Saturday, February 29, 2020

Foodtown Florida - A Supermarket Gone Rogue?

Winn-Dixie #208 / Foodtown Supermarket of West Palm Beach
5335 North Military Trail, West Palm Beach, FL - South Wind Plaza

     Another leap day is upon us (2/29/2020), and as usual on AFB, that bonus day means its time for a bonus store! Our last leap day store was a 1960's built Publix entering its final days, but this time around, we're going to take a look at one of the many Floridian supermarket oddities out there: Foodtown Florida.

      For those of you unfamiliar with Foodtown, Foodtown is a chain of supermarkets whose locations are primarily clustered around the New York City metropolitan area (in addition to a few locations scattered about in Eastern Pennsylvania). Like its much more famous competitor ShopRite, Foodtown is run as a cooperative, where individual owners run each store with its own unique twist. Due to the cooperative format, every Foodtown store can feel a bit different, as the individual owners get to determine things like product mix, decor, employee uniforms, etc. For the most part, the Foodtown stores in the Northeast are run like typical supermarkets with typical grocery store fare. Due to the corporate cooperative structure, some Foodtown owners may choose to tailor stores to the neighborhoods they're in, adding things like expanded international products or gourmet offerings to the usual fare. While I've only been inside a Foodtown store in the Northeast once, it was a decent small-town store, and served its purpose well. Unlike those stores in the Northeast, though, Foodtown Florida is a completely different story...

     In 2006, Winn-Dixie was still in the middle of their massive bankruptcy restructuring. Prior to the bankruptcy in 2005, Winn-Dixie boasted over 1,000 stores throughout the Southeast. A year later, that number would be cut in half. With all those closed locations to deal with, many of them were being sold for pennies on the dollar at bankruptcy auctions as Winn-Dixie tried to raise cash and mend their troubled finances. It was at one of those bankruptcy auctions where a man named Esmail Mobarak, owner of three Foodtown stores in New York, decided to place bids on four recently closed Winn-Dixie stores in Florida. Mr. Mobarak's bids were accepted, and in June 2006, he was officially granted ownership of four recently closed Winn-Dixie stores in West Palm Beach, Plantation, Davie, and Merritt Island. With his winning bid, Mr. Mobarak announced he would reopen his four recently purchased stores under the Foodtown name, the same name he used for his three stores in the New York area. Even though Foodtown doesn't have a distribution presence in Florida, the company allowed Mr. Mobarak to use the name for his four new stores. In order to differentiate himself from the other grocery stores in Florida, Mr. Mobarak decided to used an "international market" format for his new Foodtown stores, specializing in selling hard-to-find products from around the world. While the thinking was good, using the classic "be a grocery store different enough from Publix to not compete head-to-head with them" strategy, it wasn't 100% successful for Mr. Mobarak. Two of his four new stores (Merritt Island and Plantation) closed within the first year. While he lost two Florida stores so suddenly, something must have stuck with the other two, as the West Palm Beach and Davie locations are still around today, 15 years later.

     This store itself began its life as a 1st Generation Winn-Dixie Marketplace store in 1987, the very beginning of the Winn-Dixie Marketplace era. The standard 1st Generation Marketplace exterior design is still fairly obvious here, although the design was modified a bit to fit with the arched theme of the rest of the plaza. When Foodtown took over this store in 2006, they didn't do much to alter what the building looked like from the Winn-Dixie days. Besides a little bit of paint, most of Winn-Dixie's decor, fixtures, and even their dirt and grime were carried over to Foodtown. Yeah, this place was a bit of a dump. It certainly wasn't the cleanest looking store I've ever been to, and there were some...interesting...people hanging around the parking lot during my visit. The lady panhandling at the front door was also an...interesting touch. This was certainly one of the sketchier stores I've visited personally, but I drove all the way here for some Winn-Dixie remnants, so I decided to head inside and see what I would find...

     Heading inside, you walk past the service desk and end up in the produce department. Like a usual Marketplace era Winn-Dixie, produce is located in the front right corner of the building. Here I'm standing in the produce department looking toward the front registers, where we begin to see some of the 1st Generation Marketplace funky ceilings over the registers.

     Looking into the front right corner of the building itself, we can see plenty of Winn-Dixie remnants appear before us, such as the gray floor tiles and the pastel pink hanging lights.

      While the two Foodtown Florida stores use the Foodtown name, the Florida locations don't appear on Foodtown's main website. The Florida locations once had their own website, but that's since been made inactive (although prior to it disappearing, it hadn't been updated since 2012). While these stores officially use the Foodtown name, Foodtown corporate doesn't seem to recognize these stores anymore. There isn't much information out there on Foodtown Florida after its creation, or if an official separation with the parent company actually happened. I do know that the West Palm Beach and Davie locations both have different owners, with an entity called "National Markets LLC" owning the West Palm store and "Davie Marketplace LLC" owning the Davie store. There's also a chance the two Florida stores aren't related to each other at all anymore, and are Foodtowns only in name. Regardless of what happened, it's a strange situation.

     Even if these stores did go rogue from Foodtown corporate due to their distance from the rest of the chain, we'll still be seeing plenty of remnants from this building's past life in here, which is always fun. The product selection was interesting too:

     It's not often I've come across bitter melon and baha at the store before (or ever, as I'd never heard of either before seeing it on the shelf this day). Doing some Googling, these vegetables are popular in Asian cooking. The bitter melon is related to the cucumber, and baha is the stalk of the elephant ear plant. As grimy as this place was, this store did excel at providing a large selection of unusual and hard to find international products. As we'll see as we go along, this place hardly offered any traditional groceries, focusing almost exclusively on international foods.

     Looking across the front of the store, the classic Winn-Dixie floor tile pattern begins to appear in the produce department.

     Now looking down the length of the produce department, there's no denying what this store used to be! While Foodtown might have changed the color scheme a tiny bit, you don't get much more classic Winn-Dixie Marketplace than this! (Well, you can, but it's just getting harder to find out there in the wild in such an original form).

     The raised ceiling extends all the way to the back of the building, with the old Marketplace tiling running the length of the building too. The floor throughout the store was cracked and worn (as you can see here), although I wouldn't be surprised if Winn-Dixie was the last one to do any maintenance to this place.

     The raised ceiling over produce was one of the most interesting features of these 1st Generation Marketplace stores, which I why I got so many photos of this area.

     Located behind the produce department, in the back right corner, was Foodtown's meat and seafood counter. The portion of Foodtown's meat and seafood counter we're looking at now was originally home to Winn-Dixie's deli. Foodtown doesn't operate a deli, so the meat and seafood counter was extended into this space from its original home off to the left. This place had one really big meat and seafood counter, with the service counter taking up the back third of the store. The remaining back wall space was home to meat coolers. Meat and seafood seemed to be the big draw to this place, as the service counter was busy during my visit here. If you zoom in on the above photo, I unintentionally captured the weekly meat specials on that sign. Like with the produce, the meat specials included some more hard to find offerings, including live frogs and eels.

     We'll get back to the meat and seafood counter momentarily, but first we'll snake through some of the grocery aisles. The aisle pictured here was the first grocery aisle after the produce department, looking toward the front of the store.

     Turning the corner, here's another look across the front of the store. The check stands were located behind those bins of produce, which spilled over from the main department. The front aisle was unusually narrow, as Foodtown was stuffing displays and pallets of stuff all over the place in here.

     Jumping into another grocery aisle, I'll take a moment to explain how this place is laid out. Instead of grouping similar items together like a typical grocery store (like all drinks in one aisle, and all chips and snacks in another), Foodtown groups products together by countries and cultures. The aisles closest to the produce department were home to products from Asian countries, the aisle photographed above being an example of one of those. After Asian foods, the center store products went like this (roughly): Caribbean foods, Hispanic foods, Frozen Foods, wine and non-foods (chemicals, paper, etc.), Middle Eastern and Indian foods, and bulk products. The grouping makes a lot of sense for people looking for products from one culture, but if you're looking for a specific product category (like sodas), you could wander through the whole store and find it in four different places.

     Here's a sampling of some of the snack products in the Asian foods aisle. While some products had English words on them (like the "Pistachios" at the top there), some items were entirely in different languages, so I had no idea what some things were besides hints from the pictures on the package. I had a fun time looking through some of the snack foods here, and ended up taking home with me a few foreign snacks, cookies, and candy bars to try. A few items I looked at were a bit out of date though, which is apparently a problem with this store based off customer reviews.

     The flags and decorations were a nice touch to this aisle, and some graphics of scenes from Asia were added to Winn-Dixie's stripe on the wall.

     Returning to the back aisle, we find the rest of the service meat and seafood counter. There are lots of Winn-Dixie remnants on the back wall, including the diamonds and red stripes.

     Winn-Dixie's old aisle markers were reused by Foodtown too, as can be seen here. The aisle above and the next aisle were home to Caribbean/Hispanic foods.

     Foodtown must have went through the trouble to get new placards made for the aisle signs to match Winn-Dixie's old ones. I can't imagine Winn-Dixie having had a special placard made for Guatemalan Foods when they were here.

     Here's one more grocery aisle in the Hispanic section, before we transition to frozen foods:

     Frozen Foods resides in the center of the store, the typical home of frozen foods during the Marketplace era. The ceiling, the coolers, and the flooring are all original to Winn-Dixie. The coolers are definitely old, possibly original to the store's 1987 opening as Winn-Dixie. It also looks like the coolers aren't in the best working condition either, as those yellow strips pushed against the bottom of the coolers are absorbency pads to catch water from leaks.

     Foodtown added a bit of their own signage to the Frozen Foods department, such as the banners and the department sign itself. Foodtown's frozen foods sign does seem to have a bit of a resemblance to Winn-Dixie's original though.

     Passing through frozen foods, some more old signage from Winn-Dixie appears. The "Quality Fresh Meats" sign and the goosenecks in front of it are Winn-Dixie's (although the goosenecks are of the Purple/Maroon variant, probably added during a quick early 2000's refresh with the matching aisle markers).

     Leaving frozen foods, the grocery aisles then transition into Indian and Middle Eastern products.

    In addition to the huge meat and seafood counter on the other side of the store, the Middle Eastern side also had its own Halal meat counter located along the back wall. Next to the Halal meat counter were frozen Halal foods, which we'll see momentarily.

     Before we get to the aisles of Middle Eastern dry groceries, Foodtown has a few aisles of non-food products located between that and the frozen foods. Wine is also located in this transitional section as well.

     Moving along to aisle 12 though, we find the Middle Eastern grocery section.

     Navigating our way to the back wall, here is the Halal frozen section I mentioned before, located to the left of the Halal meat counter.

     After the Middle Eastern/Indian groceries, the last few aisles of the store were home to bulk products, like giant bags of rice. These last few aisles traded out the traditional grocery shelves for these warehouse-esque steel racks, and were tightly packed with stuff. In addition to the bulk products, there were a few random shopping carts full of bread in this aisle. Those carts of bread were the extent of this store's bakery department, as there was no service bakery here.

     The towering cases of water really made this aisle feel cramped, as if it wasn't already narrow.

     The very last aisle in this store, which was extremely narrow, was home to beer coolers as well as more bulk shelving.

     Claustrophobia receding, we now find ourselves in the front left corner of the building. The space you see here was originally home to Winn-Dixie's bakery department. Since Foodtown doesn't run a bakery, this area was turned into a cafeteria (like most ethnic stores in Florida have).

     Some random pallets of stuff were being used to block off the unused right side of Winn-Dixie's old bakery department.

     Making our way to the front end once again, we navigate through the maze of pallets filling the area in front of the grocery aisles (most of which were behind me when I took this photo, as the pallets were blocking any good sight lines for photographs). The shelving you see immediately to my right is blocking Winn-Dixie's old pharmacy counter, which I'm sure is 100% still in-tact behind all that shelving.

     It's hard to tell, but the check lanes are located to my right in this picture. All the tall shelves of stuff block the view of the check lanes from the main aisle.

     As you probably could have expected, Foodtown reused all of Winn-Dixie's check lane counters too. Surprisingly, Foodtown swapped out the old lane lights for their own custom ones, which match the design of some of their promotional signage hanging throughout the store. Since this store got the quick Purple/Maroon signage refresh in the early 2000's, the lane lights probably would have gotten swapped out for these in Winn-Dixie's later years.

     With that view of one of the the check stands out of the way, we find ourselves back outside. Pictured here is the door on the right side of the building, opposite the one I entered through. Funnily enough, I never actually noticed the giant "No Videos. No Pictures." sign taped to the front door (visible if you click on the picture above and zoom in) until I was editing these photos to post a few days ago. Oh well. Even if I saw the sign during my visit, it wouldn't have bothered me much anyway.

     Even though this place could use a good deep cleaning and some maintenance (as well as an enforced no loitering policy in the parking lot), they have found a niche market with the wide selection of hard-to-find international products offered for sale here. Since Foodtown is doing its own thing here in Florida, this store has been able to hold on for as long as it has.

     I'll end this post with a final photo of the store's exterior, taken from within the car as I was pulling out of the parking lot. While I'm still not sure of these stores are "official" Foodtown locations anymore or not, the name doesn't seem to be going anywhere anytime soon from the two remaining Florida locations. I guess that will continue to make Foodtown yet another odd addition to Florida's crazy supermarket scene.

     From grand openings to hard failures to random Northern supermarket chains finding a small sustainable niche, we've certainly seen a lot on AFB this month! However, for the next few posts, we turn our attention back to Florida's most famous supermarket failure story: that of our old pal Albertsons. Unless some more shocking Floridian supermarket news breaks in the next few weeks, that is my plan, so come back in two weeks for more!

So until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger


  1. I was wondering if there would be a no photography sign :P For some reason international markets like this are always very stringent on that, which is part of why I never go to any (the other part being the "interesting" clientele you mention!). So it's cool to see this one, and that you got to experience it without anyone interrupting you. Definitely another interesting story for sure, one that could only exist in Florida's supermarket scene it seems!

    1. I figured there would have been a sign, but I was too busy keeping my eye on the panhandler at the front door that I didn't look at any of the signs when I walked in. An employee did nearly plow me down with a flatbed cart in one of the narrow bulk foods aisles when I was here, so maybe that's how they deal with pesky photographers here! Like I said, this place was an interesting experience, and something you could only find in Florida!

    2. Guys, most panhandlers are just people down on their luck or with addiction problems in their lives. I know a lot of people are scared of them, but they are mostly harmless and rarely mean any harm to anyone.

  2. Can you visit some Publix's in WPB?

    1. I have some Palm Beach area Publix stores photographed, including the one right down the street from here. Those will come to AFB and MFR in the future.

  3. I always love a good Winn Dixie Marketplace post....and enjoyed all the links to past posts too. Much like the Burdine’s Palm Tree stores, that WD teal and mauve color scheme always brings me back to being a kid, visiting Florida for the first time in 1988. I remember thinking how gigantic all the supermarkets were and how new and modern everything was—the housing, the strip malls, the roads—compared to the inner-ring suburb where I grew up in NJ. What passed for decor in our local ShopRite Was intersecting lines painted on the wall in 1970’s brown, orange and yellow with no departmental signage, and I remember shopping with my aunt at Winn Dixie and thinking it was the most beautiful, modern (and coldest) supermarket in the world. It was like shopping on the set of The Golden Girls.

    The quasi-Foodtown layer on top of this is an interesting one. I had presumed these stores carried the Foodtown brand as their store brand, and utilized the C&S distribution network, which is what Allegiance uses in NYC Metro. At one point, Ahold sold its Bi-Lo/Bruno’s Southern Southern Distribution centers to C&S, and I presumed it serviced Florida Foodtown out of those. Then later, Winn Dixie sold its network to C&S also, bringing its network into Florida. Did you happen to notice what the store-brand was or if they used Foodtown-branded grocery bags?

    Thanks as always, AFB

    1. The 1980's were a much more colorful time for supermarkets in Florida, much more than now. There was so much distinctive design back then. Some examples remain to this day in various forms too, but I'm sure these stores looked much more powerful and distinct in their prime.

      There wasn't any Foodtown branded item in here. Any private labels were Essential Everyday, meaning SuperValu/UNFI is supplying them (not C&S). The bags were custom designed with the Foodtown logo, but were specially printed for the two Florida stores (as the bags had the addresses of the two locations on the front). It seems to me the Florida Foodtown stores aren't officially a part of the Foodtown co-op anymore, but I really don't know.

  4. very enjoyable article, thanks as always!

  5. Fascinating post! Being a fan of Foodtown here in New Jersey, and frequently stopping by my Jack's Super Foodtown (, this post is somewhat odd for me to see. I was vaguely aware of these stores' existence but knew very few details. I'm pretty sure we've actually talked about the ownership structure of individual LLCs in the comment section here previously, but it does also seem quite possible the stores are no longer related.

    As Styertowne mentioned above, the NYC-area Foodtowns use the C&S system and, in addition to the custom Foodtown-branded items, sell Best Yet. In fact, in the new Pathmark store in Brooklyn (run by Allegiance, same cooperative as Foodtown) sells only Best Yet items. In most Foodtown stores, Best Yet supplements the somewhat limited Foodtown brand.

    Which of our Foodtown locations did you visit? I'm pretty familiar with them all except the Jersey Shore (Circus Fresh Foods) locations. Foodtown is quickly losing ground in the NYC metro area, with ShopRite attacking them in the suburbs and Key Food attacking them in the city, kind of the way Key Food seems to be directly coming after Bravo in Florida. (By the way, what are your thoughts if any on the new Key Food affiliated stores?) I don't know if you've been following this, but Wakefern also took on four former NJ Foodtown stores under their other banner, The Fresh Grocer. Foodtown, or at the time, Twin County Grocers, had some problems in the 1990s which other people can probably describe better than me, but it involved embezzling and other crimes by high-up management. They never recovered from that and haven't grown nearly as aggressively as Key Food and Krasdale, which runs Bravo and CTown stores in NYC metro. And in Pennsylvania, they've been slowly and painfully losing to Weis Markets (a good store) and GIANT Food Stores (the pinnacle of mediocrity).

    Anyway, now I'm thinking maybe I should go to a Foodtown tomorrow -- there are still 8 stores in NJ I haven't been to yet.

    Thanks for the great post AFB!

    1. There really aren't many details available of the Florida Foodtown's ownership or existence, especially online. The fact the Florida stores use SuperValu instead of C&S is a bit odd (and doesn't help to clarify if these stores are officially Foodtowns or not), as there are stores that sell Best Yet/Shurfine brand down here.

      The northern Foodtown store I've been to was the one in Shavertown, PA, which has since converted into a Food Basics. It was part of the Thomas's Foodtown group that been dropping locations left and right recently. The Shavertown Foodtown was an average small town supermarket, and nothing like the store in West Palm. I've never been to a Florida Key Food store, although one of the other MFR contributors (YonWooRetail2) has, and did a post about what he saw: Based off that post, Key Foods seemed like an upgrade from Bravo, as they did remodel and clean the place up a bit. I have photos of one of the Florida Key Foods stores back when it was a Bravo, and those photos will eventually be posted to MFR (although I don't know when).

      And you're welcome!

    2. Ah, Shavertown! A nice little store, I'm sure. Unfortunately, it's been sold to Weis Markets along with one other. Weis does not plan to open Shavertown, but they did reopen the former Foodtown in Dallas. The Shavertown store is a mile and a half south of one Weis, with the Foodtown-turned-Weis in Dallas just one mile north. So Dallas now has two Weis stores and nothing else. Oh well.

      I agree, it seems that any stores Key Food is taking over in Florida are being improved with the brand changeover. I'm really interested in the new Food Fair stores in Florida because I've loved their NY/NJ stores.

  6. Same person talking about Publix's in wpb
    Can you add to Store Models and interiors a special type of publix exterior
    This example is from #536 in Vinings, GA
    Paste the image between the [img]'s. I tried doing the pictures from a tutorial

    1. That's just another variant of the early 90's design. When I get a chance I'll squeeze in a photo of that design.

    2. Yeah, I know it's a 90s design. I can claim that because that store opened in 1995 (I think). It had a clerestory too. Can I send some pictures of the store that I found online that had the Classy Market 1.0 décor?

  7. Neat store post! It's always interesting to see a reused Winn-Dixie. Those aisles with the highly stacked boxes though, yikes! That could pose a risk to customers I'd say.

    While the store in this 1986 movie doesn't look at all like This Palm Beach Food Town, this was an actual Food Town store filmed in this scene from the movie Gung Ho which was filmed largely in Pennsylvania. George Wendt and Michael Keaton made a mess of this Food Town store:

    1. Thanks! It's always fun visited a reused supermarket building to see what remnants from the past remain.

      The supermarket in that clip is certainly a classic, and that was quite the mess too!

  8. This is my first comment here, but I am a long-time reader.

    Just to add to the Food Town confusion, we have a local chain of supermarkets here in Houston called Food Town (two words). The Houston Food Town is seemingly completely unrelated to the NE US/Florida Foodtown (one word). That said, the Houston Food Town is a discount supermarket chain who universally, AFAIK at least, moves into abandoned supermarket locations and then maintains many aspects of the original tenant.

    The three Food Towns nearest to me all exist in buildings opened by grocers no longer in the Houston area at least in a direct manner. One is in a very late 1970s/very early 1980s Safeway which turned into AppleTree in the very early 1990s like almost all Safeways in this area. It then turned into a Gerland's Food Fair. Gerland's seemed affiliated with the then-named Lewis Food Town chain in some way and the store eventually turned into a Food Town (it seems that Gerland's eventually sold their whole operation to FoodTown in recent years). Another location is in a former Food Lion during their disastrous attempt at operating stores in Texas in the early 1990s. Yet another location is in a mid-to-late 1990s former Albertson's during Albertson's short but serious attempt at the Houston market. The ex-Safeway location still looks like a Safeway in many ways, the ex-Food Lion location still looks like a Food Lion in many ways, and the ex-Albertson's location looks like an Albertson's in many ways.

    Food Town does have some more iconic locations in the Houston area. One is in an early 2000s ex-Albertson's location on the North Beltway 8 near Veterans Memorial. This was built right before Albertson's left town and has a more upscale decor that Albertson's was using at the time with the hardwood floors and such. Food Town kept many of those aspects and the store looks surprisingly upscale for a Food Town.

    Another location of some fame is the West Beltway 8 location between Beechnut and Bissonet which used to be the famed Auchan Hypermarket. Auchan is a hypermarket chain in France which experimented with the US market with this store in the late 1980s. The store was absolutely huge. It made a Walmart Supercenter feel like a Walgreens in many ways! Food Town does not take up the whole building, but the part they have still has some aspects of the old Auchan including Auchan's food court which once had McDonald's, Taco Bell, and other similar type vendors. The vendors in those spots now that it is a Food Town are far less known.

    Perhaps the most famous Food Town location is one which really does not look remarkable at all, but it perhaps had a big role in international history. The El Dorado and Highway 3 location near the NASA Johnson Space Center used to be a Randall's. Randall's is now under the Albertsons-Safeway umbrella, but the famous story came from a time when Randall's was independent. In 1990, future Russian president Boris Yeltsin made a surprise stop at the El Dorado Randall's after visiting the Johnson Space Center. There are stories about this visit on Yeltsin's Wikipedia page and you can find photos of this on the Houston Chronicle website. Just search a search engine for it and you'll find photos of Yeltsin being blown away by fudge pops and produce at the Randall's (though admittedly Randall's was impressive in the 1980s even by US supermarket standards). Supposedly this visit had a profound impact on Yeltsin's political ideology and it possibly helped shaped Russia in the early post-USSR years. The El Dorado Food Town still has many aspects of the old Randall's, but it's not nearly as posh as the old Randall's was during Randall's prime independent years.

    Anyway, thanks for the good work on this blog and on the My Florida Retail Blog. I'm glad to see that we still have some strong regional retail blogs here in the 2020s.

    1. Hello! Thanks for commenting!

      Food Town (much like Giant) seems to be such a common name for supermarkets, that there are multiple chains out there all using the same name in some form. While I'm not too familiar with the Houston area, I do know that area was once very competitive with numerous grocery options, just for many of those chains to have pulled out or gone out of business completely.

      I pulled up a few Houston area Food Town stores for a look at them, and many of the ones I saw had a very classic supermarket type feel to them. The former Albertsons Food Town near Beltway 8 was quite interesting too, with all the decor remnants from Albertsons still there all these years later! If someone else put all that effort into making the store look nice, why bother ripping all of it out? Food Town is certainly bare bones, but that seems to give the place its charm, blending in many aspects from the past. That former Auchan is an interesting example as well. Even though Food Town isn't in the entire space, it still looks like a rather large grocery store!

      That's also very interesting how Food Town has a role in world history! It's amazing how such a simple visit had such a huge impact on the world.

      Thanks for the compliment! I have no plans of going anywhere anytime soon, so keep coming back for more both here and on MFR!

    2. This is going to be a long, multi-part response about the Houston grocery market. I apologize about the length, but hopefully it's an interesting look at a highly-competitive grocery market.

      I just saw on Wikipedia that Food Lion was originally called Food Town between 1957-1983. They changed the name in part so they could expand to areas which already had grocers named Food Town. This is interesting because, as mentioned earlier, one of the Food Towns near me in Houston is a former Food Lion, but Food Lion came to Houston after they changed to the Food Lion name so the Food Town there today was not am unaffiliated Food Town at some point in the past. The Houston Historic Retail blog did a post about this local Food Town which was a Food Lion and you can still see the Food Lion font design on the walls and such.

      I'll also send a Google Maps link to the Food Town in my area which was formerly a 1990s-built Albertson's. I'm sure you'll recognize many aspects of Albertson's here.

      Yes, Houston has been, and still is, a very competitive grocery market. We may have more grocery chains here than any other major city in the US. Here's a brief breakdown of our chains:

      Dominant chains:

      - Kroger: Kroger bought their way into Houston with their purchase of the locally important Henke & Pillot chain in 1955. Kroger has operated under their own name here since 1966. Kroger has seen significant attempts to knock them off their thrown in Houston by Safeway/AppleTree, Randall's, Albertson's, and now HEB, but Kroger looks like they will at least keep a decent chunk of marketshare even with the raising power of HEB.

      Kroger has acquired several locations from other grocers when they leave town so we have some really oddball Krogers since Kroger tends to keep the layout of acquired stores the same as they were with the previous operator. Thus, we have some Krogers in this area which have the layout of Albertsons and even Safeway/AppleTree even though those stores have not been Safeways/AppleTrees in about 30 years. We even have some old 'Superstore' and 'Greenhouse' style Krogers still left. The Krogers in town are an interesting hodgepodge of designs.

      - HEB: The rising force. HEB is the Publix of south, central, and southeast Texas. While HEB has knocked out almost all competitors in places like San Antonio, they have to share marketshare here in Houston. Still, they're very strong and I've become fearful of their dominance because they have caused some beloved independent grocers to close.

      I call HEB the Publix of Texas, but actually HEB's prices are very low and I think that's as big of a reason as anything as to why they have become so popular. They also have good store brand/local products. Their stores are crazy busy, not designed well for efficient shopping, and have the ambiance of a Home Depot or Sam's Club. Even with their stellar prices and good customer support, I try to avoid HEB. Their stores are flat out ugly.

      HEB also has format stores in town including HEB Plus, which sells clothing and stuff like that, Central Market which is an upscale grocer, Mi Tienda which serves Hispanic areas, and Joe V's which is a discount grocer.

      - Walmart: What needs to be said? I will say that Walmart has opened many of their Neighborhood Market format stores in recent years here. Some of these have stuck around, but several have closed.

    3. Continued from above...

      Niche chains of importance:

      - Randalls: This is the local chain under the Albertsons/Safeway umbrella. Randalls was no. 1 or no. 2 in local marketshare in the 1980s and 1990s when they were independent even with relatively high prices, but their service was immaculate. Chains like Kroger took service more seriously and general increases in price sensitivity meant that Randalls' marketshare slipped and they were sold to Safeway in the very late 1990s. Randalls has closed many of their stores over the years and now mostly exist in upper-class/upper middle-class inner suburbs where there is limited competition due to those areas being built out already. If you want to experience Randall's during their prime, check out this video:

      - Fiesta: Fiesta is the locally dominant ethnic grocery chain. Their inner-city stores are aimed squarely at the Hispanic demographic, but they have some suburban stores which are aimed at Asian and Hispanic demographics. Fiesta changes their stores very little. The inner-city stores look like 1970s supermarkets and some of their suburban stores look like late 1980s supermarkets with neon and such. Fiesta maintains their properties, especially the suburban ones, very well even if they are not renovated. The Fiesta near me near Willowbrook Mall is about 95% the same as it was when it opened in ~1988 and it has some very cool looking features.

      Mexican grocer Chedraui purchased Fiesta a couple of years ago so I don't know what impact that'll have on the chain, but so far they've been operating like business as usual.

      - Food Town: We've discussed this already.

      - Aldi: Aldi came to town about 10 years ago and they've opened several stores since including some near me. They don't seem very popular, but they're still around and opening stores so I suppose they're doing something right.

      - Sprouts: Sprouts has been around for a few years here and seems to do okay. Most, if not all, of their stores are in locations abandoned by other grocers, but they modify these locations to fit a standardized look.

      Large chains with a small presence in Houston:

      - Trader Joe's: We supposedly have them here in Houston, but I've never seen one.

      - Whole Foods: We have them here in Houston, but their presence isn't large.

      Small chains:

      Foodarama and Sellers Bros. are similar type stores who are both stocked by Grocer Supply Company. These are like Food Towns.

      We have several Asian supermarkets. Hong Kong Food Markets is the most prominent one across the city.

      Hispanic supermarkets are growing here in Houston. El Rancho, a chain from north Texas with some investment from Albertsons, is opening a number of locations in Houston and their stores are quite impressive.

    4. Continued from above:

      Former chains in Houston from the 1980s, 1990s, and more:

      - Safeway/AppleTree: In a way, Safeway and Albertsons are both still in Houston via Randalls, but both were significant players in Houston at one time under their own names. Safeway has a bigger and longer history in Houston than Albertsons. Safeway once had a presence in Houston which rivaled Kroger's. They were never as liked as Kroger and Randall's though and so the Houston market was sold to a local group of investors and former Safeway managers called AppleTree in the very early 1990s. AppleTree, in Houston at least, was a short-lived and well-documented failure.

      - Albertson's: Albertson's made a big attempt at the Houston market in the mid-1990s. They probably opened around 70 stores, almost all of which were newly-built stores, in a very short time frame. Albertsons was so committed to this area that they built a store near me in 1995, but then replaced that store with another new store with the hardwood floors and such in the same area in around 2001.

      The problem is that Albertson's had a reputation for having Randall's-like prices and Kroger-like products and service. If someone wanted a Kroger-like experience, they'd just go to Kroger since they were cheaper and more established. Albertson's came to town around the same time as HEB did, but HEB did so in a more measured way and HEB was also sure to bring low prices with them. Kroger did pick up a lot of Albertsons locations.

      - Weingarten's/Grand Union: This was a local chain sold to Grand Union in the early 1980s. Grand Union then quickly sold Weingarten's locations off to Safeway and Randall's in the early 1980s when Weingarten's still had decent marketshare. I'm not sure why Grand Union even bothered buying into this market. Weingarten still exists as a shopping center developer though so they're still involved in the grocery game, but indirectly now.

      - Eagle/Lucky: Lucky's Eagle division of discount grocers were pretty prominent here in the early 1980s, but they faded away pretty quickly.

      - Food Lion: Food Lion was a spectacular failure here when they came in the early 1990s around the same time as HEB and Albertson's. They also came here around the same time as that disastrous ABC Primetime report about tainted meat. Food Lion locations, which were newly-built stores, were deemed too small and basic and their prices were not competitive enough. Shopping at Food Lion was like visiting a ghost town because they had so few customers.

      - Super Kmart: We had a few of them, but all Kmarts in Houston closed during the 2002 bankruptcy. It should be said that three of Kmarts first stores in their founding year of 1962 were here in Houston. Houston also got Target fairly early on in their expansion out of the midwest in the 1970s and some of those early stores had affiliated grocery stores.

      - Auchan: We already discussed them.

      - Winn-Dixie: We supposedly had Winn-Dixie stores in Houston, at least in the south side of Houston, in either the 1960s or 1970s. I've seen newspaper articles about them and photos of them, but I don't remember anything about them and I've yet to find anyone who remembers Winn-Dixies here in Houston.

      - A&P: We supposedly had A&P stores, but they were gone long before my time.

      - Rice/Rice Epicurean Market: Rice started out many decades ago as a fairly mainstream local chain, but they eventually focused on upscale stores in wealthier parts of town called Rice Epicurean Markets in the 1990s. I suppose they operated much like Randalls does now, but as a completely independent chain. A few years ago, all but one Rice store closed and was sold to The Fresh Market. I believe the sole Rice Epicurean still remains and still has a very 1980s look to it.

      - The Fresh Market: The Fresh Market bought their way into upscale parts of town, but they were a spectacular failure and their stores here closed shortly after opening.

  9. I love going to this can find so many vegetables, seasonings, and sauces available almost nowhere else. That in and of itself makes it worth going to despite its appearance. The two stores here are owned by the same guy whose name escapes me at the moment and they are operating under the Foodtown NY cooperative. They once did show up on their website but not anymore. Foodtown also uses the name Freshtown in parts of NY which also do not appear on the website so I dunno how they operate or what the story is with them. The logo and name are used here almost certainly to get New Yorkers and snowbirds to recognize the brand here.

    1. I had a fun time going through all the different snacks and candy bars here, many of which I've never seen before anywhere else. How strong the ties are between the Florida Foodtown stores and the northern ones is a bit murky as of recent years, but the name recognition certainly helps get people in.