like to visit some day, an anomaly amongst Florida's vast sea of Publix stores.

     Anyway, that's all I have for now. While we still have one more store to visit in Mandarin before the year's end, we're going to skip to another part of Jacksonville for the next AFB post. The next post will go live on AFB's 6th Anniversary, which is Friday, December 6th. Since I like to save something a little more interesting for AFB's anniversary post, I may just be able to one up myself from the Pub Teeter next time! If you're familiar with Jacksonville area retail (namely grocery stores) you may be able to guess our next destination rather easily, but if not, be sure to come back on December 6th for a fun store tour!

See everybody then, and until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger