Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Fanciest Winn-Dixie in all the Land


Winn-Dixie #6 (2003-2010) / Winn-Dixie #7 (2016-Present)
10915 Baymeadows Road, Jacksonville, FL - Point Meadows Plaza

     We've talked quite a bit about Winn-Dixie's recent turnaround efforts of late, watching the company go from a scattered patchwork of outdated stores without a clear direction to a company focused on growth, modernization, and expansion. It's been quite impressive to see Winn-Dixie make this huge turn for the better, to the point where supermarket industry analysts actually think Winn-Dixie has a chance of finding their way again. While a lot of Winn-Dixie's recent revitalization efforts have only been visible to the casual observer over the last year or so, all of what we see now has been the product of a 5 year plan put in place by SEG's prior CEO Ian McLeod (with the details of that plan discussed in more detail at the prior link), and carried through by current CEO Anthony Hucker. To kick off the 5-year transformation plan, which was "built on a foundation of financial and cultural fixes", a new Winn-Dixie store was opened in Eastern Jacksonville to show the industry where Winn-Dixie wanted to go, and what the company was capable of doing. Since this store was meant to be a showpiece for the company, Winn-Dixie went all out with this place, giving it every frill the company could at the time. All that, along with a new decor package, set the first pieces of the revival we're witnessing today.

     While this store is Winn-Dixie's pride and joy in the modern day, the building we see here actually began its life with a much humbler beginning. This was one of a handful of Winn-Dixie stores built from scratch in the early 2000's, just before the company's crippling bankruptcy in 2005. At the time, this was nothing more than an average Winn-Dixie, looking identical to this store (interior-wise) upon its original opening on November 5, 2003. While this store was one of Winn-Dixie's most modern in the area, only a few miles from Winn-Dixie's headquarters too, it was sadly chosen for closure during a 2010 closing sweep - September 22, 2010 being the final day of Winn-Dixie's original run here. Even though the store was closed and the building empty, Winn-Dixie chose to hold onto the building's lease following its closure, paying rent for the empty space for the next 5 years. Since this building was fairly new (at least in terms of buildings Winn-Dixie occupies), close to headquarters, and in an area seeing a rekindled amount of growth come the mid-2010's, Winn-Dixie decided in 2015 to bring this store back to life, but in a way that would make a much bolder statement than the store that was here prior. For the new store, the only thing that wasn't ripped apart and rebuilt was the facade, the only clue left to remind us this is actually Winn-Dixie building from the early 2000's.

     While it seems strange for a company to close a store outright just to return a few years later, Winn-Dixie has done just that at least 5 times that I can recall from memory, including the situation here. With Winn-Dixie's recent upswing, I wouldn't be surprised to see something like this happen again either. While it's pretty rare to see any other retailers close a location just to return to it a few years later, Winn-Dixie seems to have found success in this strategy. It's odd, but then again, we're talking about Floridian retail here, which is just as odd overall! Anyway, the Baymeadows Winn-Dixie came back to life on February 4, 2016 to show off its fresh new design, new offerings, new decor package, and new logo. While some things have changed in the 5 years since this store opened, Winn-Dixie still considers this to be their "model" store, and it's still the fanciest Winn-Dixie you'll ever see.

     If this store looks familiar to you, Winn-Dixie tends to use photos of this location in official press releases and advertisements quite often (like the one here), as this is the company's showcase store. The building's distinctive facade makes it quite easy to identify, as there aren't any other Winn-Dixies out there that look like this. Even though the facade is the only original trait from this store's 2003 opening left, it's quite nice, and compliments the upscale feel of the modern store inside. While the exterior is nice, the interior is where this store really ups its game, so let's head inside and see what we have going on in there: 

 Stepping through the front doors, we enter into a sleek glass vestibule where the carts are stored.

     Passing through one more set of doors, we enter the main store:

     While it might not look like much from this angle, scanning across the store's front end from the main entrance, trust me, this place gets much, much better (and fancier). To see what really makes this store stand out, let's begin our interior tour by spinning around and entering the grand aisle:

     Floral is tucked into the front right corner of the store at the beginning of the grand aisle. From there, produce will occupy the center of the aisle, with the fresh departments wrapping around on the side wall.

     Predominantly featured at the front of the grand aisle, in plain sight of the main entrance, is The Kitchen (which in later Down Down stores, would end up being shortened to just "Kitchen" on the signage). Since I'm bringing up decor nuances, I might as well mention this store was the very first location to feature Winn-Dixie's Down Down decor (being this was a revolutionary prototype for the company, it made sense the decor would be all new upon the store's debut). Since this was the first store to debut the decor, the version of Down Down we'll be seeing in here is much more elaborate than what we saw spreading through the chain in later remodels. The decor in here is more textured and 3D than you'd see in the more common version of Down Down used in standard remodels, and there are some other elaborate decor elements we'll see that also got cut from later remodels. After the opening of this store, only one other Winn-Dixie would get the elaborate "Deluxe Down Down" decor treatment - that being the Swann Ave. location in Tampa - before the decor budget was ultimately cut and transformed into the plainer version we know today. For example, the faux brick texturing used for The Kitchen and a few other service departments was dropped from later version of the Down Down decor.

     Over in The Kitchen department, one can find offerings such as a hot bar, sub station, olive bar, carving station, chicken wing bar, and a pizza kitchen. Pictured above is the pizza kitchen portion of the department, which is the rarest prepared foods offering to be found in any Winn-Dixie store. I visited this store around 7:30 in the morning, so none of the pizzas were out at the time of my visit (with the exception of those few take and bake ones in the cooler out front). Later in the day this area would look a little more lively, with the fresh pizzas sitting out behind the glass

     Beyond the kitchen is the taproom, followed by the bakery.

     Since Winn-Dixie only began experimenting with Taprooms in 2019, the space the Taproom now occupies was originally a generic cafe. The old cafe used to sell gelato (according to the signage underneath at that link), but that feature was removed when the alcohol was added. The Taproom still sells other non-alcoholic drinks like coffees, teas, and lemonade, so really the conversion to a Taproom just added a selection of alcohol to the existing drink mix.

     These photos were taken in mid-2020, so at the time the Taproom was still closed due to the pandemic, which is why there's a display of foam coolers blocking the counter. All of Winn-Dixie's Taprooms have since reopened to full capacity, and since the reopenings, Winn-Dixie has been adding more taprooms as well to new and existing stores. In September 2021, Winn-Dixie took these taprooms to a whole new level too, designing an entirely new upscale standalone liquor store concept based around the WDs branding. Like I've said, Winn-Dixie has been up to a lot lately!

     Looking back toward the taproom, the perimeter wall begins to transition into the bakery (which we'll see in more detail momentarily).

     In the center of the grand aisle is the store's large produce department. With the way this store is designed, even though produce gets such prominent placement, it doesn't get an actual sign anywhere in the building. Even though there isn't a department sign, a produce-related banner sign was hung from the support pole in the middle of the department, advertising Winn-Dixie as "The Best Produce Merchant in Florida".

     Spinning around from where I took that previous photo, here's a look at the back half of the grand aisle. Following produce, we find a few promotional displays, a small bulk food aisle, a meat and deli cooler, and some displays of baked goods from the nearby bakery counter.

     While I've seen prepackaged bulk foods at some Winn-Dixie stores before, I've never seen these self-serve fresh peanut butter grinders. These grinders are something I usually associate with natural foods stores, but Winn-Dixie decided to go all out and add a few to this store as well.

     In the back right corner of the grand aisle, we find the bakery department. The design of the bakery with the faux brick pattern looks so much classier than what this would evolve into in later Down Down remodels. Really, most later Down Down remodels look pretty sad when you compare them to this place, and how fancy the decor was intended to be. Still, it's nice to see Winn-Dixie really trying with remodels of late, and the new Winn Win decor does a good job of bringing back some of the 3D effects and texturing that was absent from later Down Down remodels.

     A very sleek and modern bakery here, with a fancy display case of pastries to add to the ambience.

     From the bakery, we turn our attention to the back wall, where we find the meat and seafood counter:

     Moving into the rest of the store, the decor we'll see (with the exception of the deli) looks pretty close to the normal Down Down fare, the main difference being the walls are covered in corrugated metal rather than being painted plain red. The corrugated metal adds a little substance to the decor, rather than the plain and rather blank look the later versions give off.

     Before moving further into the rest of the store, here's one last look at the grand aisle. That cooler you see in front of me was home to lunch meats, with cheeses in the island cooler across from that.

     Following meat and seafood, the next department we find along the back wall is the deli. Unlike most grocery stores, Winn-Dixie decided to separate the main deli counter (with the sliced meats and cheeses) into its own area, away from the prepared foods selection (which most grocery stores consider an extension of the deli). While the grand aisle we just explored was quite nice and rather elaborate, just wait until you see the deli counter. The deli in this store was the showstopper for me, as I've never seen anything like this, and I thought it was one of the most elaborate, unusual, visually stunning, yet classy elements of any supermarket I've ever been in. Sorry Publix, but Winn-Dixie's got you on this one: 

     In person this was a really striking sight, and hopefully some of that effect translates into the photos. There's so much unique design going on here, from the placement of the department to the decor to the sheer amount of detail put into the design of the deli itself. First of all, rather than being set back into the perimeter wall like most supermarket service departments, the deli in this store extends out into the back aisle. Sleek upright cases surround the prep area to separate it from the sales floor, with additional pre-packaged cold cuts stored in coolers to either side of the deli counter. Moving to the wall, two panels describe the characteristics of various deli products, with descriptions of meats on the left panel and descriptions of various cheeses on the right panel. The department name is frosted onto glass panes inlayed above the counter, showing a variety of meats and cheeses stored behind the panes. While it's hard to see the word "DELI" on the glass panes in the photograph, the word is much more visible in person.

     The department name becomes more visible in this zoomed-in image of the deli department. I took a number of photos of the deli, as I thought this was one of the most elaborate deli designs of any supermarket I've seen. Even Albertsons' Grocery Palace delis were a bit tamer looking than this! (Well, not counting the giant spinning chef prop, that is).

     I would have to guess all that meat and cheese behind the deli sign is fake, however, real cured meats and hard cheeses do have a really long shelf life, so who knows. Real or fake, the visuals are really good regardless!

     From the deli counter, here's a look across the back of the remainder of the store. Even with how far out the deli counter projects itself, it doesn't feel like a large chunk of the back aisle was sacrificed for its placement.

     Here's one last look toward the deli as we press forward with our tour. We're going to leave the perimeter for a moment to cut through some of the grocery aisles:

     The back half of the first aisle, which is treated as a double aisle, is home to the store's wine and beer department. One of the bragging points about this store upon its opening was the wine selection, which was nearly double the size of what the typical Winn-Dixie carried at the time. I didn't pay that close attention to the wine while I was here, but there was a lot of it, that's for sure!

     Here's the wine and beer department again, just from the reverse view.

     The first aisle had this little cut-through to the grand aisle. The WDs Taproom sign lines up perfectly with the cut through, fittingly enough, so after browsing the aisles for the wine and beer you plan to take home, you can walk over there and sample some more potent potables as you shop. As Winn-Dixie would say, that's a Winn Win!

     Moving up the first aisle from the wine and beer department, the next half of the aisle switches over to a dedicated selection of natural and organic foods, including a special section to my right for frozen and refrigerated organics.

     Although glared by that spotlight, Winn-Dixie calls their natural food department the "Naturally Better" section. While Winn-Dixie does carry a small variety of organic products in all their stores, only the larger and/or fancier locations have been getting the dedicated "Naturally Better" departments like this one.

     Emerging from the first aisle, here's a look across the store's front end. The pharmacy counter lies just beyond the check lanes, and we'll see more of the pharmacy and the front end later in the post.

     More of the grocery aisles as we venture further across the store...

     The "Specialty Tea" sign is another example of the custom signage and graphics in this store. 

     The store's dairy department is located along the back wall, just past the deli. Dairy ends in the back corner, with frozen foods continuing along the left side wall.

     From the back, we'll cut down this aisle to get a closer look at the pharmacy counter:

     The pharmacy counter is located in the front left corner of the store, in a very large space of its own. A small aisle of pharmaceuticals runs parallel to the pharmacy counter as well. 

     All the other Health and Beauty products are located down this double aisle. Cosmetics and beauty products were located near the front of the aisle on these fancy lighted shelving fixtures, with the remaining health products located behind this following the small cut-through between the two aisles.

     Here's a better view of the hanging department signage, ready for its beauty shot 😀. On the topic of signage, as you can see here, behind the beauty department sign are the aisle markers, which are the original Down Down variant. As time went on, the Down Down aisle markers actually evolved a little. After this store, the font changed to match the more common font used throughout the Down Down decor. In Down Down's later years, the aisle markers changed again, this time going from having three category panels to four. The switch from three panels to four is actually a good way of guesstimating when a Winn-Dixie remodeled, as it was sometime in 2019 when that change happened.

     Entering the last aisle, we find the frozen foods department. This is the only aisle of frozen foods in the store, and even though that's the case, the department still felt full and complete.

     Panning the camera a little more to the right, here's a look at the department signage, as well as the original Down Down corrugated wall texturing.

     One final look at frozen foods before returning to the front end:

     Back up front, the grand aisle pokes out in the distance as we get ready to leave...

     The customer service desk is located at this small counter between the entrance and exit doors. Instead of hanging a sign above the counter, Winn-Dixie chose to print the sign directly onto the counter. It's a bit off-putting with how the "CUSTOMER SERVICE" sign on the counter is off-centered, but I believe that was done of make the sign more visible to people walking in through the main entry doors off to the left in the image.

     Thank you for shopping at your Baymeadows Winn-Dixie, and thank you Winn-Dixie for giving us such an interesting store to look at!

     Back outside, we find the attached liquor store, located in one of the plaza's in-line spaces to the right of the main building. The arch theme from Winn-Dixie's space is repeated throughout the rest of the plaza, a little bit of that theming visible in the photo above.

     And there you have it everyone - the fanciest Winn-Dixie in all the land! Even though this store may not have the current decor anymore, or follow the latest prototype, it's still one of Winn-Dixie's nicest stores all around. This store is everything Winn-Dixie should be. At the time of this store's debut in early 2016, it might have seemed like a stretch that Winn-Dixie had any hope of pulling off a successful reimaging campaign, but 5 years later, the company's efforts are finally paying off. While the Winn-Dixie of today might look a little different than the store we just toured, the Baymeadows Winn-Dixie was the spark to get all the recent momentum going, and let's see that momentum continue as Winn-Dixie begins to close in on the company's 100th anniversary in 2025.

     So that's all I have for now. Next time, more Albertsons coming your way - however, this next post is going to be a very special post, and the first of its kind for the blog. Just what do I mean by that? Come back in two week to find out!

Until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger