Sunday, November 22, 2020

The Last Sweetbay

Sweetbay Supermarket #1972 / Winn-Dixie #2545
2458 Burnsed Boulevard, The Villages, FL - Pinellas Plaza

     While a tell-tale sign of a dying chain is to not see a new store open for many years, I find it to be an even sadder case when a dying chain is still opening stores until the bitter end, just for some of those final stores to not even make more than a few months. Grand Union was an interesting example of that, opening some fancy new prototypes only 8 months before the chain collapsed into bankruptcy in 2001. As we've learned from following AFB, the vast majority of Kroger's Florida Choice stores didn't even make it a year before that concept was scrapped, and jumping to the present, even Lucky's and Earth Fare had stores that opened just to close a few months later. While Sweetbay Supermarket's opening of new stores quietly stopped after 2011, interestingly, Sweetbay did have one final store to open on October 2, 2013 - this one, located in the western portion of The Villages near the town of Wildwood. To the sharply eyed reader, that opening date should jump out at you. As you recall, Sweetbay sold off all its stores to Winn-Dixie in 2013, the announcement of the sale breaking in April of that year - so essentially, Sweetbay opened this store with the company's fate sealed. Only a few days after the new Sweetbay in The Villages opened, October 9, 2013 to be exact, Winn-Dixie made the announcement that all of the Sweetbay stores they were acquiring would convert to the Winn-Dixie name. Sadly, Sweetbay's fancy new prototype of the future wouldn't even have a chance to prove itself, the store opening just to be turned into a Winn-Dixie. After spending only 6 months under the Sweetbay name, this store would close on April 12, 2014 to begin its weeklong changeover into Winn-Dixie, with Winn-Dixie opening on April 18, 2014.

     Until Winn-Dixie's recent acquisition of 8 former Lucky's and Earth Fare stores across Florida, this was one of the newest buildings Winn-Dixie operated out of with its 2013 build date. Winn-Dixie got really lucky with this store, as the place was essentially brand new, and in turn, immaculate. This is easily one of Winn-Dixie's nicest stores, even after operating as a Winn-Dixie for almost 7 years now.

     The shopping center that adjoined the new Sweetbay store was designed with an old Florida/Key West architectural theme, a bit of a contrast to the Spanish mission architecture that's prevalent on the other side of town (like we saw last time). And in perfect The Villages style, I managed to capture the front of this store with a golf cart parked out front. Golf carts are everywhere in The Villages, with special pathways alongside the roads in town just for them. Some shopping centers in The Villages even have special golf cart parking lots, that's how prevalent these things are here! Anyway, without getting run over by a parade of golf carts, let's cross the road and take a closer look at the last Sweetbay...

     The main entrance is located straight ahead, with shoppers entering and exiting the store using that single set of doors. Stepping through those doors is when the fun begins, and when we see what makes this store so special:

     Stepping inside, we peek over some apples for a glimpse at this store's decor, which is radically different from what we saw at the last Sweetbay we toured! Yes folks, what we'll be seeing today is the extremely rare, short-lived Sweetbay decor package I call "Sweetbay 2.0", which I hinted at quite a bit in the last Sweetbay post. While simplistic, Sweetbay 2.0 is clean, colorful, and modern, and made for a well executed decor package. Sweetbay 2.0 is a classier version of the previous decor iteration, but even with the changes, managed to keep the whimsy and Floridian style of its predecessor.

     As far as I'm aware, of Sweetbay's 103 stores, only 6 of those ever got the Sweetbay 2.0 decor. Those 6 stores were the last 4 Sweetbays to open between 2010 and 2013 (this one, 3400 East Lake Road in Palm Harbor, 1016 Cape Coral Parkway East in Cape Coral, and 7580 49th Street North in Pinellas Park). In addition to the last 4 Sweetbay stores, Sweetbay remodeled 2 stores in the early 2010's to this new decor, those being the stores located at 7489 4th Street North in St. Petersburg and 8837 N. 56th Street in Temple Terrace. Sweetbay didn't have much time left when this decor came out, although it seems like Delhaize was playing around with this new prototype to see if might help prop up Sweetbay any. With how much money Delhaize spent to upgrade all of Kash n' Karry's stores into Sweetbay only a few years prior, a big sweep of remodels probably wouldn't have been Delhaize's first choice for the struggling chain, so Sweetbay 2.0 had to die in relative obscurity. As for the fate of those 6 known Sweetbay 2.0 stores to have operated, only two are left with this decor completely in-tact - this one and the Temple Terrace store (as of mid-2020, anyway - Winn-Dixie better not have gotten any ideas in the last few months!). The Palm Harbor and Pinellas Park Sweetbay 2.0 stores were closed outright by Sweetbay in early 2013 after only two years in business. Winn-Dixie inherited the remaining 4 Sweetbay 2.0 stores, and over time, closed the 4th Street store in St. Pete, and remodeled the Cape Coral store to Down Down. 7 years after the fact, at least we still have two survivors out there showing us where Sweetbay could have gone had Delhaize not sold out to Winn-Dixie.

     In trying to explain the background of this decor package, I've talked over much of what we've seen so far! Entering the store, you end up in the produce department, which is located in the front right corner of the building. In addition to the main department signage (which we saw in the previous two photos), the Sweetbay 2.0 decor also had little sayings and phrases on the wall to go with the corresponding department, usually involving references to food or a pun.

     While honeydew is on the shopping list, I can cross seeing the Sweetbay 2.0 decor off my retail wish list! I had been wanting to see this decor in person since I was tipped off about it by YonWooRetail2, who stumbled across this store a while back while researching the nearby Albertsons. Since Sweetbay had only been around for 10 years, and spent the first few of those intensively remodeling old Kash n' Karry stores, we never knew Sweetbay came out with a second design. Therefore, this was a shock to see upon first discovery (at least to us).

     Here's a final close-up photo of the produce department signage, home to some classy avocados and some classy decor.

     Decorative wooden light fixtures hung over the produce department, giving the department a more rustic feel. 

     Leaving produce, the next departments we find are the bakery and deli. The bakery is located along the right wall, with the deli just beyond that in the back corner.

     This store had a salad bar too, which was temporarily out of service due to the pandemic. Winn-Dixie (and Publix too) have since reopened their salad/hot food bars, so this scene should look a little more normal (and less filled with rolls) these days.

     The floral department occupied a small space between produce and the bakery, with some floral arrangements spilling out into that display in the aisle.

     The bakery peeks out from behind the flowers...

     The decorative stenciling on the walls does a nice job of taking what would otherwise be a blank surface and making seem more interesting. The stenciling takes this decor to a new level compared to what a solid colored wall would do.

     Leaving the bakery, next up we find the deli counter.

     Say cheese, deli counter, AFB wants to get a nice photo! This photo was a little obstructed by the bread rack, so maybe we'll have to try this again...

     Much better! While not all of the departments featured this, the deli, bakery, and seafood departments all had a strip of lights running behind the department signs, which helped make the signs pop against the background.

     This photo isn't much different from the last one, just pulled out a little more. However, I really like this decor, so I'm fine with a few repeat photos!

     Before heading off into the rest of the store, here's one last look up the "grand aisle", looking back toward produce.

     Following the back wall after the deli, we find the meat and seafood counter, with its sleek signage mounted to the overhang.

     Meat coolers stretch along the back wall after the meat and seafood counter, with dairy in the yellow painted section beyond that.

     The first grocery aisle is dedicated entirely to wine.

     Rounding the corner out of the wine aisle, here's a quick look across the store's front end.

     In the grocery aisles, Sweetbay 2.0 got its own variant of category markers (the purple ones with the green stripe at the bottom). As we'll see in some aisles later on, Winn-Dixie has swapped out a few category markers for their own.

     Returning to the back of the store, here's another look at the meat coolers. Unlike the stores with the traditional Sweetbay decor, Winn-Dixie never bothered to make a custom "The Beef People" sign to match the Sweetbay 2.0 decor. I'm surprised Winn-Dixie bothered to make those signs for all the other stores, so I guess they didn't feel the need to make four extra ones to match this completely different decor package they inherited from Sweetbay.

     Here's a quick look back at some of the departments we've covered already, with the deli in the background.

     Let's roam up and down a few more grocery aisles as our tour continues...

     Sweetbay 2.0's aisle markers were an updated version of the ones from the original Sweetbay decor. While the same shape, notable differences are the change in color scheme to purple and black, and having the aisle number only at the bottom instead of placed at both the top and bottom.

     In this photo we have ourselves a close-up some windows(?), vents(?) on the back wall (I didn't look at these close enough while I was here to confirm what exactly these were). However, I didn't take this photo to worry about what those were - I wanted a close-up of the saying on the wall: "Florida is...365 days of grilling". I thought this was a nice nod to Sweetbay's Floridian theme, even though this was the only direct reference to Florida on the walls.

     While Sweetbay was trying to work their way in as "the Floridian supermarket" near the end, Winn-Dixie is the one trying to go after that title now (and in quite the contrast from W-D's days of proclaiming themselves as America's Supermarket). If you haven't seen it yet, Winn-Dixie opened 4 of their 8 recently acquired Lucky's and Earth Fare stores a little over a week ago, and one of the big themes in those new stores is "Made in Florida". Here's a little taste of those new Winn-Dixie stores if you haven't seen one yet. Those new stores feature a specially curated product selection and a new decor with lots of local touches, and it comes together quite nice. Anyway, not to detract from this tour, but I thought you guys would be interested in seeing that. We'll get to see at least one (if not two) of those new Winn-Dixie stores on AFB come early 2021, but until then, let's get back to Sweetbay...

     Rounding the corner out of that aisle, we dip around the side of the pharmacy counter to find a few more aisles at the far left side of the store.

     Gift wrap and household cleaners - that sounds like perfect gift-giving combination for Christmas 2020...

     If variety is the spice of life, getting it for less is the icing. That must mean this rare prototype is the sprinkles on top! Anyway, that saying actually was meant to incorporate part of Sweetbay's slogan, "Live Fresh For Less" subtly into the decor of the dairy department, which occupies the back left corner of the store.

     While we just saw the main dairy signage, a separate Milk | Eggs sign resides in the corner.

     I think we're coming to the point where receiving a roll of toilet paper for Christmas will be as coveted as getting gold jewelry as a present. Sadly, scenes like this are becoming common once again, although not quite to the extent from the toilet paper hoarding spree from earlier in 2020.

     Entering the second to last aisle, we find paper plates, Ziploc bags, and the first section of frozen foods. Here you can see where Winn-Dixie switched out some of the original category markers for Down Down's plain black ones.

     The second to last aisle was dedicated solely to frozen foods. It also looks like that aisle marker got knocked a little out of whack too.

     Here's a close-up of the Milk | Eggs sign, those products located under each of their respective signs.

     Dairy lines the store's left side wall, with a row of frozen food coolers opposite.

     Since this store has a pharmacy drive-thru, the strip of stores extending out from this side of the building is offset to make room for the drive-thru lanes. With that section of the plaza detached, Sweetbay decided to cut some windows in above the coolers to let in some natural light, which really helped brighten up this side of the store.

     Beer finishes out the coolers along the wall as we near the pharmacy counter.

     Stepping out from frozen foods, we find a small seasonal department separating the grocery aisles from the pharmacy counter. Let's walk around these chairs and get ourselves an overview of the pharmacy department:

     Tucked into the front left corner of the building, the pharmacy counter is joined by the Health and Beauty department. Like many modern grocery stores, Health and Beauty occupies a few short aisles located in front of the pharmacy counter.

     Signage for the Health and Beauty department (or should I say, Health | Beauty department) is placed on the front wall.

     Here's a look down one of the health and beauty aisles, which were quite long compared to other stores with a similar arrangement.

     Here's a close-up of the pharmacy counter. I liked the design of the counter, mostly because of the decorative tube lights hanging from the ceiling. The tubes actually glow, but since the store is so bright, it's hard to tell. Still, I like the effect. The pharmacy had yet to open for the day while I was here - only a small portion of the gate was open to allow the pharmacists in during my visit. In some of my photos, you'll see all the lights in the pharmacy are off, as those were taken prior to the pharmacist's arrival. I happened to get this photo with the lights on shortly after the pharmacists arrived for the day.

     A small waiting area was located next to the pharmacy counter, where customers can relax while Sweetbay's Winn-Dixie's pharmacists fill their prescriptions.

     Leaving health and beauty, the check lanes come into view. A group of self checkouts were closest to the health and beauty department, the regular lanes following these.

     As I was leaving the health and beauty department, I spotted the store's clearance endcap by the self check lanes. Some Whole Foods product (soap specifically) made its way here by accident, marked down to get it out of the store. It's always interesting seeing store branded product end up at the wrong store, and this wasn't the first time I've seen Whole Foods product on Winn-Dixie's clearance shelf either (so Whole Foods and Winn-Dixie must share a common distributor or manufacturer of certain products).

     Moving along from that little side note, we return to the store's front end. Winn-Dixie replaced all the check lanes and equipment upon the store's conversion, one of the few major alterations Winn-Dixie made upon converting these stores. However, the front end design didn't change much between Sweetbay 1.0 and Sweetbay 2.0. The check lane lights still retained the original pennant design, only the color scheme and position of the numbers modified slightly.

     This photo gives us an nice overview of the entire front end, looking back toward the produce department where we began our tour.

     The service desk is located in an island next to the front doors. Like we saw in the previous post, it wasn't uncommon for Sweetbay to move the service desk at older stores to an island like this in the early 2010's. Those service desk relocations included the Sweetbay 2.0 Customer Service signage as well, the only part of this rare decor to make it big throughout the chain.

     Here's a close-up of the service desk, which includes check lane number 1 on the opposite side of the counter itself.

     Sweetbay was quite generous with the use of windows in this store, the natural light making this store quite bright, an effect I really like. The entire front of the store by the check lanes was comprised of windows, a rarity in a lot of modern supermarkets.

     As we leave the store, here's a look at the liquor store. Most (if not all) of Sweetbay's ground-up built stores from the late 2000's and early 2010's featured an unusual liquor store set up. While all liquor stores in Florida have to be detached from the main supermarket in some way with their own entrance and registers, a loophole Sweetbay exploited (which I've seen a few other companies use) is to put the entrance of the liquor store in the main store's vestibule (rather than outside completely). Since entering the vestibule is considered "leaving the main store", this design gets a pass, and you don't have to take the time to walk to the side of the building for your liquor. This design is much more convenient for shoppers, so I'm surprised it hasn't become more widespread.

     Outside once again, here's a look at the store's small outdoor dining area. I like the set-up here, under the wide shady overhang with ceiling fans above - an outdoor dining area designed with a Floridian summer afternoon in mind!

     Sweetbay did good with this store in terms of design and decor. Unfortunately, it was too little too late. Way too late, actually, since this store opened with the company's fate already sealed. I would have enjoyed seeing more stores like this pop up across Florida, this decor probably trickling into many of Sweetbay's existing stores by now had the company not sold out. If nothing else, at least we were able to experience what could have been had Sweetbay not gotten squeezed out by the competition.

     While the liquor store's only entrance is from the main store's vestibule, the liquor store did get its own signage on this deceiving little facade. It looks like the entrance to the liquor store should be under this archway, but all that's back there is a wall.

     For fun, here are a few photos of the rest of the plaza, to show off its old Florida architectural theme. While this plaza is just a replica, I like this design, and it happens to go well with the Floridian theme Sweetbay was going for inside their store.

     While Publix has a sizeable presence in The Villages, Winn-Dixie had complete rule of this little pocket of the area until 2020. With Publix always on the prowl for new sites, it shouldn't be a shock they'd been looking to open a store in this part of town. On August 27, 2020, Publix opened one of their new prototype stores across the street from the Sweet-Dixie, as part of a new shopping center that includes a Lowe's and Aldi as co-anchors. Competition is growing over here in The Villages, and hopefully Winn-Dixie will be able to fight back. Part of the reason I wanted to visit to this store was because of that new Publix opening across the street. I was afraid the presence of the new Publix might spark Winn-Dixie into doing a remodel, which as far as I'm aware, has not been the case (thankfully). However, I don't think I'll be the only one who will be upset if the cans of red paint ever make their way to this store...

     I hoped you guys liked this little glimpse into what Sweetbay could have been. 7 years after its opening, this is still a really nice store, and one of the nicest Winn-Dixies I've ever been to (although I'm pleased to say that my list of nice Winn-Dixie stores is growing). Speaking of things turning 7 years old, this very blog will be hitting that same milestone two weeks from now. As usual I've put together a fun post to mark the occasion with. While there won't be explicit Albertsons decor remnants at this year's anniversary post (like we had last year), the store we'll be seeing this year is a former Albertsons I'd been curious about for a while due to its past. I don't want to spoil the surprise by saying any more, so I'll have to stop there and leave you guys in suspense. Anyway, you'll have that to look forward to on December 6th though, but first, I need to fight my way through a parade of golf carts to get out of this Sweet-Dixie!

So that's all I have for now. Until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger