|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...
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