Sunday, November 1, 2020

Former Albertsons #4473 - Lady Lake (The Villages), FL

Above photo courtesy of some real estate listing I found a long time ago. All other pre-demolition photos are courtesy of YonWooRetail2. Post-demolition photos are by AFB.

Albertsons #4473 / Publix #1334 / Publix #1581
1566 Bella Cruz Drive, Lady Lake (The Villages), FL - Spanish Plaines Shopping Center

     In a perfect world I'd be able to visit every store I wanted to see before it met its day with fate. However, the world isn't perfect, so therefore I have my list of retail regrets. My list of retail regrets is a decent sized list, but some of those regrets bother me more than others for one reason or another - like not photographing my local Albertsons before it closed, missing out on the old E. Colonial Drive Florida Choice turned Publix before it got gutted for an Academy Sports, and not getting to the subject of today's post before its date with the wrecking ball. Even with the list of regrets, I've still had my fair share of surprises and wins, but it's those stores that got away on me that you dwell over more than anything...

     That speech out of the way, we'll turn our attention to the subject of today's post: former Albertsons #4473. Opening in November 2000, Albertsons #4473 popped up in the first major retail district to blossom out of the newly constructed retirement community of The Villages. Situated along US Route 441 where it slices through the northeastern most corner of Sumter County, Albertsons was the primary anchor to the Spanish Plaines Shopping Center. A lot of the architecture in The Villages, especially along the US 441 corridor, has a Southwestern/Spanish theme to it. That being the case, the aptly named Spanish Plaines Shopping Center followed suit, continuing the architectural theme to the entire plaza. Albertsons only had to make minor modifications to their store design to fit the theme, only changing up the paint scheme and adding some Spanish tile to the façade. Other than that, this was an average Grocery Palace Albertsons throughout.

     As The Villages continued to grow into the 2000's, eventually becoming the largest 55 and over retirement community in the United States, Publix really took advantage of that growth. Typically, Publix is usually one of the first stores to locate to any major new development in Florida, even before many communities really begin to take off. Publix began dropping many new stores throughout The Villages as it grew, so it wasn't much of a surprise that this was one of the 49 Albertsons stores Publix purchased in 2008. The Villages is home to many well-off retirees with plenty of disposable income, so Publix does really well here. Even with another store only a mile and a half south of here along US 441, Publix wasted no time grabbing this Albertsons store to add to their real estate portfolio in The Villages. This was a rather new Albertsons store at the time, so Publix made out nicely with this place. The new Publix opened in the Albertsons building around 2009, the conversion being nothing more than a cheap décor swap from Grocery Palace to Classy Market 2.0. As we'll see in YonWoo's photos, Publix left a number of Albertsons remnants behind in this store, making this one really interesting place. Having a soft spot for Grocery Palace era Albertsons stores, I really wanted to see this store, especially considering how well preserved it remained after the conversion. However...

     …much to my dismay, to picky ol' Publix, a 15 year old Albertsons building was not good enough for them. In 2017, it was announced that this Publixsons store would be demolished to make way for a modern Publix store. While Publix has demolished and rebuilt some of their acquired Albertsons stores in the past, just about all of the ones to meet the wrecking ball to this point were Albertsons stores built in the 1970's and 1980's. I was quite shocked to hear a building this new was going to get leveled for a modern Publix, but Publix is a company with deep pockets and finicky ways, so they were probably growing tired of running this store out of a building designed for Albertsons. As much as I wanted to experience this store before it was turned into rubble, a trip out here just wasn't going to happen for me at the time. However, I did alert follow AFB contributor YonWooRetail2 to the news, so he was able to make it out here for some pictures in time. Thanks to YonWoo, we'll begin this post with some photos of the original Publixsons store and its fun, unaltered Albertsons design. 

     While it looks like it was included as part of the Spanish-style architectural theme, identical faux balconies over the entryway were actually used at other Albertsons stores built in the early 2000's. It just so happened that this featured tied in nicely with the plaza's design.

     Looking across the front walkway, you'd never think you were looking across the front of a Publix from this photo. The building still felt strongly of Albertsons until the day it was obliterated.

     Here's a look toward the entryway, the doors closest to us being the ones located under the main archway.

     Stepping inside, we already see remains of the store's original Grocery Palace décor, including the texturing on the back of the pharmacy island, just painted over by Publix.

     Turning the camera a little more to the right, here's a better look at the back wall of the pharmacy counter. When this was an Albertsons, the service desk would have been to the left side of this wall (under Publix's logo), with a dry cleaners located behind the pegboard with balloons hanging from it.

     Just how little work Publix did to this store was probably a sign Publix wanted to get rid of it eventually, but it's still amazing to see the clash of Publix and Albertsons traits going on here. Looking toward the deli counter, we find more painted over Grocery Palace decor, and even the original Albertsons checkerboard flooring for the deli. Publix usually redid the floors in most Albertsons stores they acquired, even other Grocery Palace stores, so it's weird seeing the original tile over here.

     Here's a better overview of the deli department, with the deli counter now in view, and produce peeking out at the right side of the image. The Classy Market 2.0 décor remained in here for Publixsons' entire 9 year run.

     Produce took up the back left corner of the store, with the bakery department behind it.

     Now aren't those blatant Grocery Palace remnants! While Publix did very little to this store overall, it looks like all they did was repaint the pharmacy island, leaving everything else from Albertsons completely in-tact.

     In my conversations with YonWoo, while he was happy to have made it to this store before it was demolished, one of his retail regrets (while we're on the topic of those) was not getting more pictures of this store. As you've seen so far, YonWoo's photos are essentially a spin around the perimeter of the store, with few photos of the center or back parts of the building. Still, I'm happy there's some documentation of this store to share with you, as anything is better than nothing, especially when the building is gone!

     The photo above, as well as the photo before this, both show the store's frozen foods department. The wavy wall over this side of the store was a distinct Grocery Palace trait, looking like this originally. When Publix has remodeled these former Grocery Palace stores they inherited, these wavy walls are ripped out, leaving a more open feeling frozen foods department.

     Turning around, we find the dairy coolers located in the back right corner of the store.

     Most likely there was a barn here when Albertsons was still open. Those coolers look just like the ones that would have accompanied the barn prop, so Publix must have ripped out the barn prior to moving in.

     Publix's wine department takes up the front right corner of the building, originally home to Albertsons' pet department. Moving the pet department to make room for the wine seems to be one of the few major modifications Publix made to this store prior to opening.

     Publix's customer service desk was moved to the location of Albertsons' old photo counter, which was located in a little nook in front of the registers. Interestingly, many Grocery Palace Albertsons stores that survived into the late 2000's and early 2010's would also move their service desks over here after the photo counters were decommissioned. The former video rental center would have been to the right of the current service desk. It doesn't look like Publix used that space for anything, with the video center's glass door just pulled shut.

     Here's an overview of the rather spacious front end, looking back toward the pharmacy island.

     The floral department took over the side of the pharmacy island closest to the registers, the last thing we'll see inside this store as we head back outside...

     Here's a quick look at the original liquor store, located to the left side of the main building. Once the new store was built, the liquor store was switched to the right side of the building in order to make room for a drive-thru pharmacy counter on this side.

     Lastly, here's a final photo of this store before it comes down. I still think it was a shame to demolish a building that was still fairly new at the time. As we saw in Winter Park, Publix took over an Albertsons store only a year older than this one and kept the building itself, choosing to gut the entire interior and rebuilding that to the standards of a modern Publix. It would have been nice to see that happen here if Publix wanted a modern store of their own so bad, but this store had something going against it the Winter Park one did not: Winter Park was a mirror image of this one. The flipped Grocery Palace layout Winter Park had, especially in relation to the location of the entrance and exit doors, happens to line up closely to the layout of a modern Publix. The opposite layout doesn't line up as perfectly, so down this place went...

Future Publix #1581. 1566 Bella Cruz Dr. Lady Lake (The Villages), FL.

     On the occasions that YonWoo passed through The Villages while the new Publix was being built, he would occasionally provide some construction updates. Above is one of YonWoo's video updates of the new Publix, showing the structure as it was nearing completion.

     On April 26, 2018, Publix #1581 held its grand opening on the site of the old Publixsons. While the new Publix building keeps the plaza's architectural theme, it just isn't the same as what this replaced.

     While the new store is nice, it's certainly not as interesting as a Grocery Palace Publixsons would have been. While I did eventually make it out here to The Villages, I came two years too late, so all I got to see was a modern Publix.

     As I mentioned before, the new liquor store is located on the right side of the building, the main store in the background of the above photo.

     The façade of the new Publix is a spin on this more generic exterior design, with the added accents here to blend in with the Spanish theme.

     One of the more interesting things I noticed while visiting this store was this mural between the entrance and exit doors. While not made of tiles, or painted by Pati Mills (as far as I'm aware, as she is still out there doing art), I thought the little streetscape scene was a nice touch, and a nice modern nod to the days of the Publix tile murals.

     Here's an overview of Publix's entryway, with the mural visible in the background.

     Heading inside, this store is the average 45M Publix, and an exact clone interior-wise to the new Cocoa Beach Publix that opened a month after this store did. The bakery is located in the front right corner of the building, with the deli off to the left.

     Grab and Go foods take up a cooler along aisle 1, with the salad bar to my right.

     Beyond the salad bar is produce, with the deli just out of view behind the salad bar.

     As usual, brisk business at the Publix deli on this particular afternoon.

     As seen from produce, here's a nice overview of the deli, bakery, and grab and go sections, comprising the store's grand aisle.

     The produce department.

     As usual, leaving produce, we find the seafood and meat counters along the back wall.

     Pre-packaged meats line the back wall beyond the meat counter.

     Jumping to the front of the store, here's a look across the building.

     As quick as we jump to the front, to the back we go again, with this look toward dairy from the end of the frozen foods aisles.

     Frozen foods line the center of the store, no wavy ceilings in sight anymore...

     The pharmacy is located in the front left corner of the building.

     As usual, dairy wraps around in the store's left side, occupying the coolers along the wall.

     Our final photo from this quick interior tour of the new Publix shows off the front end, a good number of lanes open on this day too.

     Back outside, here's a few more photos of the new liquor store.

     So that's all there is to say about the new Publix. A nice store, but certainly much lower on the uniqueness scale now that the old Albertsons building is gone.

     Our tours out of the way, now it's time for some satellite imagery. First up, a Bird's Eye aerial view from Google Maps 3D:

     Bing Maps replaced their older bird's eye aerial images of this area, leaving only images of the new Publix. Google still had imagery with the old store, so I figured this image would be more interesting. Anyway, now that we have that out of the way, here's some historic aerial imagery, courtesy of Google Earth:

Former Albertsons #4473 - 2020 - The new Publix is visible here.

Former Albertsons #4473 - 2017 - The old Albertsons building as it neared its end.

Albertsons #4473 - 2008 - Before Publix moved in.

Albertsons #4473 - 2004

Future Albertsons #4473 - 1999 - Land clearing was just beginning for the new Albertsons store and adjoining roads when this image was captured.

     I wasn't able to find any images of this store while it was still an Albertsons, so here we have YonWoo's recreation of this store to the rescue! The only changes to the exterior of this building were the signage once Publix moved in, as I'm pretty sure the paint scheme was original (and never changed) as it matched the rest of the plaza. As much as I would have loved to see this store in person before it was demolished, I have to give a big shoutout to YonWoo for visiting on our behalf, and making coverage of this former Albertsons possible! I have been to other Grocery Palace Publixsons stores in my travels, which will hopefully come to the blog before long, but the ones I've been to certainly weren't as exciting as this one was - Publix really did nothing to this store!

     While we'll always have our lists of regrets, you have to make up for those with some wins now and again. Next time on AFB we'll finish up my two-part posting series on Sweetbay with a store I would have regretted not visiting had something happened to it. This next store is really nice, really interesting, and contains something really rare. Therefore, I wouldn't call this next store a win, I'd call it a Winn Win!

So that's what you have to look forward to next time, so until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger


  1. I'm still kicking myself for not taking aisle photos and more photos in general of this place.

    I'm still perturbed with Publix for being such.....well, I won't use the colorful language I feel like using to express my frustration with Publix for doing this. I still miss this store too!

    As far the next Win Winn, I think I know where the next destination is, but I won't spoil it for everyone.

    1. Like I said in the post, at least you were able to get some coverage of this store before Publix ripped it down, which is something many demolished Albertsons stores from the past lack in any form, so for that I am greatly appreciative! I know how you feel about Publix’s decision to tear this store down, as I feel the same way too. And I think you’re on the right track with the next destination – it’s a store you’ve been to before near here, if mentioning that confirms it for you.

  2. I have plenty of retail regrets myself, and I can certainly understand why you would regret not being able to visit this store before it was demolished and rebuilt. However, these things happen, and as I always say, a picture is the next best thing. And thankfully, YonWoo came through here with all his great pictures! While he may regret not getting more, I feel that the ones he did get do a more than wonderful job at capturing the Albertsons-ness of this Publix, which I agree is totally amazing to see knowing their usual propensity for wiping away traces of former tenants. In hindsight, all the unaltered (or minimally altered) Grocery Palace remnants were probably signs that Publix intended to do much more with this store in the future, but it's neat regardless to know -- and to see via these pictures -- just how little they did in the meantime! I think this has to be the least work I've ever seen Publix do on a conversion.

    The new building is much less exciting, just your blah everyday Publix. But I'm sure it's suitable for the residents of The Villages nonetheless. Funny side note, in that same class I told you about this August, one of the assignments was to take tax return data and analyze it to answer some questions. As I recall, The Villages is the richest per capita place in the US (or something like that). I'd never heard of it before then, but it definitely seems all fancy now that I know more about it!

    1. Yes, I’m very grateful YonWoo made it to this store, as this place needed some kind of documentation before it met its demise! I feel that way too, with how little Publix did in their conversion (and never bothering to do anything for 9 years after the fact), that meant something more was planned here in the future. Most former Albertsons stores Publix took over in 2008 have since gotten much more thorough remodels, removing most of the obvious Albertsons décor remnants left behind in the original, much quicker, conversions. The Grocery Palace Albertsons buildings Publix still operates stores in feel very much like an Albertsons even today, but certainly not to the extent we saw here!

      It’s amazing how many Publix stores have popped up in The Villages, even just within the last few years. One just opened a few months ago too, and there’s another under construction as well! It doesn’t surprise me The Villages is the richest per capita place in the US (or close to it). I wouldn’t call The Villages an overly lavish place like Palm Beach or Boca Raton, but the people who live in The Villages live nicely, that’s for sure. That’s neat you have a connection with The Villages through your August class – now that you’ve seen those tax returns, you can see how those people buy their groceries!

  3. It's a shame that Publix had to tear down this store. One of my local Krogers (there are so many within a 5-10 mile radius of me that it's hard to claim any of them definitively as being my Kroger!) is also a former Grocery Palace Albertsons. You've seen pictures of this location before as Pseudo3D did a post about it some years ago:

    When Albertsons opened that store in around 2001 or so, it was a very odd situation because Albertsons had a Blue & Gray Market store just a mile or two away that they had built from scratch in around 1995-6. Maybe it didn't make much sense at that time, but eventually I think Albertsons would have proven to be correct in changing locations because the Target that neighbored the original Albertsons moved to the same intersection as the Grocery Palace location in 2006. When Albertsons opened that original location, Kmart was still in that area. However, the Kmart moved in 1997 and a Wal-Mart opened up at the Grocery Palace intersection in 2001-2 and that really shifted the bulk of the retail to that area.

    When this local Grocery Palace Albertsons opened, I was really quite blown away by the place. I found the Blue & Gray Market stores to be okay, but a bit boring compared to the fancy Randall's and neon-era Kroger stores we had which I'm sure you've seen photos of. There was nothing boring about the Grocery Palace though! If anything, it might have been a bit over the top, especially the department signage, but it for sure addressed the major problem with the Blue & Grey Markets. Also, this location had one of those infamous Garden Centers.

    The Albertsons didn't last long. Kroger took it over and kept a lot of Albertsons intact (the Garden Center didn't make the cut, it was briefly turned into a Kroger Dollar Store during the dollar store craze of the early 2000s, but that didn't last long either). The store received the 2012 decor some years ago, but it still very much feels a lot like it did before.

    There have been some recent changes to the store in the last year or so. The store got updated signage, but did so right before Kroger changed their logo. That was strange. Also, the Albertsons/Kroger gas station was torn down just a few months ago. This led to Kroger putting up a sign on the store itself reminding people that the store is still in business. I don't think there was much doubt about that as the store was busy on my last visit last week.

    One question I have is about the flooring of the place which you can see in Pseudo3D's post. It still has aisles which looks like roads and some which have toy blocks on them. I can't remember, was that an Albertsons thing or a Kroger thing?

    One odd thing at this intersection is that a few months ago, the Walgreens closed and then relocated across the intersection to a former Eckerd. Well, kind of. It was being built by Eckerd when the Eckerds around here were sold to CVS. Since there was a CVS nearby, it never actually opened. It was a gym for a while, but that closed too. Anyway, Walgreens only took about a 1/3rd of the Eckerd that was never an Eckerd and the rest of the space is available as a shopping center. The Walgreens just has a pharmacy and some over the counter meds. It has a drive-thru, but the decor of the place is as basic as it gets. Just plain white walls inside, that's it. Given the traffic at this intersection, it's a mystery why Walgreens would have downsized the way they did!

    Anyway, it's sad that Publix had to tear down this store. Shame on Publix, but at least Kroger is keeping the design alive here in Houston so I can easily relive memories of the Grocery Palace!

    Also, I sent you a photo of the Computer City disks as per our discussion on MFR. If you didn't get it, let me know and I'll try resending it.

    1. I feel the same about my local Publix stores like you do your local Krogers – there’s so many around, it’s hard to pick one as “my” Publix! Anyway, that’s neat one of the Krogers near you is a former Grocery Palace Albertsons, and one that still has some obvious Albertsons remnants inside too. The Albertsons I lived near for many years was a Grocery Palace store (which is why I find this design the most interesting), and it was a spectacle. Unlike your local Grocery Palace Albertsons, mine was butchered into a Walmart Neighborhood Market a few years ago though ☹.

      Grocery Palace was over the top, but that’s what made it so unique. I feel that décor package is what really drew me to Albertsons, as there was absolutely nothing that decor compared to here in Florida (then and even now). It was different, and I’ve always liked stores that tried to be different. Who else would have thought to hang a giant bowl of party mix over the snack aisles?!

      I’m surprised Albertsons never tried experimenting with Garden Centers in Florida. Like Houston, the climate is mild here, so it could have worked (in theory, at least, as the concept ended as a flop). The toy blocks and road tiles are a Grocery Palace thing, 100%. In this post you can see the toy blocks if you scroll toward the bottom (although this store appears to lack the road tiles, although I have seen the road tile pattern before elsewhere):

      That’s strange Kroger tore down the Albertsons gas station. Was it to build a new, modern Kroger gas station, or to get rid of that completely? I thought Kroger was pretty big on operating gas stations with their stores, as Kroger has a very popular fuel rewards program. And I remember you mentioning that situation about the Walgreens relocating and shrinking in the process, which is weird, and something I’ve never heard of happening elsewhere.

      And yes, I got your email with the photo of the Computer City disks!

  4. I can see why the Grocery Palace was something which really drew you to Albertsons compared to the other competition in Florida and elsewhere. It's pretty rare that a new grocery store/remodel left as much of an impression on me as the Grocery Palace did when my local store opened in ~2001. The reaction to seeing that store was a bit like seeing Incredible Universe or something like that for the first time! It was especially a surprise given the somewhat boring Albertsons we were used to here in Houston with mostly the Blue & Gray market decor. I would say that Auchan the Willowchase Fiesta, which both opened around 1988, left a bit of a stronger sense of 'wow!" than the Grocery Palace, but otherwise the Grocery Palace beats just about everything else in the wow factor. I do remember thinking that some touches of the store, like the very nice and classy floor in the bakery, conflicted a bit with the somewhat Disney-like department signs and such.

    After seeing those Sedano's photos, I'm surprised that I forgot that the blocks and road flooring design were from Albertsons because the North Beltway 8 Food Town in Houston, which looks a lot like that Sedano's, also has the road at the very least. You've seen that Food Town before, it's the one which still has the Meal Center chef, the Beverage Blvd. signs, the barn, and so many other aspects of the Grocery Palace:

    You're right, I'm not sure why Albertsons did not try the Garden Centers in Florida. If anything, the winters are more mild in Central Florida than they are here in Houston so Florida would have been a great place for the Garden Center concept. The funny thing is that the local Krogbertsons with the Garden Center isn't even a freestanding location where you'd think it would be easier to have a Garden Center.

    Someone in the Sedano's post made a comment about the Grocery Palace stores being rather dark inside. When the Grocery Palace was new here, I did feel that the store was surprisingly dark. I'm not sure if Kroger has added lights to the place, but I don't feel the Kroger is too dark. I think what might be the case is that I've gotten used to modern supermarkets having darker lighting than they did in the 1980s and 1990s in most cases.

    One odd thing about the local Krogbertsons Grocery Palace is that they have a somewhat limited frozen food department compared to other Kroger stores in the area. Their frozen food selection is rather similar to what's at older, smaller Greenhouse locations. For example, if you want Red Baron pizza from that Kroger, you better like the classic crust because that's all they sell. It's an odd issue because the store itself is not small. In fact, one of the Krogers I shop at regularly which is in an older Blue & Gray Market Albertsons has a normal sized frozen food department. Perhaps the number of freezers Albertsons allotted in the Grocery Palace design was a bit lacking, but I don't know.

    Since the Kroger gas station and the original Walgreens, which were across the street from one another, closed at around the same time, my initial guess was that they closed due to some nearby road construction and the possible need for the county to need that land for the road construction. However, since then, the Walgreens building has been listed for sale so now I'm thinking that at least the Walgreens didn't close due to it potentially losing part of the store.

    Kroger does take their gas stations seriously and I'm not aware of any others which have closed including others in old Albertsons gas station locations. The Kroger gas station which closed seemed to do good business and is at a very busy intersection so I'm not really sure what the story is, but I'm not aware of any plans for Kroger to build a new station.

    There's no need to rush the Computer City post, but I am looking forward to seeing it! That should be neat.

  5. Was there any Albertsons Sav-on stores in the Florida division? I don't think there were.

    1. A few Florida stores got the Savon Pharmacy. I know my old Panama City Albertsons had the Savon signage when it closed in 2006:

  6. This is not the best video in the world, but you at least get a few glimpses of Albertsons' Grocery Palace decor in here. These appeared to be students from UWF at Albertsons #4475 at University and Nine Mile in Pensacola. Man, do I miss Albertsons Florida!