Sunday, January 24, 2021

My Fare Winn-Dixie

Earth Fare #557 / Winn-Dixie #2556
11700 San Jose Boulevard, Jacksonville, FL - Mandarin South Shopping Center

     Previously on AFB we toured one of the former Lucky's stores that Winn-Dixie now calls home. Today we'll be seeing another new Winn-Dixie, however, today's store has taken up shop in a former Earth Fare building. While there isn't much of a difference between the two stores (besides slightly different layouts due to the two building's different predecessors), today's store has (in my opinion) the second most interesting backstory of the recent Winn-Dixie conversions (the most interesting coming from the West Melbourne store we toured last time - that being the case of Winn-Dixie wanting their old building back). Today's backstory has a similar 'retail coming full-circle' theme tied to it, but in a much different way than we saw in West Melbourne. Let me explain:

     While Earth Fare opened at this location in 2017, the building we'll see today was originally constructed in 1982 for Winn-Dixie. From 1982 until 1995, Winn-Dixie served as the grocery anchor to the Mandarin South Shopping Center, having a healthy run in this space until it came time to modernize. Instead of remodeling the existing store, Winn-Dixie opted to relocate to a new Marketplace store across the street from here, which opened on November 9, 1995. With Winn-Dixie settling into their new home across the street, the old store would be subdivided for a few smaller tenants, which seemed to come and go over the years. Come 2017, the owners of the Mandarin South Shopping Center decided to embark on a major overhaul of the aging center, which included securing two new tenants for the mostly empty former Winn-Dixie space: PetSmart and Earth Fare, which would join an existing Auto Zone to completely fill the building. The new Mandarin Earth Fare opened on August 23, 2017, the second and last Earth Fare store to open in the Jacksonville area before the chain's implosion in early 2020. After closing for good on February 25, 2020 following Earth Fare's bankruptcy, Winn-Dixie made the interesting decision to place a bid on this former Earth Fare space - a bid that was later accepted. Winn-Dixie purchased this store with the intent to relocate from across the street, ironically returning to the building they had left 25 years prior. The Winn-Dixie across the street closed on November 1, 2020, ten days prior to the opening of the replacement store in the former Earth Fare on November 11, 2020. Half the size of the store it replaced, the new Mandarin Winn-Dixie is a huge change from what shoppers in the area had come to know. However, as one of the highest-income neighborhoods in Jacksonville, it was probably time for the Mandarin Winn-Dixie to step up its game before slipping too far. You might recall about a year ago we toured the now-closed Winn-Dixie that was across the street from here, as it had an unusual quirk to it. However, we'll talk more about the old store (and its quirk) later in this post, as for now, I want to keep us on track with the new store:

     For reasons I can't explain, Floridian supermarkets seem to enjoy going full circle. However, here in Mandarin, I think Winn-Dixie's original spot was the better spot. The new store is easily accessible from the southbound lanes of San Jose Boulevard, a busy road for commuters heading home from work in Jacksonville into the neighborhoods of Mandarin, Julington Creek, and St. Johns. Being on this side of the road makes it easier for people to pit-stop here for groceries on the way home from work. While that sounds like a minor advantage, that is something major chains (especially grocery and convenience stores) consider when selecting a site - if the site is on the side of the road most popular with people coming home from work. In some cases it may not be the major decision-making point, but it's an important one that can sway a decision. While moving back across the street provided an opportunity for Winn-Dixie to test out a new concept store in their hometown, I also wonder if this was a move of necessity too. The Winn-Dixie across the road closed nearly 25 years to the day it opened, almost as if it was leaving due to the lease expiring. I wonder if the landlord across the road was trying to raise Winn-Dixie's rent at the expiration of the lease, prompting Winn-Dixie to make the decision to move. While we may never know the answer to that theory, the move did bring Winn-Dixie a new opportunity.

     Besides a signage swap, Winn-Dixie did practically nothing to the exterior. Everything you see here is original to Earth Fare's design (even the paint scheme), and I think the Earth Fare design works well for Winn-Dixie.

     Well, hello Mandarin! The local flare at this store begins as soon as you step onto the front walkway, with this big sign facing the parking lot (which the West Melbourne store lacks, although the West Melbourne store has more windows along the front and less blank wall space for a sign like this). Underneath the greeting is a little description that incorporates the new "It's a Winn Win" tagline into the theme of the store, a common occurrence throughout the new decor.

     Stepping into the vestibule, get your carts ready, as it's time to shop 'n' roll! One of the best local flare pieces of this entire new decor are the graphics in the vestibule, something we didn't see last time in West Melbourne, as that store lacks a vestibule and indoor cart storage area. Really, the entire theme of the new decor is summarized on this wall - Winn-Dixie is giving us a fun, community focused approach to grocery shopping. For a better overview of the graphics (than my oddly angled one), the Jacksonville Business Journal captured a much nicer overview of the scene before us at that link. I had to take my photo quick to not block traffic coming into the store, and nothing makes shoppers grouchier than some nut taking photos of the wall as they have to wait for a cart!

     Stepping inside, here's a look toward the main entrance. A small floral selection surrounds the doors, with produce located in the building's front right corner.

     To the left of the main entrance are the check lanes and the service desk, which we'll see more of later in this post. For now, let's spin around and begin our tour in the produce department:

     Like the Lucky's conversion we saw last time, Winn-Dixie made very little modification to Earth Fare's floorplan. The new Winn-Dixie has all the fresh departments arranged the same way Earth Fare did, which looked like this (that's a different Earth Fare store at the link, but all of Earth Fare's stores looked basically the same).

     I like how the produce department in these new prototype stores has its own feel to it, with the green walls and picture graphics to add a little variety to the decor.

     Lots of tomatoes for sale on the farmer's cart, these fancy new displays adding to the produce department's distinct vibe.

     Like I mentioned last time, Winn-Dixie was experimenting with new produce offerings in these prototype stores. One of the produce categories Winn-Dixie branched into were tropical fruits, a popular item in Florida due to our climate and influence from many people who moved here from the Caribbean.

     And like I photographed in West Melbourne, here's this store's selection of produce from around the world.

     From produce, here's a look across the width of the store. While Lucky's and Earth Fare's stores were of comparable size to each other, Lucky's stores tended to run just a bit bigger than Earth Fare's. For that reason, this store isn't very wide, although it does go back a decent length.

     As we finish our look at the produce department, we'll end with this nice overview of it, as seen from the end of one of the grocery aisles. Speaking of the grocery aisles, that's where we'll be heading next:

     Since I picked up one here as well, here's the grand opening aisle directory for reference.

     Jumping into aisle 1, we find ourselves in the World Flavors department. Unlike the West Melbourne store, where the World Flavors department took up half an aisle with a variety of world flavors, we find a completely different experience here in Mandarin. World Flavors takes up an entire aisle here, with over half of those World Flavors dedicated to Kosher foods. The old store across the street had a very large Kosher department as well due to the area's demographic, and that selection was replicated in the new store too. Also for the first time, Winn-Dixie held a Hanukkah celebration at this store in December 2020, another nice nod to the area.

     While Kosher products occupy the first half of the aisle, the remaining World Flavors can be found near the end of aisle 1.

     While I've talked about what's in aisle 1, we can't forget about what's on the walls above it! The wall above aisle 1 is home to the local flare, which as usual, features the "Made in Florida" icon - the inspiration for my working name of this new decor package.

     Looking back at the aisle, we see the "Hello Mandarin" greeting looking out over the store. Since Jacksonville is a really big city (both in population and physical size), Winn-Dixie opted to use the name of the neighborhood throughout the store rather than the name of the city. For the community-focused approach, I think that was the best move, as each neighborhood in Jacksonville (like many big cities) has its own distinct vibe to it.

     The back right corner is home to the seafood counter, which Winn-Dixie polished off quite nicely in their remodel.

     The two photos I took of the seafood counter were captured a few minutes apart, as you can see two little stands have been placed in front of the counter in the above photo that weren't visible in the previous one. Those stands are used to display some of the fresh whole fish, which Cape Kennedy Retail captured at the grand opening of the West Melbourne store. However, at the West Melbourne store, the fresh fish displayed out in the open like that only lasted for the store's first two days, and has disappeared since. On the West Melbourne store's second day, a bunch of (polite, cleverly worded) "do not touch" signs appeared on those fresh fish displays, and on the third day, the displays were gone. I have a feeling the West Melbourne store pulled those displays since too many people were touching and handling the fresh fish with their bare hands, which is a bit of a problem, especially now. I'm actually surprised Winn-Dixie had that much trust to put unwrapped fresh fish out in the open like that at all, but I guess the people of Mandarin were less inclined to touch the fish than the people of West Melbourne were!

     Spinning around from seafood, here's a look across the back of the store. Meats take up the majority of the back wall, followed by dairy in the back left corner.

     What this store lacks in width, it makes up for in length. The grocery aisles here are quite long, and Winn-Dixie was able to pack quite a bit into these aisles. While this store is half the size of the one it replaced, the product selection is still quite complete with all the basics.

     Emerging from the grocery aisle, we find ourselves back at the produce department for another look across the front of the store.

     Here's one last look at the edge of the produce department before we jump back into the grocery aisles:

     Another difference between this store and the West Melbourne store you may have noticed is the flooring. While Winn-Dixie opted to install brand new faux wood floors in West Melbourne over Lucky's concrete floor, Winn-Dixie decided to keep Earth Fare's concrete floor in-tact here. At least the concrete inside the old Earth Fare looks nice and scar-free, since it was most likely installed new during the 2017 renovation.

     Another neat touch at the Mandarin store is that the local flare is incorporated throughout the building, rather than kept exclusively on the "Hello" wall. In addition to the "Made in Florida" logo, a special "JAX" stamp appears throughout the store too, a tribute to the city of Jacksonville (which is commonly abbreviated by locals as Jax). Jacksonville is also Winn-Dixie's hometown, so they probably wanted to give this store more of a hometown nod than the rest.

     About halfway down the back of the store, the meat coolers transition into refrigerators for lunch meats and dairy. The coffin coolers to my left contain overflow from the meat coolers, as well as additional frozen food items.

     Frozen foods is located in the middle of the store, in the same spot where Earth Fare would have had this aisle. Frozen Foods only occupies this single aisle - aisle 6 - but the aisle is decently long enough to provide this store with a good selection.

     After frozen foods, the last three aisles before the fresh departments are home to non-food products. Aisle 7 and 8 contain cleaning products, garbage bags, baby items, paper, pet food, etc., with aisle 9 home to the health and beauty products.

     Aisle 8 can be seen here with baby items and - gasp - toilet paper!

     Further down aisle 8 were pet supplies. I took this photo to serve as an example of some of the new whimsical graphics Winn-Dixie uses in these prototype stores, which I quite like.

     Before we turn the corner into the fresh departments, here's one last look across the back of the store, this time as seen from the back left corner.

     To make use of space, loaves of white bread were placed on a shelf in the middle of the back aisle. Beyond that is the store's cheese selection, which occupies some coolers in the back left corner.

     The dairy items that didn't fit in the cooler space along the back wall were pushed into these coolers in aisle 10. Opposite these coolers, we find the store's fresh departments:

     All of the store's fresh departments line the left side wall. The bakery is the furthest department back, with the deli in the middle and prepared foods at the very front. For reference, here's what this part of the store would have looked like when Earth Fare was here - basically the same scene, just with new decor.

     In this photo we get a better view of the bakery. While the fresh departments at this store aren't too different in size from the ones we saw in the converted Lucky's last time, Earth Fare's fresh departments always felt more cramped than Lucky's. That probably has to do with the fact that Earth Fare shoved all the fresh departments into a narrow aisle, whereas Lucky's had a more spacious fresh department floor plan.

     The bakery counter is visible here, with the wall graphics (although partially cut-off) appearing as well. I like the setup of these new Winn-Dixie bakeries, as they have a really classy feel to them.

     After the bakery is the deli counter, although tables of baked goods spill over into the deli department. When you have a small space, sometimes you have to get creative with the product placement.

     Just like we saw last time, the new Mandarin Winn-Dixie also features an expanded prepared foods department. The same offerings can be found here that could be found in West Melbourne, comfort foods like macaroni and cheese, potato wedges, and carved meats, in addition to a sub counter and a chicken wing bar.

     Winn-Dixie has a nice little prepared foods setup here. It's nothing over the top, but offers shoppers some simple fixings for a lunch or dinner in a hurry. A few people were grabbing lunch from the Winn-Dixie kitchen while I was here, and at the West Melbourne store, the kitchen continues to be a popular offering.

     To the left of the kitchen is the wine and beer department, which Winn-Dixie placed in Earth Fare's old dining area. Earth Fare stores used to have a large indoor dining area, but with space at a premium, Winn-Dixie got rid of the dining area in favor of more merchandise. Earth Fare used to keep wine and beer toward the back of the store, and for an organic store, Earth Fare's wine and beer selection was rather small in comparison to the competitors.

     Sadly, this store did not receive a WD's Taproom like we saw last time in West Melbourne. None of the former Earth Fare stores Winn-Dixie converted so far got a taproom, as the Earth Fare buildings were too small to squeeze one in (whereas the Lucky's stores were just a bit larger, and gave Winn-Dixie more room to play with). Considering how upscale the Mandarin neighborhood is, a taproom would have done really well here, so it's unfortunate that feature couldn't be included at this store.

     Now that we've seen the wine and beer corner, here's another look across the store's front end, looking back toward produce.

     Given how narrow these Earth Fare stores were, views looking across the building make the place feel rather small. The square shape of Lucky's old stores seemed to neutralize the crunched down feel, as when it comes to grocery stores, to me, a wide building seems to give off the impression of a larger store more so than one that's really deep - as least from the visual perspective.

     Four regular check lanes make up the front end, in addition to four self-checkout lanes next to those.

     Unlike Lucky's, Earth Fare had a separate service desk placed in front of the registers. Winn-Dixie repurposed Earth Fare's service desk nook for their own, visible in the background of the photo above.

     Here's a much clearer picture of the store's service desk, as well as the graphics surrounding it. The text blurb on the wall in front of me is identical to the one we saw on the "Hello Mandarin!" sign outside, explaining how Winn-Dixie is "here to help you Winn". As cheesy as the corporate text sounds, I like how Winn-Dixie is incorporating the new "It's a Winn Win" slogan into the store's vibe and branding, turning the slogan from a phrase into an actual business practice (like Publix does with "Where Shopping is a Pleasure").

     Before we leave, here's one last look at the front end. There was a nice little crowd while I was here, as it looks like I captured this picture during a little burst at the front lanes. Usually most of my Winn-Dixie visits lack crowds, and even though that makes for easier photo taking, at least is good to see these new stores catching on.

     This photo looking toward the exit will be my last from inside this store. While we've seen (in much detail) what Winn-Dixie has been up to over the last few months, there's still a few loose ends to tie up in relation with this store in particular. That being said, let's head back outside...

     While smaller, these new Winn-Dixie stores are a much better example of what this company can pull off. Even though Winn-Dixie lost over 20,000 square feet of floor space in the move across the street, this is a store Winn-Dixie can be proud of, and hopefully the locals have adapted to and accepted this new Winn-Dixie as well. It's a big change, but hopefully the store's new features and new atmosphere outweigh the space lost in the move.

     Although it's a few storefronts down from the main store, Winn-Dixie also squeezed in a liquor store as part of the move. The store across the street had a liquor store too, so that's one thing that managed to stay the same in the location shuffle. 

     At the southernmost end of the Mandarin South Shopping Center, we find this building with a very distinctive greenhouse facade. While I haven't discussed this chain much on the blog, this building actually features a very well preserved exterior from Pic n' Save (no relation to the similarly-named closeout chain bought out by Big Lots in the 90's). Pic n' Save was a Jacksonville-based discount store chain that went out of business in 1996, and has a very long history I'll save for a post of its own. Pic n' Save grew to over 40 locations throughout Northern and Central Florida, as well as Southern Georgia, by the 1980's, this particular location featuring Pic n' Save's distinctive late-era design. Opened in 1986, a few years after the rest of the plaza, this Pic n' Save closed with the chain in 1996. Currently, the old Pic n' Save is split between a gym and a dog boarding center, the dog boarding center using the half of the building with the greenhouse windows.

     In addition to the greenhouse above the front entrance, these 1980's/1990's built Pic n' Save stores also had a large solarium along the side of the building. I was never in a Pic n' Save, but just from the look of these buildings, they must have had one fancy entryway if nothing else!

     I can talk a lot more about Pic n' Save, as they were quite the Jacksonville institution, but I have a photoset reserved for a future post where we'll explore all the details on that chain (and its supermarket predecessor Setzer's). But before I go off on any more tangents, let's get back on track with Winn-Dixie! On the left side of the aerial image above, we see the new Winn-Dixie (with the old Pic n' Save being the large building at the bottom of the plaza). Across the street is the old store, which we toured on the blog once already, but let's head back over there for a post-closure follow up:

     Now nothing more than an empty shell, here we see the remains of Winn-Dixie #141. While this store had one of the nicest (and most imposing) facades of any Marketplace store Winn-Dixie ever built, its interior was just like any other Winn-Dixie of the time - until 2015, that is...

     After receiving a refresh to the post-bankruptcy interior in the late 2000's (alongside most other Winn-Dixie stores in the Jacksonville metro area), Winn-Dixie picked this store to receive another remodel in 2015. However, the 2015 remodel was an experiment, as that remodel gave this store the unusual (and rare) White Interior, which appears to have been the first trial version of what would become today's Down Down interior (that decor making its debut a year later in 2016).

     The rare decor this store received in 2015 made this place a must-see for me during my first trip through the area in 2019, and I'm glad I visited when I did, as this store, and The White Interior, are now history. With Winn-Dixie settled in at their new store across the street, the doors here were locked, with signs taped to the glass directing shoppers to head across the street for their groceries.

     Even with Winn-Dixie out, I still wanted to get one last peek at the rare interior decor inside. While it was nothing elaborate, The White Interior was rare, and could have been a modern example of a lost design since it was only used in one store that closed five years after it remodeled.

     Winn-Dixie had only been out of this space for three weeks by the time I took these pictures, so there was still some clean-out to be finished. Some random boxes and signs were piled up here by the front door, with various fixtures still spread out throughout the sales floor.

     As I was taking these pictures, there was a crew inside working on dismantling all the shelves and fixtures Winn-Dixie left behind. If you were to visit this store today, all this stuff will probably be gone. While it's weird looking into a totally empty grocery store space, it's even weirder looking into one still with all the fixtures in place - with all the lights on - but nothing on the shelves and no one in sight.

     While those were all the photos I took looking inside the main store, here's a vantage point we didn't see in my original post - a look into the old liquor store. While the main store received the rare white decor, the liquor store was left completely untouched during the 2015 remodel, retaining the post-bankruptcy decor all the way to the end.

     As far as I'm aware, there aren't any plans for the former Winn-Dixie space just yet. With the other anchor to this plaza being a large medical facility, I can see the old Winn-Dixie getting turned into more medical offices of some kind, but who knows.

     A final photo of the empty Winn-Dixie will finish off this post, and our extended look at Winn-Dixie's new take on life as well. I'll be sure to keep an eye out for any news on what Winn-Dixie is up to as we head deeper into 2021. We have at least one more new Winn-Dixie to open this year, the one in the former Viera Earth Fare, which is on my radar as that store is being expanded outside of Earth Fare's old footprint. It will be interesting to see what comes out of that conversion, and as we go through 2021, we'll definitely see more of Winn-Dixie on the blog - be it new stores, old stores, and whatever I find in between. However, we'll take a break from Winn-Dixie for now, as we tackle another Floridian Albertsons store next time. Come back in two weeks for that!

So until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger