5566 Fort Caroline Road, Jacksonville, FL - The Gazebo Shopping Center
While not always the case, many of the Publixsons stores scattered around Florida served as a replacement for a much older Publix nearby. Whether it was because of a better location, a larger building, or to offer a more modern shopping experience, Albertsons' Floridian decline has given Publix plenty of opportunity. The former Albertsons store we toured in my previous post replaced the much older Publix we'll be taking a look at today, this post completing the story of Publix's time in this corner of Jacksonville's Arlington neighborhood. In most cases, the original Publix stores replaced by the nearby Publixsons aren't anything super exciting anymore (since many of these relocations happened over a decade ago - plenty of time for major remodeling to happen), but as you can see by my introductory photo, we have something quite interesting to explore here in Arlington, hence why the original Publix store managed to get its own post!
For reference, here's a map showing the location of Publix's original store (top left of the map) to its new home in the nearby Albertsons building (bottom right). The relocation took Publix 2.5 miles away from its original home, which is a rather large distance when it comes to Publix relocations (as Publix typically prefers to put replacement stores really close to the originals, although situations like this do happen from time to time).
Publix opened this store, the company's first within the Arlington neighborhood, in 1975 in a quiet little corner of Arlington at the intersection of University Boulevard and Fort Caroline Road. While this part of town isn't the busiest area, this site would have been attractive to Publix as it was located across the street from Jacksonville University, a small but busy private college situated on the banks of the St. Johns River. Publix's location was convenient for students living on campus and for residents of the surrounding subdivisions, this store serving as a perfect example of a neighborhood grocer. The name of the shopping center - The Gazebo - even seems to be a nod to the quiet nature of the area, being named after a shelter where people go to relax in tranquility.
During Publix's 32 years in this location, very little was done to the exterior of this store. Besides the enclosure of the vestibule during an early-mid 1990's remodel, this is a very well preserved late 1970's/early 1980's Publix building, a building that was never expanded outside of its original footprint either. The store we'll be looking at today would have been a near clone to the former Lake Placid Publix we toured a few years ago, however, this Publix appears to have updated its exterior signage in its later years (unlike Lake Placid).
While Publix was probably doing well at this location, the building had become quite small and outdated as the 2000's came around. At just under 35,000 square feet and having seen very few modifications through the years, Publix didn't waste any time jumping on the purchase of the nearby Albertsons building when Rob Rowe chose to sell it off. Even though the Albertsons building was built the same year as this Publix (1975), the Albertsons building was 20,000 square feet larger, located in a busier area on a major east-west road through Arlington, and had been extensively remodeled by Albertsons only a few years prior - three big wins for Publix compared to this old store. In 2007 Publix packed their bags to move on to bigger and better things on Merrill Road, leaving this building to sit abandoned ever since.
As I was researching the old Albertsons nearby, I knew the Publix had moved from somewhere else, but I never thought much about Publix's original home until I had begun planning my trip to the area. I decided to trace the address of the original store on a whim to see what was in the building today, and I was certainly surprised to see it had been sitting empty for years. A Publix sitting abandoned for so long would certainly catch my interest, so I had to swing by for some pictures of the place!
The quiet, off-the-beaten-path placement of The Gazebo Shopping Center has certainly not helped its re-tenanting prospects. Even the strip of small stores to the side of the old Publix is looking a bit empty, so finding anything to take 35,000 square feet of space here has been a challenge. Interestingly, even though we're nowhere near most of Arlington's other retail, 5 years after this Publix opened, a Kmart popped up immediately behind this shopping center (presumably sold on the location due to the university across the street as well, and possibly the traffic driven to the area from the next-door Publix). While a tiny old Publix could sustain itself in an area like this (as neighborhood stores are, and have always been, a specialty of Publix), the Kmart was a bit of a bust, closing by 1992 (long before Kmart began closing stores in waves). While the Publix continues to sit empty all these years later, the Kmart building got lucky and found itself a new tenant in 2004 (after many years of abandonment though), getting transformed into a really big library.
For whatever reason, I feel there's a quaintness to these small 1970's/early 1980's Publix stores. These stores opened when Publix was a much smaller, much less foreboding competitor, and I've always liked the charm of stores from this era. There are still a handful of Publix stores dating back to this era still in operation, although many of the remaining stores have been remodeled away from the nearly-original look we see here.
From what I can tell, this store received a remodel in the early/mid-1990's. That remodel would have brought about the addition of the glass vestibule we see here - the original entryway being a concave, front facing one looking like this. The store would have received the 1990's Wavy Pastel decor as part of that remodel as well, which is the decor package this store most likely closed with.
There's just something very 1970's about the brown wall tiles and arched design of the building's exterior. Those brown tiles are most likely original to the store's 1975 construction, adding to the quaint, classic feel of this entire building.
Turning our attention to the interior (the fun part), here's a look across the vestibule from the left side door. There's a little bit of roof damage visible here, where some leaks have penetrated through the ceiling tiles in these years of abandonment. Besides that small roof issue in the vestibule, the rest of the building looked really good (and really clean) for being empty the last 13 years.
While the building looked really good, it appeared someone did try breaking their way in at one time. One of the doors on this side of the vestibule had a board over it, covering a glass panel that was smashed out. That must have been a rare one-off incident, as the building certainly isn't trashed like many buildings that have been left to decay without care.
Stepping onto the front walkway, here's a look across the vestibule. It's a big wall of uncovered (and surprisingly clean) windows here, so let's have ourselves a peek through those windows for whatever pieces of Publix past may still be hiding inside...
Not only did I want to visit this store because it was a well preserved classic Publix, but also because if there was any chance of finding Wavy Pastel remnants out there, it probably would have been in here. Good news, we have a great look inside the old salesfloor. The bad news, however, is Publix knows how to thoroughly clean a place out when they move, so no Wavy Pastel to be seen in here today 🙁.
The closest thing to a Wavy Pastel remnant I see are those blue awnings on the back wall, as that blue color was typical for Wavy Pastel-era decorations. This photo looks toward the left side of the building, the left wall being home to frozen foods, with produce located in the back left corner beyond that. The bakery was located in an alcove in the front left corner, not visible due to its placement.
Those light bars we see in the foreground hung over the front registers, a common addition in stores remodeled in the 1990's. These light bars were a substitute for the giant recessed lights used over the front ends of Publix stores built in the late 1980's and early 1990's, to give the front end of these older stores a similar bright effect.
Although the light bars obstruct it, you can see where the ceiling raises higher in the center store over the former grocery aisles.
The meat and seafood counter would have been located along the back wall, under the left awning, with the deli counter in the back right corner by the second awning.
Dairy coolers would have lined the right side wall.
Doing a rough count of the scars on the floor, it appears this store had 11 aisles when it was open, which sounds about right for a Publix from this era that was never expanded.
Here's one last photo of the interior as we make our way to the end of the window wall. Even if there wasn't any Wavy Pastel to be had in here, a good abandoned supermarket is a worthwhile trip in my book.
At the other side of the vestibule, here's a look across it one last time, this time looking toward the left set of doors. Those windows on the inner wall are a remnant from when that was the exterior wall, the original entry doors located in the gap between the windows.
The big blank white spot on the wall looks like it should have been home to a tile mural at one time, however, I don't think this store ever had a tile mural. The grainy 2007 Google Streetview of this store appears to show this as a blank white spot when Publix was open, which makes me think that's the case. I've never heard of Publix ripping out a mural from one of their stores on their own before (except in the instances of tear down and rebuilds), so I wonder if a mural was supposed to be installed here upon the store's opening, but it never got one, leaving this odd blank void.
While the presence of a tile mural will remain a mystery here, we do get to see more brown wall tiles and arches on this side of the building, looking out toward the rest of The Gazebo Shopping Center.
While I didn't do a thorough count, the remainder of the shopping center appeared to have less than 50% occupancy. I know the beauty shop with the neon sign in the window was open when I was here, although there also appeared to be a nail salon, Chinese take-out place, and a check cashing store that had yet to open for the day, and possibly another small store or two around the corner facing University Boulevard (which I didn't take a close look at, although Google says there's a chicken wing place and tobacco store over at that end). A liquor store tried to take over some empty space in the plaza back in 2018, however the city shot down that idea.
The Publix building is set a little lower than the rest of the plaza, with the parking lot sloping upward to match the elevation of the rest of the plaza further down. To access the plaza from the side of the Publix building, those few steps take you to the storefronts.
Definitely an old-school shopping center vibe here, and very minimal updating through the years.
Stepping back toward Publix, here's a look toward the rest of the plaza. It's certainly an interesting little throwback of a shopping center hidden amongst the trees of this quiet little section of Arlington.
As we finish our tour of this former Publix store, here's a few final photos of the exterior, as this place lays in waiting for a new life.
The off-the-beaten-path nature of this shopping center doesn't make finding a new tenant for this former Publix any better, and is a reason why this place has sat empty for so long already. Winn-Dixie and Save-A-Lot already have stores nearby, and this place seems way to quiet for Aldi's liking, so I don't know about a new grocer finding their way here. I think this area may even be a bit sleepy for Rowe's IGA Markets, although Rob Rowe is a man who's been willing to take chances in the past, although that option seems unlikely too. The most likely scenario I could see happening here is Jacksonville University buying this property for a use of their own (offices, classrooms, etc.), as I've seen a few examples in the past of colleges buying old shopping centers near the main campus to convert into their own use. Anyway, I can sit here all day and speculate reuses for this old Publix. Maybe something will happen here eventually, but for now its sits, a reminder of a simpler time in Publix's history tucked away in a small corner of Jacksonville.
So that's all I have for now. Until the next post,
The Albertsons Florida Blogger