Sunday, October 18, 2020

How Sweet(bay) It Still Is to Shop at Winn-Dixie

Kash n' Karry #1914 / Sweetbay Supermarket #1914 / Winn-Dixie #2499
16751 Fishhawk Boulevard, Lithia, FL - Shops of Fishhawk

     Tucked away in the eastern fringes of the Tampa metro area we find a Winn-Dixie, a sedate little supermarket sitting in a plaza off Lithia-Pinecrest Road as it winds its way out from the bustle of Brandon and into the strawberry fields of rural eastern Hillsborough County. Like most of the Winn-Dixie stores around Tampa these days, the one we see here started out its life in the hands of Kash n' Karry, which would go on to become Sweetbay Supermarket before finally selling out to Winn-Dixie in 2013. Kash n' Karry/Sweetbay was Tampa's longtime hometown grocer, a chain of over 100 stores primarily located along Florida's west coast at the company's peak in the late 1990's. Unfortunately, a leveraged buyout of Kash n' Karry in the early 1990's financially crippled the company, with Kash n' Karry heading for bankruptcy until a potential saving grace came along in 1996. That was the year when Kash n' Karry was purchased by Food Lion's parent company Delhaize America, with Kash n' Karry's operations merged in with Food Lion's. Delhaize hoped that buying Kash n' Karry would prop up Food Lion's struggling Florida division. While Kash n' Karry began expansions under the new ownership, the company still struggled into the new millennium as Walmart and Publix began to rise to power as Florida's grocery leaders. Delhaize's last ditch effort to save Kash n' Karry involved pulling the company out of Central and Eastern Florida in 2004, and converting the remaining core West Coast stores to a new banner, Sweetbay Supermarkets, a Floridian twist on Delhaize's Hannaford brand from the Northeast. While the Sweetbay conversions significantly improved the feel of the older Kash n' Karry stores, again, Sweetbay was no match against Publix and Walmart. Delhaize America sold its remaining 72 Sweetbay Supermarkets to Winn-Dixie's then parent company, BI-LO Holdings (now Southeastern Grocers) in 2013, with all remaining Sweetbay stores converting to the Winn-Dixie name by April 2014. We've discussed Kash n' Karry and Sweetbay before on the blog, primarily at these two posts (two links there). Today we're going to take another look at a former Sweetbay Supermarket, for two reasons: 1) I want to present to everyone the evolution of Sweetbay over its short 10 years in existence, and 2) I just really liked this particular store. I have a good number of former Sweetbay stores photographed of all different designs and eras, and I could have picked any one of them to serve as the first part of this post. This store won out from all the others as it happened to contain a fun little surprise inside that even caught me off guard, which we'll see a little later. I also feel that since the vast majority of Sweetbay's stores were converted Kash n' Karry stores, this store serves as a good example of the "average Sweetbay". From Sweetbay's creation in 2004 until its demise in 2014, the company did open a few new stores from scratch (the bulk of which opened in the late 2000's). I have some of those new-build Sweetbay stores photographed for the future, including a really fun one we'll be seeing a month from now to complete my evolution of Sweetbay series, but I'm getting ahead of myself there!

     All that rambling aside, let's get back to the star of today's post though, the former Fishhawk Sweetbay. The shopping center we see here was the first major development in the master-planned neighborhood of Fishhawk Ranch, a new neighborhood built out in the late 1990's on some former pasture and farm lands. The Fishhawk Ranch development is one of the only major population centers in the mostly rural Tampa suburb of Lithia, located to the southeast of Brandon. With the completion of the new subdivision in the late 1990's, the developers set out to find a supermarket to serve as an anchor to Fishhawk Ranch's first shopping center, to be built at the community's main entrance at the corner of Fishhawk Boulevard and Lithia-Pinecrest Road. Kash n' Karry would ultimately be selected as that anchor, with the new 47,000 square foot supermarket opening in Fall 2000. The building design seen here was the most common one used by Kash n' Karry during its Delahize ownership years from 1996 until the debut of Sweetbay. Delahize had a second store design used concurrently with this one at the turn of the millennium - the round prototype - but that funky design is a story of its own for another day! Delhaize really tried to turn Kash n' Karry around in the late 1990's, pushing for numerous new stores, and trying to grow the company outward into Orlando and Florida's East Coast. I have to give Delhaize a lot of credit for trying, both with Kash n' Karry's last ditch modernization spree and the rebranding to Sweetbay. They wanted something to work, but unfortunately, the company got squeezed out of Florida in the end.

     The Fishhawk Kash n' Karry would convert to the Sweetbay banner in the mid-2000's with the rest of the chain. Besides some new paint to better match Sweetbay's color scheme, the facade of this store wasn't touched much during the conversion. Since this was a newer store at the time, the conversion here was nothing more than a decor swap and some new paint (although some older stores got nothing more than that either, but there were some more involved conversions out there). Sweetbay Supermarket closed for good at this location on March 29, 2014, reopening a week later on April 4, 2014 as Winn-Dixie. With a one week turnaround time, Winn-Dixie did nothing more to their acquired Sweetbay stores than restock the shelves and put in their own register equipment. All the stores retained Sweetbay's decor and layout, something that still holds true even to this day in many cases (like we'll see here). Winn-Dixie has begun to remodel many of their acquired Sweetbay stores of late, as remodels to the new Down Down decor have ramped up quite a bit in the last year. Seeing a grocery store use a completely in-tact decor package from a former tenant is quite intriguing to me, so I've been trying to get to as many of these untouched "Sweet-Dixies" (as I call them) before the cans of red paint find them.

     These Delhaize-era Kash n' Karry stores had very stately exterior designs, with the grand archways over the main entrance. I like the design of these stores, as the towering, grandiose entrance makes the store seem quite mighty.

     Stepping onto the front walkway, here's a look toward the store's main entrance. As far as I'm aware, the Kash n' Karry stores of this design only had a single set of doors serving as the entrance and exit, those doors pictured here.

     Stepping through the front doors, to the right was the cartwell, which also included a community bulletin board and display of promotional items (featuring Thanksgiving staples, as I visited here the week before Thanksgiving).

     Looking the opposite direction from the cartwell, we get this overview of the store's front end. Beyond the usual promotional stuff that greets you as you enter the store is the service desk and the check lanes. Until the early 2010's, the service desk used to be located against the building's front wall. In Sweetbay's final years here, the service desk was moved to the island where it currently stands, as the customer service sign seen here is actually from the "Sweetbay 2.0" decor package.

     Speaking of the Sweetbay 2.0 decor, one thing I've never discussed much was the evolution of Sweetbay's decor. The store we'll be touring today, like the vast majority of the other Sweetbay stores, used the "Sweetbay 1.0" decor. The Sweetbay 1.0 decor debuted with the chain in 2004, and was a Floridian spin on the concurrent Hannaford decor package of the time (see here for the Hannaford version - if you scroll through the photos, you'll begin to see the similarities between Sweetbay's decor and Hannaford's). All of the converted Kash n' Karry stores and Sweetbay's newbuilds through the end of the 2000's got the Sweetbay 1.0 decor, some stores getting fancier versions than others. Entering the 2010's and Sweetbay's final two years, that's when the super rare Sweetbay 2.0 decor package popped up. A month from now we'll see the amazing rarity that was Sweetbay 2.0 and talk more about that, but for now, we'll stick to the classics...

     The produce department is located in the front right corner of the building, the first department you enter following the natural progression of this store's layout. In the previous photo we saw some of the wall decorations for the produce department, with the main sign visible in the photo above.

     The floral department is located in an unsigned island between produce and the grocery aisles. The only feature designating the floral department are those hanging wooden circles, a distinctive feature from these larger, open ceiling Sweetbay stores.

     From produce, here's a look back toward the front end and the left side of the store. The floor tile pattern we'll see throughout the store is from Kash n' Karry, that light orange and white striped pattern a remnant from Kash n' Karry's late 90's decor package.

     Here's a close-up shot of the floral island, with an overview of the produce department in the background.

     Beyond floral and produce we find the "grand aisle", home to the store's deli and bakery departments, located toward the back of the building.

     Between produce and the deli were some refrigerated cases, containing the lunch meats and specialty cheeses (and Winn-Dixie really wanted to get the point across that there were specialty cheeses in this case, putting three signs on top of each other, each getting smaller as you go down!)

     Heading down the grand aisle, we finally make it to the deli counter. What's always fun about these Sweet-Dixies is how to this day, Sweetbay's logo can still be found all over the place in the store, such as the really large example behind the deli sign. It's so easy to forget you're in a Winn-Dixie when shopping at one of these stores - it really feels like Sweetbay never went anywhere!

     Here's a wide shot of the deli counter, looking back toward the lunch meat coolers in the background. The display cases closest to the left side of the image are original to the store, as the purple stripe running along the front of the cooler is a remnant from Kash n' Karry's decor (which was teal, green, and purple like we saw at this former Kash n' Karry in Ocoee, only this store would have had a more deluxe version of the decor seen in Ocoee).

     Zooming in behind the deli counter, the original Kash n' Karry wall tile was never changed out either. Original flooring, cooler striping, and wall tiles from Kash n' Karry are nice and all, but let me top all of this by turning around:

     While some of those harder to swap out things from Kash n' Karry tended to linger at these Sweetbay conversion stores, never have I seen a Kash n' Karry decor sign so obviously left behind like this! I didn't even know this sign was here when I made my visit, and it took me a few passes up and down this aisle before it sank in that there was something off about the 'Fine Wines' sign. But yes, that's very much a piece of Kash n' Karry, a piece I'm very surprised lived into the Sweetbay years.

     Once I realized this sign was a Kash n' Karry remnant, I had to sweep back through these aisles for a few more photos. If you're like most people and don't recall or know what Kash n' Karry's decor looked like, this signage does kind of blend in with the rest of Sweetbay's decor, as it uses bright colors and wooden accents like we've seen elsewhere in the store. As far as I'm aware, Sweetbay never had official signage for the wine department, which could have been a reason why these old signs from Kash n' Karry made the cut to stay here.

     In addition to the main 'Fine Wines' sign, some smaller matching signs also hung over the department, describing various kinds of wine (Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc are the two visible here). As we saw at that former Kash n' Karry in Ocoee a while back, there were similar descriptive signs used in the produce department as well.

     Here's a nice overview of the entire wine department and its matching original signage. There is so little documentation of Kash n' Karry out there, especially inside the stores, so finding any any traces of Kash n' Karry's old decor is always a nice surprise.

     Moving away from the wine department, we find the bakery in the back right corner of the store. Like we saw behind the deli counter, the tile backsplash in the bakery continues with Kash n' Karry's old pattern.

     The 'Bake' portion of the 'Bake Shop' sign blends into the logo in the background, which uses the same shade of red as the 'Bake' lettering. In person the blending in isn't as bad, but the pictures make the problem seem much worse.

     Here's a look at some additional signage at the corner of the bakery counter.

     As we begin to leave the grand aisle, here's a look across the back of the store. Meat and seafood take up most of the back wall, with the wall transitioning into dairy nearing the left side of the store.

     The first grocery aisle, which is unnumbered, contains a portion of the wine department, as well as various condiments. The numbered aisles begin under the drop ceiling with aisle 1, the next aisle over.

     Here's another look at the decorative hanging wooden circles as we exit the wine department.

     Organic foods and organic frozen foods take up this half aisle. While most grocery stores seem to be making the switch to mixing in the organic products with their standard counterparts (like Publix), Winn-Dixie, even in recent remodels, keeps the organic products separated in their own departments like this.

     Turning out of the aisle, here's a nice overview of the store's front end.

     As we make our way to the other side of the store, let's meander through some of the grocery aisles...

     The "Seafood Market" is nothing more than some self-serve coolers. It looks like there could have been a full-service counter in this spot at one time, but it was most likely removed and consolidated into the meat counter during the Sweetbay years.

     Here's a different angle of the 'Seafood Market', this time showing the location of the bakery in the background.

     The full-service meat counter is located right next door to the Seafood Market, in an interesting little round pop out from the back wall.

     What I've always found interesting about these Sweet-Dixie conversions is how Winn-Dixie went through the trouble to replace Sweetbay's meat department signage with a sign that said "The Beef People" - in the same font to match the existing Sweetbay decor too. Originally this would have been branded as the rather generic "Butcher Shop", as presented to you at that link by Sweetbay's former spokes-butcher, Kevin.

     The rounded design of the meat counter makes it stand out from the rest of the store's back wall, the spokes from the counter's awning tying in well with the hanging decor visible over the meat coolers in the distance.

     Here's a close-up of the service counter itself. The left half of the counter isn't used any more, the empty display cooler now covered with ads, with the only meats for sale located in the display case on the other side.

     To the left of the service counter is this small alcove with all the prepackaged meats. A decorative piece matching the awning over the service counter hangs above the alcove.

     A short aisle of some groceries splits the back aisle in half, separating the meat alcove from the grocery aisles.

     Back into the grocery aisles we go for a little while...

     Even Sweetbay's original category markers stayed through the conversions to Winn-Dixie. One of Winn-Dixie's big points when they converted these stores was to not touch the layout of the store in any way, a means to ease shoppers into the new brand taking over their local Sweetbay stores. As time went on, Winn-Dixie has made themselves at home in these buildings. Like I said before, many Sweet-Dixies had full remodels to Down Down in recent years (some of those remodels more intensive than others). The ex-Sweetbay stores that have yet to remodel are still pretty close to their original layouts, even within the grocery aisles, although some minor shuffling has since occurred. For example, the category marker here advertises "Hot Cereal", which has since moved elsewhere within this aisle. Unless you like your Froot Loops warm, this category marker is a bit inaccurate now!

     Getting to the store's halfway point, we find the pre-packaged breads and baking supplies.

     Greeting cards, magazines, and baby stuff in aisle 9. Throughout the 7 years the Sweetbay 1.0 decor was in use, two versions of aisle markers were used: the tri-siders we see here, as well as a flat version that was nearly identical to these. The tri-siders were the most common design in Sweetbay 1.0, with the flat version being a later design change from what I understand. Sweetbay 2.0 would switch back to a tri-sided design for the aisle markers.

     As we get closer to the left side of the building, here's a look across the back of the store, looking at what we've covered so far.

     Here's one last look at the meat alcove.

     Aisle 10 is the last aisle under the drop ceiling. The last two aisles, numbers 11 and 12, home to frozen foods, are located under the higher ceiling.

     Speaking of the frozen food aisles, here they are! Pictured here is aisle 11. Unlike the rest of the grocery aisles, the category markers here in frozen foods were swapped out by Winn-Dixie, these black ones being Winn-Dixie's most current design.

     Like we saw by the deli, the frozen food coolers still have the purple Kash n' Karry stripe running along the bottom. That would point to all these cases being original to the store as well.

     The dairy department takes up a small portion of the wall in the building's back left corner, with the remainder of dairy continuing around the corner up aisle 12...

     ...the remainder of dairy seen here. The coolers to my left are home to more frozen foods.

     The dairy department signage can be seen here. It looks like the Sweetbay category markers over the dairy coolers managed to survive too.

     Returning to the front of the store, in the front left corner of the building we find the pharmacy counter and health and beauty departments.

     While the Health and Beauty signage takes up the wall next to the pharmacy, the actual department is located in a few short aisles in front of the pharmacy counter. Since Sweetbay was never much of one for hanging signage, the Health and Beauty signage ended up on a wall near the department, rather than in the department itself.

     Here's a look at the pharmacy counter itself, which is set into the wall at an angle.

     About 3 or so aisles projected out from the front of the pharmacy counter with the health and beauty products, one of them pictured above.

     Here's an example of Sweetbay's health and beauty category markers.

     From within one of the health and beauty aisles, here's a look toward the front end.

     As we wrap up this tour, here's another look across the front end, looking back toward produce, which is visible in the background.

     Here's a look at some of the check lanes. One of the only major pieces of Sweetbay's decor that Winn-Dixie removed were the old lane lights, a victim of Winn-Dixie replacing these counters to fit their own POS equipment in. Sweetbay's lane lights looked like a pennant, and remained the same through both the Sweetbay 1.0 and Sweetbay 2.0 decor packages (although there were some stores that had the number in an orange pennant rather than a green one, like the example I linked to).

     These number cube lights Winn-Dixie installed were exclusive to their Sweetbay conversion stores, probably to look generic and not clash with the rest of the interior. However, as far as Sweetbay remnants are concerned, those purple light bars hanging over the check lanes are from Sweetbay.

     Here's another look at the customer service desk, which had a full check lane installed on one side of it (with the actual service counter located on the opposite side).

     Prior to moving the service desk to the island in the early 2010's, it would have been located here along the front wall.

     As we head to the doors, here's one final look into the store, a final overview of the entire front end to close out this tour.

     Thank you for shopping your neighborhood Sweet-Dixie.

     Like most Kash n' Karry stores from the 1990's, a liquor store was included as well, this one tucked into the building's right side. Pictured here is the entrance to the liquor store...

     ...with a view of the liquor store's exterior from the parking lot seen here.

     So there you have it everyone, the "average" Sweet-Dixie in a converted Kash n' Karry building. As time goes on, we'll see more from Sweetbay either here or on My Florida Retail, and explore some of the quirks and design changes from different eras of the company. A month from now we'll take a look at one of the most dramatic changes Sweetbay pulled off in its 10 years in business - the decor change from Sweetbay 1.0 to Sweetbay 2.0 as the company entered its final years. Sweetbay 2.0 took the company to a whole new level, and unfortunately, Delhaize never gave Sweetbay much of an opportunity to take that design anywhere. We'll see what Sweetbay was trying to evolve into a month from now when we conclude this overview of the company's short 10 years in business - a fun post for sure that one will be! In the meantime, more Albertsons in two weeks, so be sure to come back then!

Until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger