Sunday, December 19, 2021

Life After Lucky's - Publix

Lucky's Market #44 / Publix #1754
3171 South Orange Avenue, Orlando, FL - Plaza Ecco

     With 2021 soon coming to a close, we're just about at the two year anniversary of the collapse of Lucky's Market. Lucky's rapid expansion and sudden fall was one of the largest shakeups in Florida's supermarket scene in many years. The expansion of Lucky's Market caught the attention of the other Floridian supermarket chains, with Lucky's rise causing Publix to rekindle their own Greenwise Market concept, and creating the new wave of in-store taprooms in many new-build and remodeling supermarkets in Florida (Winn-Dixie being quite fond of the new taproom concept, even going as far as building an entirely new prototype liquor store model around the concept). Even after Lucky's fortunes turned into ruin, the company's sudden collapse sparked just as many interesting developments from the competition as the original expansion did. Winn-Dixie's new initiative to open more stores stemmed from the original purchase of 4 former Lucky's Market locations, which would later open as the first handful of stores to feature Winn-Dixie's new modern design. Others also jumped at the remains of Lucky's Market too, such as Aldi, Hitchcock's Market, Seabra Foods, and of course, Florida's supreme grocery powerhouse - Publix. From the remains of Lucky's Market, Publix took 5 of their former stores, those five sites located in South Naples, Ormond Beach, Neptune Beach, Clermont, and Orlando. Today's "Life After Lucky's" post will take us to one of those new Lucky-lix stores, the Orlando location in particular, where we'll see what Publix did with the building. However, before we get back to our present day life after Lucky's, we're going to begin this post by reminiscing about our life with Lucky's. I just so happened to have a tour of this location while Lucky's was still open, and I decided to lump that in as a precursor to the after results we'll see later in the post. I think it will be a fun way to present this particular store, so let's jump back in time and go for a spin around Lucky's:

     The Lucky's Market we'll be touring today was located in Orlando's SoDo neighborhood. SoDo, which is short for "South Downtown", is located exactly where you'd think it would be, just south of Orlando's downtown core. SoDo is a rapidly urbanizing area, with numerous apartment blocks and mixed-use style buildings popping up along the neighborhood's main thoroughfare, South Orange Avenue. The new Lucky's Market was included as part of one of those modern mixed-use redevelopments, taking up residence on a property that once housed a trailer park and a few small, decrepit commercial buildings fronting South Orange. Unlike many mixed use projects, which usually put the supermarket below a large apartment block, the Lucky's store was built next to the apartment building (that building popping up in a few of my exterior photos of the store). The arrangement here allowed for a more traditional surface parking lot setup for the store, and to allow for the construction of a small strip plaza on the edge of the property, making the most out of SoDo's hybrid urban and suburban appeal.

     Lucky's officially opened their SoDo store on February 6, 2019, this being one of 5 Lucky's stores to have operated within Orlando proper prior to the company's collapse. The location of this store is quite nice, being located just across the road from one of SoDo's two major shopping destinations, The Market at Southside. While Lucky's had everything in their favor here - good location, a younger, higher-income demographic, and a bustling neighborhood - none of that would do any good when Lucky's financial lifeline, Kroger, pulled out their investment in Lucky's Market come December 2019. Kroger's initial investment in Lucky's in 2016 is what spurred the company's huge Floridian expansion, and without that money, the huge store network was destined to fail. Lucky's didn't have an adequate revenue stream to support the stores on their own, so the only path Lucky's had before them following Kroger's pullout was the path to bankruptcy. The SoDo Lucky's store was wiped out in the company's initial closure wave announced in mid-January 2020, which took out every Lucky's store in Florida except the location in West Melbourne (which would fall only a month later). The SoDo Lucky's closed for good on February 12, 2020, just a little over a year after the store first opened.

     Publix picked up this location at the ensuing bankruptcy auction held in March 2020. At first it was speculated that Publix was buying these stores in order to convert them all into Greenwise Market locations (as many of these former Lucky's buildings, like this particular one, were right across the street from an existing Publix store). However, it appears all 5 of the stores Publix bought from Lucky's will be opening as traditional Publix stores, modeled after the company's updated small-format 28,000 square foot prototype. We'll talk more about why that is when we get to the Publix portion of the post, but there are some small differences between these converted stores and the traditional small-format prototype. Anyway, enough about Publix for now - let's head inside and take a moment to remember what Lucky's was all about:

     Entering the store, we found ourselves in the produce department, where this store closing sign greeting shoppers as they entered. I took a day in early 2020 to make a sweep of a few of the Orlando area Lucky's stores following the closure announcement, wanting a little documentation of yet another addition to the list of failed Floridian supermarket chains. It's just a coincidence I had a before and after set of the exact same store, as I didn't know the fates of any of the Lucky's locations I planned to visit on the day of my trip, but it actually worked out well for the matter of this post.

     From produce, here's a look across the front of the store. Bulk foods are to my left, with the main grocery aisles spanning off to the right of that.

     Lucky's famous "Food Glorious Food" sign spanning the wall of the produce department, which is located in the building's front right corner. Publix's produce department would end up in the same spot as Lucky's, but that was pure coincidence. Publix would strip out everything we're about to see and basically rebuild the interior from scratch, even in this year-old building.

     Lucky's had a small juice bar located between the produce department and front check lanes. With the closing having begun, it appeared the juice bar had been shut down by the time of my visit.

     In the produce department, I spotted a small vestige of Lucky's former ownership. While Kroger eventually began selling their Private Selection and Simple Truth branded products at Lucky's (Kroger's artisanal and organic house brands, respectively), seeing the generic Kroger brand at Lucky's wasn't super common (as the Kroger brand wasn't organic or specialty oriented, although it was used to fill come category voids at Lucky's).

     Behind produce, frozen foods occupied the first grocery aisle along the store's right side wall.

     Cutting through frozen foods, we find the dairy department located along the building's back wall.

     I visited these Lucky's stores only a few days into their liquidation sales, and already the store was beginning to look wiped out. From reading comments on Lucky's Facebook page (which is still live but bizarrely frozen in time, as posting on there ended abruptly following the 2020 bankruptcy announcement), Lucky's loyalists seemed to rush these stores following the closure announcements to stock up on some of the hard to find items that Lucky's sold.

     Aisle 4 was looking more well stocked, but the holes were beginning to become more apparent here.

     The back wall eventually led shoppers to the meat department, which then transitioned into the service department and food bars.

     Beer and wine was located in these coolers at the very end of the grocery aisles, right before the transition to the service departments began.

     An oddly oriented photo above, but I believe I was trying to capture the Beer and Wine sign in the background.

     The salad bar and hot food bars took up a significant chunk of this part of the store, a big change from Lucky's first few Florida stores like West Melbourne, which only had a small food bar selection. Being a newer store, this location also had some different offerings, like the Taco counter (pictured above) and a ramen noodle station (pictured in the next photo).

     Ramen and sushi occupied an island in front of the other service departments, with the perimeter wall featuring meat and seafood around back, a cheese counter, "The Kitchen", the deli, and the bakery.

     Turning our attention to the left side wall, here's a look at The Kitchen, which was home to a majority of the store's prepared food offerings (such as the sandwich station, the pizza kitchen, and the usual deli salad and sliced meat fare). Beyond that is the Taco counter (which I'd never seen until visiting this store, so it must have been a very new thing Lucky's was trying) and bakery.

     Lucky's bakery was actually quite small, and always seemed like much more of an afterthought compared to the other service departments.

     Following the bakery is the store's cafe, situated more toward the middle side of the store than the very front corner like most Lucky's stores were set up. The cafe at this store also seemed smaller than what I'd seen at other Lucky's stores I'd been to. Most other Lucky's stores partitioned off the cafe to make it feel like its own space, however the cafe at this store was designed to blend in more with the salesfloor.

     From the cafe seating area, here's a look back toward the service departments. The Ramen and sushi island got a prominent display here in the middle of everything. These two offerings were one of Lucky's newer features, but they must have had a lot of faith in both to display them so prominently like we see here.

     Lastly, we find the apothecary department in the store's front left corner, located where the cafe would typically be in most Lucky's stores.

     Our last interior photo of Lucky's looks from one of the bulk food aisles toward the front check lanes. I still think Lucky's check lane lights made up of colored soda bottles was one of the more unique things I've ever seen a supermarket do.  

     It's really a shame to see a brand new store like this fail after only being open for a year, all that effort put into building the place for practically nothing. At least this Lucky's store was one of the "lucky" ones to find a new tenant rather fast, as some of Lucky's stores are still sitting vacant (or even worse - half built, and that link takes you to only one example of that too).

     Now that we've taken that walk down memory lane, let's return to our life after Lucky's, where we see what Publix has done to the place:

     Publix officially acquired this building at Lucky's bankruptcy auction in March 2020, and it was speculated at the time these five acquired locations would be used to expand Publix's new Greenwise Market chain. Greenwise Market's revived concept mimicked a lot from Lucky's, including the sip and stroll and laid-back vibe, but with a touch of Publix class. Greenwise Market stores were of comparable size and format to Lucky's, so the conversions seemed like a natural fit. However, for reasons that seem a bit murky at the moment, Publix appears to be backing off on opening any new Greenwise stores. Only one new Greenwise store is still in the works as of late 2021, that being a store located in St. Augustine projected to open sometime in 2022 (however, the construction of that store was announced way back in 2019, before the collapse of Lucky's). Additionally, three Greenwise stores have mysteriously closed outright (those three locations all outside of Florida, located in South Carolina and Georgia). I don't know if Greenwise was secretly a flop for Publix (something Publix will never publicly admit), or if Greenwise was only a defensive response by Publix to the rise of Lucky's (who Publix may have considered a threat), or a bit of both. With Lucky's gone and the organic grocery market normalizing a bit, maybe Publix doesn't see much of a reason to keep going with Greenwise Market stores. We'll have to see what happens there, and if any additional locations for Greenwise Market do come into development. We could also see the new Greenwise end up like the original format Publix tried in the late 2000's, with those stores just riding it out as Publix slowly phased out the brand. Who knows...

     It took many people by surprise when Publix filed their construction permits for this store in late 2020, seeing as there wasn't any mention of Greenwise in the plans, and that the plans submitted seemed to suggest this was going to be just another Publix store. Publix already operates a much larger store about 500 feet away from here in The Market at Southside (which we toured briefly at the end of this post a while back), so Greenwise would have been a great compliment to the existing store. However, Publix decided to make the odd (but not surprising, knowing Publix) decision to open a small store literally right next door to the existing one, giving us what we see today.

     After approximately 9 months of construction, the new Publix #1754 opened on August 13, 2021. While Publix didn't do much to the exterior during the construction process besides some minor modifications, the interior was completely gutted and rebuilt. While it's not surprising to say Publix did that, it just seems like a waste to see all that new stuff from Lucky's ripped out only a year later. The inside of the new Publix feels exactly like that of a new-build small format Publix, only with minor tweaks to account for the existing building's design. If you were hoping for a really funky looking Publix, unfortunately, that's not what we'll be seeing today. However, this place is still unique that for the fact that it is located in an old Lucky's Market building, so let's head inside this Lucky-lix for a look at what it's all about:

     Stepping inside this building once again, a year and a half after my previous photoset was taken, and you'd never guess this was the same building we just toured above. Publix put a lot of effort into totally rebuilding this year old Lucky's store, wiping away everything inside and starting over from scratch. That's a big difference from Winn-Dixie's conversions, as Winn-Dixie kept most of Lucky's old layout in-tact, with only minor modifications.

     Publix's entrance and exit doors are located in the same place Lucky's had theirs, with the entrance still leading shoppers into the produce department. However, the similarities between Publix's layout and Lucky's end there. The photo above is a pulled-back overview of the produce department, as seen from the store's front end.

     This window on the right side of the building is another holdover from the Lucky's days, and lets the daylight shine into the produce department. It's a small touch, but made for a nice bright presentation of the produce department on the sunny day I visited this store.

     A very small floral department is located opposite produce at the beginning of aisle 1. 

     Beyond the floral department, aisle 1 runs to the left side of the deli island, and houses the store's grab and go food coolers.

     Like in most recent-build Publix stores, the deli is located in an island, alongside the Pub sub counter and hot foods case. While the larger Publix stores have the deli island just inside the entryway with produce behind, the smaller stores are designed with the exact opposite layout - produce in front and the deli island behind. 

     A small salad bar was installed in front of the deli, featuring a more abbreviated selection than the bars installed at the larger locations.

     Juices and prepackaged lunch meats occupy these coolers along the store's right side, where Lucky's frozen food department was once located. Publix moved frozen foods to the opposite side of the store to conform this location to Publix's standard layout. All of the coolers you see here (and throughout the store) were installed brand new by Publix. Publix auctioned off all of the equipment Lucky's left behind, inheriting the building with all of its contents as part of the bankruptcy sale agreement. Even though Lucky's equipment was only a year old, Publix opted to bring in all new equipment as part of their sparing-no-expense remodel.

     Rounding the side of the deli island, meat coolers appear, with the service meat and seafood counter located just around the corner.

     With the deli island bumping up so close to it, it was difficult to get an overview photo of the entire meat and seafood service counter without cutting off part of the sign. Regardless, the counter can be seen in the photo above.

     Beyond the deli island and meat counter, dairy coolers begin to occupy the back wall. And no, you're not seeing things in the photo above - that very much is a Publix manager dressed as a taco standing in front of me. I had visited this store on National Taco Day 2021, and that manager decided to go all-out for the occasion!

     Finishing our loop around the deli island, here's one last look toward the produce department before we start winding our way through the grocery aisles...

     Leaving the "grand aisle", here's a look across the store's front end. The store's pharmacy is visible in the background, occupying the space where Lucky's cafe once was. However, we'll see more of the far side of the store in a little bit, but first, let's zig-zag through the grocery aisles as we make our way over there:

     Even with its small size, this store has a rather complete selection of groceries. I'm sure this store is very convenient for the people living in the apartment building next door, but I don't know how much of a draw such a small store is for people driving over here compared to the larger store next door.

     Poking out that aisle, here's another look at the store's back wall and the dairy department.

     If you've been keeping a close eye on things between the Lucky's photos and the Publix ones posted so far, you may have noticed that Lucky's had a polished concrete floor, and Publix does not. Like just about every other Publix out there, this store now has a terrazzo floor. While I have seen Publix install a terrazzo-patterned linoleum in buildings they've taken over, Publix went to a completely new extreme here - what you see on the floors of this building now is real terrazzo. In some of the upcoming photos, you can see the control joints in the floor that come with using real terrazzo. To install real terrazzo, Publix would have had to rip out the concrete slab from Lucky's, or grind it down to install a thin layer of terrazzo at the very least. That sounds like a lot of effort for the floors, but Publix can be very thorough when they want to be...

     To make up for the store's smaller size, some of the grocery aisles were pretty narrow, like this one.

     Beer and wine in aisle 8. This aisle runs though the area that previously housed Lucky's ramen and sushi island.

      The store's smaller size forced Publix to crunch in the hanging photo panels more than they would have in a larger store, allowing for more pops of color amongst Evergreen's mostly grayscale color scheme. Still though, I have no complaints about Evergreen - I actually like the new decor, but I also like the effect of the extra pops of color that come from the hanging photos.

     As we get closer to the bakery, the dairy department wall sign appears between two photo panels. The signs in this store are mounted to a bar rather than directly to the wall like I've seen in other stores, creating a 3D effect.

     And speaking of the bakery, turning around, there it is! The bakery sits all by itself in the back left corner of the building, a bit removed from the other service departments. I guess I've gotten so used to seeing Publix place the deli and bakery next to each other for so long, it feels strange to see those two departments ripped apart from each other like this once again!

     The store's last two aisles, numbers 9 and 10, are home to frozen foods. The above photo looks down aisle 9, in the direction of the pharmacy counter in the front left corner of the building.

     More photo panels appear along the left wall above the store's last aisle, including an artsy photo of an old Publix wing store.

     Publix was able to squeeze a pharmacy into this store by locating it in Lucky's old cafe area. Even though this building isn't quite the right shape for Publix's small format design (as Publix's new-builds are more rectangular, while this building is more square), this store didn't feel any more cramped due to the constraints of the existing building Publix was working with. Since the Lucky's building is more square in shape, the grocery aisles ended up being longer than those in a normal small-format store. However, this store only has 10 aisles compared to the usual 11 in a modern new-build, meaning the longer aisles account for the lack of that extra aisle.

     One of the new features that differentiates this store from the existing one next door is the inclusion of the "Pours" department. Pours is the name of Publix's new taproom concept, which was developed (and in turn, copied) straight from the revived Greenwise Market format. Pours just took the existing Publix Cafe coffee bar concept and added draught beer and wine to the menu, mimicking what Lucky's used to do. And you can sip and stroll with Pours too, just like you could have at Lucky's. So even if Publix isn't quite sure what to do with the new Greenwise Market stores anymore, it seems that if nothing else, Pours will get to live on in some form. Just like Winn-Dixie, Publix seems to be finding success with the in-store taprooms too. If it weren't for Lucky's, I doubt Publix and Winn-Dixie would have tried their hands at taprooms on their own, so Lucky's left an impact on Floridian supermarkets in that way.

     I actually gave sip and stroll a try while I was here, however, I bought an iced tea from Pours instead of the beer or wine (as I don't drink). Maybe iced tea doesn't give you as much of a rush as a glass of wine does while you shop for groceries, but I'd say it still counts as something to sip and stroll with! Pours also offered a selection of craft sodas as well that sounded interesting (with flavors like orange cream and Christmas cranberry ginger), which I'd try if I stumbled across a Publix with Pours counter again.

     Even though we're ending our photographic tour with Pours, Pours was actually where I started my tour while I was here in person (since I went there to buy the iced tea). However, when it came to arranging the photos, it felt weird skipping to Pours just to jump back across the store, which is why the photographic tour ended up in the arrangement it did (not that anyone would have realized any of that had I not said anything, but I guess we'll call that our little dose of AFB behind the scenes!)

     Anyway, our last interior photo for today looks across the store's front wall, with the check lanes off to my right.

     Unlike some of the other Publix conversions we've seen on the blog in the past (like Publixsons, Pub-Dixie, Pub Lion, Pub n' Karry, Pub Teeter, Jewelix-Osco, and Publix's Choice), Lucky-lix left very little trace of the past tenant behind. The exterior is about all we have to go off of to remind us that Publix wasn't the original occupant of this building.

     Taking a quick glance at the left side of the building, we find Pours' outdoor seating area. Lucky's also had a small outdoor seating area for their cafe here as well, which Publix retained.

     So in our life after Lucky's, we get some more Publix out of it too. The SoDo store was the first of Publix's acquired Lucky's stores to reopen, with the second, in Ormond Beach, having opened in November 2021. The remaining three stores in South Naples, Clermont, and Neptune Beach are planned to open sometime in 2022. It appears those four additional stores will all end up looking exactly like what we just saw above, but with conversions of existing buildings, who knows what kind of oddities might end up appearing in the final product. Depending on where my travels take me, I may end up at another Lucky-lix out of curiosity, so we could end up seeing one of these appear on the blog again.

     To end this post, I wanted to demonstrate to everyone just how close this new Publix is to its companion next door. In a straight line, only 500 feet separates these two stores, which just seems ridiculous to me. But that's Publix for you, and just another one of the many quirks about Florida's crazy supermarket scene.

     With this post, we also officially wrap up 2021 on AFB. Posting on the blog will resume on January 9, 2022, which is three weeks from now, with plenty more new adventures and old supermarkets! Have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone, and thanks for another great year of AFB!

So until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger