Sunday, February 21, 2021

Where Shopping Was a Pleasure - Arlington's Original Publix

Publix #187
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


  1. I agree with you. These old 70's Publixes have a very comforting and quaint atmosphere. Gee, I must have driven right past this place and didn't realize it- although I'm surprised it has remained untenanted for 14 years! UF Health has so much money that they've bought half of abandoned retail in Gainesville, that I'm surprised that they couldn't use this property as a satellite office more medical care, like the Oaks Mall Sears.

    That Kmart-turned-library must be pretty awesome! I actually enjoy going to libraries sometimes. That would be a nice one to check out.

    And too bad on that Wavy Pastel being ripped out- bummer!

    1. These older stores have a quaintness to them that modern stores seem to lack, a “homier” feel I suppose. The location of this store is a tough sell for most new tenants due to its location, unless the landlord is trying to hold out on finding a tenant not related to the university. This plaza would be good expansion space for the college, and probably one of the best retenanting options out there right now. The Kmart building was remodeled beyond recognition when the library moved in, but the building made for a really big library though!

  2. It's kind of funny that you posted this because I was looking at the area around the Jacksonville Publixsons that you posted previously and I came across what looked like an abandoned supermarket in the Gazebo Shopping Center. I was really scratching my head as to why there was a supermarket in such a quiet area of town. There wasn't even any fast food in the area until you get to where the Winn-Dixie is. Anyway, I didn't realize the library was a Kmart so I guess there was a lot of retail in the area at one time. I did think that maybe the abandoned supermarket was a Publix, but I'm not from Florida so I'm not familiar with Publix's old designs as you guys are. I knew you were going to make a post about where the Publixsons moved from and I was somewhat expecting to see the Gazebo Shopping Center! Well, here it is!

    Speaking of Florida public libraries which are in old retail buildings, and also speaking of poking around Florida maps, several months ago I came across a couple of what looked like old retail anchors in Ocala, FL that are across the street from one another. One of the buildings is now a public library and also an operations building for the library. I can't say for sure that it is an old retail building, but it really does look like a retail building. I can't say what it might have been:

    Across E. Silver Springs Blvd. from the library is what appears to be an abandoned supermarket. I suppose it could be a discount store as well, I don't know. There is a Big Lots in that shopping center, but it's one of the Big Lots where the furniture store is separate from the store itself. That's kind of neat. Anyway, I remember wondering months ago what retailers might have been in those two shopping centers. I suppose this is as good of an opportunity as any to ask the Florida retail experts what the deal is in Ocala!

    There is some other interesting zombie retail not far from there in Ocala. Across from a zombie Kmart is this church that kind of looks like an old Wal-Mart, but it looks to be too small to be a Wal-Mart:

    Just west of the library/Big Lots shopping centers, there are a couple of shopping centers anchored by an Earth Origins supermarket and by Ace Hardware/Ocala Centre 6 theaters respectively. I suspect those centers were anchored by other retailers, but I'm not sure what they might have been. The Earth Origins store is kind of neat though!

    Ok, enough rambling about Ocala retail, lol, but I suppose it's kind of interesting to someone from Houston who is not too familiar with Florida retail.

    1. Good job with the prediction! Besides the Kmart and Publix, there wasn’t much other retail out here, and isn’t any more unless you head further east toward the Winn-Dixie, or south where you’ll find a Save-A-Lot. I’m pretty certain Publix and Kmart were hoping on getting strong, steady waves of shoppers from the college students across the street, hence the location, but I guess sales weren’t too strong in the end.

      Interesting you mention those stores in Ocala – I’ve actually looked into some of those before. The library operations building was a former retail building, originally home to a Pantry Pride supermarket, with a J.M. Fields discount store next to it:

      Across the street from there, that abandoned supermarket you mention is actually the former Ocala Albertsons! The Ocala Albertsons was built on top of the city’s original Sears store (before Sears moved to the mall), as that plaza was originally called Searstown Plaza. The Albertsons closed in 2009 and sat empty until 2-3 years ago, when medical offices took over the building. The Big Lots at the other end of the strip was the original supermarket anchor to Searstown Plaza (which closed by the late 1980’s, although I don’t remember what supermarket that was before Big Lots). I’ll have some photos of both the old Albertsons, the Big Lots, and its detached furniture store to post on the blog eventually, but I don’t know when.

      The building now occupied by a church across from the old Ocala Kmart was originally an A&P Family Mart store, later a short-lived Florida Choice and then Kash n’ Karry. The building still retains its original design from Family Mart, and uses a similar design to a mid-1980’s Albertsons store. The Staples store in the plaza anchored by Earth Origins was formerly a Wing Store Publix, but that’s the only former tenant I know off the top of my head from that strip of stores. Hopefully this information has bolstered your knowledge of Ocala retail!

    2. Wow, I thought there were some interesting retail stories on that little strip of Ocala. It seems that there are even more than I was expecting! An Albertsons built on top of an old Sears site, that's really something! I'm looking forward to reading your post about this Albertsons and Big Lots when it gets posted. Aside from the interesting detached furniture store, the main Big Lots itself is quite interesting because it has an orange stripe painted across the top of the store kind of like an old 1970s-1980s Kmart.

      The Paddock Mall ex-Sears in Ocala looks like a near clone of the Mall of the Mainland ex-Sears in Texas City. That is the infamous mall with the painted up faux storefronts, lol. The similarities between the stores makes sense given that both opened in 1991.

      Anyway, thanks for the good info on the Ocala retail scene. There's some really interesting history over there!

    3. Anonymous, you might check out the old Polk City Directories for Ocala for info on old stores. I'm trying to find old Polk City Directories for Winter Haven...I'm trying to find out what is in the Southgate Plaza, where a Wing Publix was located...

    4. Interesting, I didn't even know about Polk City Directories. Thanks for letting me know about them. I wonder if public libraries have access to this stuff or is there another way of accessing it free?

  3. Nice post, (I think I already posted this) but I can't believe this store was vacant for that long. A Former Publix in Statesboro was vacant for a long time too. Back to the topic of this store, I think the layout for Gazebo would have looked like 225 seen here, actually if you ever do Village Square Publixsons (Possibly someday), then this would be a good resource.
    Tip: Try doing pictometry on property appraisers for somewhat good views, some are old. 2nd tip: Here's a good resource for Publix stores that have tons of old stores and opening dates, its a court case but still:

    1. By the way it stinks big time that there are no remains of Wavy Pastel.

    2. Last tip, good lord I'm just spamming, I apologize, If you ever need old store pictures, see here: (not all stores are on there) Whew, now I can clam it. That's all the advice I have.

    3. Glad you liked the post! This store has been abandoned for 14 years now, and Statesboro, GA will be going on 22 years of abandonment this year (this store and Statesboro being the two Publix stores abandoned the longest, that I’m aware of anyway). This store, 225, and 219 in Lake Placid (which I linked a few photos to throughout this post) were all very similar to each other in design.

      I went to the COJ Property Appraiser, and they didn’t have any old photos of the plaza. However, that court document with the store opening dates was a really good find! That’s some really good information in there! The flickr photostream was a good find too!