Saturday, April 23, 2022

Former Albertsons #4301 - Clearwater, FL (Gulf to Bay) - UPDATE

Photo courtesy of duckman66

Albertsons #4301
2170 Gulf to Bay Boulevard, Clearwater, FL

     Albertsons #4301 - the store that started it all in Florida. From its debut as Florida's first Albertsons store on October 9, 1974 until its closure in May 2015, this building was an unsung monument to Florida's supermarket history. Sadly, old #4301 didn't make the cut to become one of the stores Albertsons would remodel and convert into Safeway come 2016, but the fact this store lasted until 2015 was impressive enough. I think it's even more impressive that Albertsons' very first Floridian location happened to be one of the very last to survive in the state too, this store witnessing the entire rise and later downfall of the Albertsons brand in Florida. The last time we saw store #4301 on the blog was back in 2015, when a number of contributors sent in photos of the store during its closure. As you'd expect quite a bit of change has happened here at the site of Florida's original Albertsons store in the 7 years since we last checked on it, so let's get ourselves caught up on the future of this building in today's post:

Photo courtesy of Retail Solutions Advisors

     Albertsons #4301 was built at the busy intersection of SR 60 (Gulf to Bay Boulevard - one of the main east-west thoroughfares in Pinellas County) and Belcher Road (a main north-south arterial). Even with the prime location, and the fact that such a large piece of commercial real estate is hard to come by in Pinellas County anymore (as the county is essentially built-out), it's hard to believe the old Albertsons sat vacant until 2018, when it was announced that Lucky's Market would be anchoring a redevelopment of the site. As part of the redevelopment plan, the old Albertsons building would be subdivided, giving Lucky's half of the building's original footprint, with some smaller storefronts occupying the remaining half of the former Albertsons building.

Photo courtesy of the Tampa Bay Business Journal

     In 2019, construction began on the building's remodel. The building was stripped to its steel core and practically rebuilt, totally transforming the 45 year old building for its new life. Work began with constructing the smaller storefronts on the right side of the building, with construction then proceeding to build-out the Lucky's Market half of the building.

Photo courtesy of P. Shanahan

     While the remodel of the right side of the building was going along smoothly, things hit a huge snag when Lucky's Market declared bankruptcy in January 2020, following Kroger's sudden retraction of their investment in the company. Without Kroger's financial support, Lucky's was crippled, and the company's huge Floridian empire that was in the works was left to collapse. We've explored the woes of Lucky's Market many times in the past on the blog, and you can check out this post if you need a quick refresher on the situation.

Photo courtesy of P. Shanahan

     Lucky's declaration of bankruptcy in January 2020 effectively canceled the plans for all new stores that were in the works, including locations where construction was already in progress. As you'd imagine, trying to abruptly end a construction project isn't an easy thing, especially once all the agreements for the project are made and the landlord is expecting you as the anchor tenant. The company in charge of the Albertsons building redevelopment opened a lawsuit against Kroger in April 2020, seeking damages for the loss of the project's anchor tenant.

Photo courtesy of P. Shanahan

     At the time of Lucky's collapse, their portion of the former Albertsons building was over halfway complete, with a grand opening date for the new Lucky's already established for April 29, 2020. Now the developer was left with a partially complete anchor space, unpaid services, and a huge delay to the project. From the article I linked before, the lawsuit filed by the developer specifically sought damages as follows:

"Kroger, which had invested in Lucky’s in 2016, “unconditionally guaranteed” all of Lucky’s obligations under the lease, the lawsuit said.

But in late December [2019], as the Clearwater project entered a critical phase of construction, Kroger ended its investment in Lucky’s and Lucky’s issued a stop order to the general contractor on the Clearwater project. The work stoppage left the roof, walls and floors unfinished and exposed, the lawsuit said. Lucky’s said it would secure the property but had not done so by April 1, when the lawsuit was filed.

A month later, on Jan. 22, the general contractor, Snyder Construction, filed a lien against the property, asking for nearly $902,000 for unpaid labor, services and materials.

In the lawsuit, Gulf to Bay is demanding judgment against Kroger for breach of its guarantee. Gulf to Bay is asking the court to order Kroger to complete the construction of the project and obtain unconditional lien waivers from all contractors, suppliers and manufacturers involved with it.

“A substantial threat of irreparable injury to Gulf to Bay exists if Kroger is not required to perform Lucky’s non-monetary obligations under the lease,” the lawsuit said.

Gulf to Bay also is asking for an unspecified amount of monetary damages and said it asserts a right to assert a claim against Lucky’s in bankruptcy court."

Photo courtesy of St. Pete Catalyst

     By the time that lawsuit was filed, the building appeared as it did in the above image. Construction on the smaller storefronts was all but complete, but the Lucky's space was left as a giant incomplete hole in the building. While the redevelopment appeared to be held up in legal limbo, some good news about this project was released in late 2021. While I don't know what ever happened with the litigation brought against Kroger for the Lucky's debacle, the developer did manage to attract Aldi as the new grocery anchor for the project. 

Photo courtesy of Retail Solutions Advisors

     The above rendering just shows Aldi's logo slapped onto Lucky's facade, but I think it gets the point across. While Aldi did acquire the leases to a handful of former Lucky's stores at the company's bankruptcy auction, Aldi did pick up a few additional leases after the fact, Clearwater being one of them (and Cape Coral, another partially built location, being another).

Photo courtesy of Retail Solutions Advisors

     Aldi will be taking the entirety of Lucky's planned space, per the rendering of the redevelopment above (and from that rendering, you can also see how the old Albertsons building was split up). Now that Aldi has joined the project, they've since commenced with construction on their store, finishing out the shell left behind by Lucky's.

     Finally getting around to my photos, that's where we find the project at the moment. As of my visit to the site of former Albertsons #4301 in early 2022, the new Aldi was still in the early stages of construction. Aldi has stripped back some of the facade built by Lucky's to reconfigure it to their own liking, and the inside of the building was still a stripped-out shell. Aldi is expected to open this new store later in 2022, finally bringing an end to this three-year-long redevelopment mess.

     While I never made it to the original Floridian Albertsons store while it was still open, at least I can now say I've made my pilgrimage to the site of it! It certainly would have been more fun to see this building while it still retained some elements from Albertsons, but if nothing else, at least the building was kept instead of being totally flattened, so there's still something original to see here.

     Beyond the future Aldi space, we find the row of smaller storefronts that occupies the right half of the former Albertsons building. As of when this post went live, I've only found record of one of these smaller spaces having a confirmed new tenant, that being the space immediately adjacent to the new Aldi store. Moving into that 3,800 square foot space will be a medical office called Paragon Infusion Center, while all the other storefronts are still up for lease. With Aldi coming in as the new anchor by the end of the year, and a frozen custard restaurant being developed on an outparcel, hopefully some of the other spaces will begin to fill up too.

     It was interesting the way the old Albertsons building was divided up, with these storefronts running along the front of the building, and then a few more running along the back right side. The front facing spaces are the higher-visibility spots right next to the anchor, while the spaces in the back are more hidden from view.

     Peeking inside the corner storefront, we find zero trace of Albertsons. Albertsons' side entrance and liquor store would have been in the area of this space's back wall.

     Turning the corner, we find those last 4 storefronts around the side of the building. It looks like three of the four are visible in this photo.

     The morning sun glare wasn't helping me much with these last few images, but here's an overview of the right side of the building as it looks now, as seen from the back.

     Actually, the back of the building is (for the time being) the only thing left that still looks mostly like it did when Albertsons was here. Albertsons old loading docks are visible at the far right side of the image, and were still painted the original yellow color Albertsons was too.

     Curse that sun glare! Anyway, there was some work going on here by the loading docks, but it appeared this part of the building was going to remain mostly original from the Albertsons days. Aldi will be inheriting Albertsons' old loading docks, with only some small modifications being made back here.

     The left side of the building was in the process of receiving some new paint and stone work when I was here, and was still a work-in-progress.

     Returning to the front of the building, we've complete our loop around former Albertsons #4301, seeing it as it transitions into its new life as an Aldi and adjoining shopping center.

     While we're here, before I finish up this little update post, we'll take a quick look at the building next door to the old Albertsons. Pictured here is that building, as seen from the front corner of the old Albertsons store.

     Much like what happened with the Albertsons next door, the building here was subdivided and transformed into a new shopping center, striping away all traces of this building's former life as a Kmart. Originally built at Kmart #3476, this Kmart location opened on April 26, 1979, and remained in operation until 2005, when Kmart's new parent company Sears Holdings chose this store to be one of many throughout the country to be converted into the new Sears Essentials format. While the concept of Sears Essentials had some merit to it, like most ideas contrived by Sears Holdings, they turned it into a flop. While the last of the Sears Essentials stores closed in 2012, the Clearwater store was an earlier casualty, closing for good in 2009. The old Kmart building sat empty until 2016, when the redevelopment that brought Bealls, LA Fitness, and West Marine to the property occurred.

     All these new stores opened in 2018, and the redevelopment of the old Kmart probably helped spur the development of the old Albertsons next door too, cleaning up this corner and bringing some new retail to the area.

     After many years of Kmart and Albertsons sitting here at the corner of Gulf to Bay and Belcher, we now find Bealls, West Marine, LA Fitness, and Aldi. All those stores join the already established Publix and Walmart Neighborhood Market across the street, bringing a full assortment of retail back to this corner again. Thinking about it now, it's not common to see an intersection in Florida with three grocery stores still on it like we'll have here again once Aldi opens. While Aldi is certainly a different experience than the Lucky's Market that was supposed to open here, at least this intersection will continue to offer a little supermarket variety for the people of Clearwater for years to come!

     With April coming to an end, we'll switch back to my regular every-other-week posting schedule for May. After a month of me posting every week, I'll give everyone a break for our first post of May coming up next time. The Sing Oil Blogger returns to AFB with another guest post to start off the new month, so be sure to come back next week to see where his travels take us this time!

So until the post after next,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Nuestro Presidente, Publix

Publix #465 / Presidente Supermarket #57
2300 South Chickasaw Trail, Orlando, FL - Chickasaw Trails

     Happy Easter, everyone! Lately, we've been spending a lot of time looking at various buildings that Publix has taken over from other chains. For a refreshing change, how about we take a look at a building another supermarket chain has taken over from Publix! We're in for a fun treat today with this store, as the new tenant, Presidente Supermarket, left quite a bit from the building's past life behind. While Presidente's conversion might not be as fun as what this Vietnamese farmer's market did to a former Publix in suburban Atlanta (covered by the Sing Oil Blogger a few weeks ago), we have plenty of decor remnants to be found inside this store too - just not as much from the 1990's Wavy Pastel package like you'd find up there in Atlanta!

     Publix #465 opened at this location on February 3, 1994 in a portion of Eastern Orlando that was just beginning to blossom with new development. Following the opening of the nearby SR 417 toll road a few years earlier, the new road paved the way for numerous new developments in Eastern Orange County. As development crept eastward, Publix was one of the earlier arrivals to the area to take advantage of the upcoming boom. Publix #465 was a rather typical mid-90's build, specifically a "47N" design per this list compiled by the Sing Oil Blogger.

     As we entered the early 2000's, development really began to ramp up in this part of town, leading Publix to add another 3 new locations within a three mile radius of store #465. Those new locations included Publix #1015 at Vista Lakes Center (3 miles to the south on Chickasaw Trail), Publix #1122 at Rio Pinar Plaza (2 miles to the north on Chickasaw Trail, a larger, modernized location of a much older store) and Publix #1338 at Curry Ford Square (2 miles east on Curry Ford Road, a former Albertsons purchased in 2008). While Publix typically has no issue operating stores within such a close proximity to each other like that, especially in a built-up area like Orlando, Publix's strategy backfired on them this time. Rather than complimenting each other, Publix's newer stores actually cannibalized old #465, causing sales at the store to drop significantly going into the 2010's. Publix #465 ended up being one of the very rare cases where Publix closed a store outright, with store #465's last day being September 26, 2020. Even though Publix's domineering attitude was much to blame for the downfall of this location, the location was still very good for another grocery store, and the building was kept in very nice shape. Even the analysts interviewed in the Orlando Business Journal article linked prior felt a grocery store would grab this building pretty quick, and they sure were right! Only a few months later on January 6, 2021, it was announced that Presidente Supermarket would take over the former Publix, with a goal of opening the new store later that year.

     While I've talked about Presidente Supermarket before, and visited a number of their locations, I believe this will be the very first time we'll be seeing one of their stores on my blogs. Presidente Supermarket is a chain of Hispanic-oriented grocery stores based out of Miami. Founded in 1990, Presidente Supermarkets grew rapidly in South Florida, building off a model of operating stores with low prices tailored to the needs of Hispanic families. A lot of Presidente's growth has come from the woes of other supermarket chains, as Presidente is well-known for taking over buildings left behind by others (especially Winn-Dixie - I think the vast majority of Presidente's store base is old Winn-Dixies, to the point where Presidente will soon have more Marketplace decor stores than Winn-Dixie themselves!). So not only is Presidente serving a need as a grocery store, but they are also helpful with filling voids left behind by other grocery chains who move out due to tough times or local demographic changes. From a retail fan perspective, Presidente is also quite famous for their low-budget remodels, tending to reuse and repurpose decor packages from whatever grocery store was in the building prior. While I've seen Presidente do some more thorough decor swaps in the past, that wasn't the case here.

     Presidente Supermarket #57 opened here at Curry Ford Road and Chickasaw Trail in September 2021, as part of the chain's recent expansion throughout the Orlando area. After finding success expanding throughout South Florida, Presidente made the jump to the Orlando area in 2019 following the company's purchase of a few former Winn-Dixie stores closed in that company's bankruptcy in 2018. Presidente has continued to pick up additional locations throughout Orlando in the years since, much like this former Publix in East Orlando. Besides switching out the exterior signage, everything about the building's exterior is original from Publix, including the paint scheme. Like I said before, Presidente isn't known for doing elaborate remodels, that fact becoming much more apparent once we get inside.

     Entering the vestibule, right off the bat we find a remnant from Publix's Wavy Pastel days - the wall tile! The white square tiles with the pastel orange/green squares in the middle is a remnant from the building's original Wavy Pastel decor. Before you get too excited, I just have to note this store didn't close with the Wavy Pastel decor (it had Classy Market 3.0/Sienna instead when it closed), but Presidente's remodel did uncover a handful of Wavy Pastel remnants, like this tile (which most likely would have had the famous green bean welcome sign covering it behind the carts).

     Stepping into the main store, the remnants of Wavy Pastel get left behind for our old friend Classy Market 3.0. Turning to the right after leaving the vestibule, we find the floral department. Presidente's floral department is much smaller than Publix's would have been, as the entire floral department here consists of those few bins of flower bouquets. More interesting though is how Presidente repurposed the old CM 3.0 department sign on the wall, which was originally a hanging sign too. Presidente changed out the old symbol for one of their own, which incorporated Presidente's logo with a picture of flowers. A pretty neat re-working of the old sign, and we'll be seeing more of this throughout the store.

     Much like Publix would have had, Presidente uses the space between the entrance and the "grand aisle" for promotional displays. A few bins of items on sale are out of frame to my right, with a few decorated tables of baked goods filling up the rest of the area. I visited this store not long after it held its grand opening, so there were still plenty of balloons and other decorations hanging around from the grand opening festivities.

     Before we turn our attention to the grand aisle, here's a quick look across the store's front end. Still feels a lot like Publix from this angle, right?

     We'll return to the front end later in the post, but for now, let's continue our journey into the store with this view toward the "grand aisle". In these mid-1990's Publix stores, we'd find the deli in the front right corner, followed by the bakery on the right wall, with meats then following in the back right corner. Presidente still follows that same floorplan, however, a majority of the former deli space was turned into a large cafeteria (the cafeterias being a huge staple of Floridian Hispanic supermarket chains). To the left of the cafeteria is current deli counter, the cafeteria space occupying the location of the old Pub Sub/prepared foods counter from the Publix days.

     With the addition of the cafeteria (a sign Publix would have never had), Presidente decided to create their own signs for this part of the store so they all matched. I'm pretty sure these signs are unique to this location, as they appear to match the aesthetic of the Classy Market 3.0 decor remaining in the rest of the building (especially the design of the lettering and the symbol above it). Presidente does have a decor package of their own that gets used on occasion (or gets retrofitted over someone else's decor), but it looks nothing like this. Presidente's own decor is a rather basic red, white, and blue design, which you can see an example of here.

     Also to note - look closely at the tile behind the deli counter. When this store remodeled into the Classy Market era, the Wavy Pastel tile design was covered over with gray squares. One of the gray squares fell off, and the same tile pattern from the vestibule can be seen behind the deli counter again.

     The "grand aisle" is officially labeled as aisle 1, with some dairy products occupying a cooler opposite the service departments. The aisle markers are just Publix's Classy Market 3.0 ones painted blue, with new panels to match the blue color.

     The bakery counter is located to my right, with a dining area for the cafeteria taking up the center of the aisle.

     From the back of the store, here's an overview of the grand aisle. The paint colors on the wall are still from Publix, but now with modified signage from Presidente.

     The back right corner is home to the meat department, and with the exception of that stock photo hanging from the wall, all the paint and fixtures are leftover from Publix as well.

     And if I turn the camera just a little more to the right, we find the Classy Market 3.0 "Meats" sign still hanging around too.

     At the back of the store, we find the meat and seafood counter, which are still mostly original to Publix with the exception of the modified sign symbols. It appears that Presidente cut the grocery aisles a bit short back here to make for a wider back aisle, as these 1990's Publix stores (or really, most Publix stores) usually don't have a spacious back aisle like this.

     Even though the pallet drops were a bit in the way, here's a look toward the Seafood counter. Behind the counter you can see more of the old Wavy Pastel tile, but covered over with the gray panels like we saw behind the deli.

     Beyond the meat and seafood counter is the dairy department, as well as more pallet drops in the middle of the newly-expanded back aisle.

     Moving into the grocery aisles, we see that Presidente even carried over Publix's tradition of hanging posters over the aisles. I guess if Publix left the bracket behind, why not?

     These grocery aisle scenes really make it seem like this is still a Publix at first glance. It's only when you look closer at the photos and notice the minor changes that Presidente made on the walls that this place gets really strange!

     Returning to the front of the building, here's another look across the front end. Above the check lanes is a raised ceiling that was once a skylight. Sadly, Publix covered over many of the skylights in their 1990's era stores, as I believe it was mentioned once they were quite prone to leaking. While the skylight in this store was covered, some still do exist.

     From the front end, let's dive into the grocery aisles once again:

     It's still crazy how much effort Presidente went though the capture the essence of Publix in this store, and trying to match the decor they inherited.

     Here's a close-up of the dairy sign on the store's back wall, with its accompanying symbol modified by Presidente from the original.

     Presidente also installed some additional stock photos on the back wall, which do a good job of breaking up all the blank brown space on the wall.

     Getting into the last few grocery aisles, we find the soda and beer, followed by frozen:

     The beer coolers occupy one side of aisle 12, with frozen foods in the coolers opposite.

     The pharmacy counter and a few short aisles pf pharmaceuticals would have once been located in the store's front left corner. Presidente doesn't operate pharmacies, so the old pharmacy counter was sealed up, and this space was converted into a home for more pallet drops of product. What little bit of health and beauty and pharmaceuticals Presidente does sell have since been relocated into the main grocery aisles.

     A photo of the Presidente Supermarket flag hangs on the side wall where produce once transitioned into the pharmacy aisles.

     Aisle 13 is the store's last aisle, with the remainder of frozen foods to my right, and more pallet drops to my left blocking the coolers from produce. I'm pretty sure Presidente removed an entire row of coolers that would have once been to my left, as the frozen food department here was really small compared to what Publix would have normally offered (Publix usually does two full aisles of frozen, while Presidente now has two half-aisles). Floral would have been at the front of this aisle too, but as we saw, floral was relocated to that small area next to the front entrance.

     At the back of the store we find the produce counter, and some more cheaply disguised Wavy Pastel tile. As I'm writing this post and looking at the photos a bit closer, I've realized Publix didn't really put a lot of effort into this store when it remodeled to Classy Market 3.0 sometime around 2016 (remodeling from what appears to be Classy Market 2.0 - not a great photo at that link, but I can see the CM 2.0 "Frozen" banners in the background). The CM 2.0 remodel most likely replaced the store's original Wavy Pastel decor. The cheapness of the CM 3.0 remodel should have been a pretty obvious sign this store was doing poorly, as Publix didn't install new tile backsplashes in the service departments or the 3-D effect signs. A more typical CM 3.0 remodel to a store of similar vintage to this one should have looked more like this. I think Publix was just trying to ride out the losses from this store as long as possible, until they finally gave up on it in 2020. Publix isn't a company that likes to close stores (especially in the modern day), so a store has to be doing pretty bad to close outright like this location did.

     Turning around, here's a look into the produce department itself. Presidente reused Publix's old produce display tables, just shuffling around the arrangement of them a bit.

     Behind the large table of plantains and bananas would have been the old pharmacy counter. The pharmacy counter was walled off by Presidente, although a door was installed to access the former pharmacy area.

     Here's a better look toward that door into the old pharmacy space, a scar from one of the old pharmaceutical aisles leading up to it. While the door was propped open, I didn't get a good look into that room since I could hear people talking inside. I wonder if the old pharmacy is still mostly in-tact back there, or if Presidente ripped out most traces of it to use that space for anew purpose.

     Now that we've made our loop around the salesfloor, we find ourselves back at the check lanes.

     I visited this store really early in the morning (not long after it opened for the day, actually), so none of the main registers were open. All purchases made at this time of morning had to go through the service desk, pictured here in front of the check lanes.

     Presidente has been expanding like crazy in Orlando, so it appears they're doing quite well on their Central Florida expansion effort. I'm sure this store picks up a bit later in the day, as this part of Orlando within close proximity to South Semoran Boulevard has a rapidly growing Hispanic population, and Presidente is one of many supermarkets that has popped up in the area recently to serve that growing demographic.

     One last front end shot before we head out...

     It looks pretty close to the original, but the "Thank you for shopping at Presidente Supermarket" sign is all new, as Publix's old sign didn't use an italic font.

     While Publix may be "el Presidente" of the Floridian supermarket scene, every once and a while they have to admit defeat. Hopefully Presidente's new store here at Curry Ford and Chickasaw Trail works out well for them, and that they can do better here than Publix did. We'll eventually see more of Presidente Supermarket either here or on MFR, as they do have some interesting stores out there.

     Anyway, more from AFB's supersized April lineup to come next week, so be sure to come back next Sunday for that.

So until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger