Saturday, May 28, 2022

From the Past, We Must Look to the Future

Winn-Dixie #662
14275 South Tamiami Trail, North Port, FL - North Port Shopping Center (Village Shopping Center)

     Amongst the hundreds (or even thousands) of locations in a supermarket chain, there are always those special locations that hold some kind of claim to fame within the company - the largest store, the smallest store, the fanciest store, the greenest store, etc. and the list goes on. However, there is one claim to fame that most chains tend to sweep under the rug, but us retail enthusiasts will seek out to no end: the most outdated location in the chain. Of the 400-something stores Winn-Dixie runs, the company's most outdated location is the one we'll be touring today. (And don't worry, out of fairness, I'll be throwing Publix under the bus with their most outdated location later this year!) Just from the exterior this place looks old, with the pre-Marketplace era logo still displayed on the front of the building, and the inside isn't much more modern than that logo. With all that outdatedness in store, I think everyone will be in for a fun tour today!

     If you've been reading the blog lately, you know that Winn-Dixie is in the midst of a huge remodeling campaign, a campaign that expects to completely modernize all of the chain's stores by the end of 2023. After many years of neglect, the time has finally come for many of the stores that have escaped remodels for the last 30 years to be refreshed, like the Marion Oaks store we toured earlier this year. While Marion Oaks remodeled to the new Winn Win decor in late 2021, as far as I can tell, this store in North Port still clings onto its late 1980's Neon Marketplace decor as of mid-2022 (however, see my note at the end of this post). Neon Marketplace is the same decor Marion Oaks held onto until its remodel last year, and with that store's remodel, made North Port the last of its kind in the Winn-Dixie chain.

     The fact that the Marion Oaks Winn-Dixie escaped remodels for so long wasn't much of a surprise, as that store was fairly isolated from most other competition, serving a "captive audience" if you will. With the next closest competitors miles away, the Winn-Dixie in Marion Oaks was getting steady business regardless of what it looked like. What surprises me so much about the situation here in North Port is the exact opposite case applies here - Publix, Walmart, and Aldi are only a little over a mile south of here on Tamiami Trail, and there was even a Food Lion in that mix for a brief period too. I'm really surprised this store didn't receive a quick Purple/Maroon refresh in the early 2000's like many other older Winn-Dixie stores still hanging around. I don't know how or why, but besides a few minor changes, this place had evaded a full remodel for the last 30+ years, and it somehow managed to last until 2022 in this form.

     Having opened in 1979 as one of North Port's first supermarkets, this store would have originally had an interior that resembled this. Come the late 1980's, the store was expanded and remodeled into what we see today, a very early Marketplace conversion.

    I think we've stared at the exterior of this store long enough, so let's head inside and see what makes this place so interesting:

     Stepping inside, we enter behind the check lanes into a row of promotional items. The North Port Winn-Dixie has a nearly-identical layout to what we saw in Marion Oaks, however this store is a bit larger. Also, unlike what we saw up in Marion Oaks, this store has much more of its Neon Marketplace interior in-tact. From this spot at the front of the store the decor doesn't look like much (and almost as white-washed as Marion Oaks), but as we circle the salesfloor we'll get to see many more original Neon Marketplace elements.

     Unfortunately, before we get to more of those original neon elements, we have to venture through the white-washed produce department. Like Marion Oaks, the North Port Neon Marketplace store did get toned down a bit in its later years, but not to the extent we saw at Marion Oaks where all but three of the original neon signs were ripped out. Here in North Port, the original floor tiles in the produce department were swapped out for the later Marketplace pink and teal design, with a pink and teal stripe painted on the walls to break up all the blank white space (that stripe not visible here, but will be once we venture out of this area).

     The flooring design and the stripe indicate Winn-Dixie did a quick refresh in the late 90's, but that refresh was cheap enough to have kept a lot of the late 1980's decor still in-tact. The colorful late-era Marketplace floors clash quite a bit with the stark whiteness of the walls, giving the produce department an odd feel.

     From produce, here's a look across the length of the store. The addition Winn-Dixie built during the original Neon Marketplace conversion happened on the building's left side, where the bakery and deli departments reside now. Everything from where I'm standing to the end of the check lanes is the approximate size of the original 1979 supermarket.

     Walking further toward the back of the store, this look back toward produce gives us our first glimpse of the teal and pink stripe that runs along the perimeter walls. The stripe isn't anything fancy, but at least we have that and the remaining neon signs to break up the otherwise blank white walls.

     Beyond produce was some assorted promotional merchandise, followed by a few aisles of non-food items and greeting cards. In the background of this image, you will spot our first glimpse of the original Neon Marketplace decor (a piece that should look familiar to you if you remember the Marion Oaks post).

     There were some interesting tile patterns used in this store's flooring, like the odd checkerboard design leading into the aisle against the wall. It looks like Winn-Dixie added an island of some kind here during that late 90's refresh, where all those pallets are stored now. I've seen floral islands in that spot in other 1990's Winn-Dixie stores, and this store didn't have much of a floral selection anymore, so my best guess is floral was once located here.

     Getting closer to the back wall of the store, here's a look down the very short first aisle. The main wall striping comes into view here, wrapping around the perimeter of the raised ceiling over the main sales floor. The raised ceiling with the curved corners is a really old Winn-Dixie trait, a trait you don't see too often anymore except in a really old store like this. A lot of you reading this will probably be comparing that design to what Kroger used in their Greenhouse stores of the 1970's, as Kroger was pretty famous for using curved corners during that era. I've never even been to an old Kroger of such design, and even I'm seeing a resemblance between the interior of a Greenhouse Kroger and this old school Winn-Dixie!

     Getting to the back of the store, this is where the Neon Marketplace fun begins! Unlike the produce department that Winn-Dixie reconfigured in the 1990's, the rest of the store is as close as we're going to get to what Winn-Dixie looked like in the late 1980's! (Well, we can get closer, but that store isn't a Winn-Dixie anymore, and a 10 hour drive from where I live!)

     The "Fisherman's Wharf" neon sign and the chrome panels we see here are almost identical to the set-up we saw up in Marion Oaks. The blue floor tiles are also original to the Neon Marketplace decor, as are the orange tiles further along the back wall going toward the meat department. Unlike Marion Oaks pre-remodel, North Port has kept a small service counter here in the "Fisherman's Wharf", to the left of the self-serve seafood coolers. I wouldn't be surprised when this store eventually remodels to Winn Win, that it also gets the full meat and seafood counter restored like Marion Oaks did, as the counter we see here is rather sub-par to what the more modernized stores offer. Also unlike Marion Oaks, I had a pastel pink lightbar at this store getting in my way of the neon "Fisherman's Wharf" sign. Between that lightbar and the butcher roaming around just out of frame, I wasn't able to go as photo-happy with the neon and chrome "Fisherman's Wharf" here in North Port like I was able to in Marion Oaks.

     From this short (and rather oddly-placed) aisle of health and beauty products, here's a somewhat obscured look at the "Fisherman's Wharf".

     This was my best photo of the "Fisherman's Wharf" corner, giving a nice overview of the service counter, the chrome panels, the neon sign, and my friend the lightbar (which played nice in this photo)! The butcher and his co-worker were hiding behind that open cooler door, which worked out for me too.

     Pulling back a little bit from that last shot, here's a wider overview of the store's back right corner, with more of the meat coolers (and original orange tile pattern) coming into view.

     Spinning around, here's a look across the back of the store. Outside of the old colored floor tile, it appears to be fairly white-washed back here. However, the back wall still contains a few surprises, which we'll be seeing shortly...

     Returning to the grocery aisles, we find more health and beauty items as we work our way back toward produce. Health and beauty products in the back right corner of the store is a really strange location for this department in any Winn-Dixie, as usually wine or snack foods will take up this space. Health and beauty is usually located closer toward the left side of the store, near the pharmacy counter (which this store once had), so I have no idea how this department ended up over here.

     More health and beauty products can be found in the next aisle, as well as baby supplies. In this aisle, we finally enter the higher-ceiling portion of the building, bounded by the curvy ceiling transition. However, in a weird old Winn-Dixie with lots of decor surprises, there's a more modern decor oddity sitting right in this aisle. Do you see it?

     If you thought the aisle markers in this store were looking a bit strange, you'd be right. These aren't even Winn-Dixie aisle markers at all - they're Sweetbay's! As you probably recall, Winn-Dixie bought 72 stores from Sweetbay in 2013 when Delhaize America announced their intents to wind down that chain. In the time since, a number of those 72 locations Winn-Dixie purchased have closed or remodeled. Until the recent "revival" era (which is actually a good term for the renewed post-2020 Winn-Dixie), the company had a habit of taking newer aisle markers from closed stores and sending them to older stores where the original aisle markers were looking a bit dumpy. It was a cheap update, and in the past I've come across Marketplace Winn-Dixie stores with an assortment of unrelated aisle markers (such as post-Bankruptcy and Transformational era ones). North Port is one of two older stores I've come across that got recycled Sweetbay decor aisle markers (a now-closed store in Ocala being the other), and they just seem so out of place here. If nothing else, they do look nice, and are certainly much more modern that what this store must have had prior.

     Sweetbay decor aisle markers in a Winn-Dixie with mostly intact late 1980's decor, what more can you ask for? (Publix decor in an old Food Lion, maybe?)

     Returning to the front of the store, here's a look toward the check lanes. Unlike Marion Oaks (which had theirs covered over with a lower ceiling), North Port still has its vaulted ceiling over the check lanes, a design feature common in late 1980's era Winn-Dixie stores. The vaulted ceiling over the check lanes has somewhat of a skylight effect to it. While it has the effect, I don't think real skylights are a feature Winn-Dixie has ever used in a store they've built themselves.

     Here's another view of the check lanes, as seen from the front aisle near the edge of produce.

     Back to the grocery aisles, we find more non-foods as we continue further toward the left side of the building. It's a bit odd Winn-Dixie stacked most of the non-foods on the right side of the store, as the flow of this store brings shoppers to that side of the building first. Typically, grocery stores place non-foods toward the end of the typical flow of the average meandering shopper, so I don't know what Winn-Dixie was going for here.

     Lots of displays can be found in the middle of the back aisle, with the meat coolers running along the back wall. The category markers above the meat coolers are from the Purple/Maroon era, another random era of decor making its presence known in here!

     Back up front, we see the area around the check lanes was refreshed in the late 1990's as well, with the teal/pink floor tile pattern appearing again, as well as the teal/pink stripes within the raised ceiling above the check lanes.

     By the time we make it to aisle 7, actual groceries appear again. However, while cereal and canned fruit is nice and all, look what lies on the wall ahead of me!

     One of the most famous signs from the Neon Marketplace decor is this one, the sign for the meat department. Instead of a plain old "Meat" sign, Winn-Dixie chose to brand that department by the company's famous tagline "The Beef People", with the accompanying cowboy silhouette above it. This sign was always prominently featured on the back wall where it could clearly be seen from the front, as the meat department was always (and still is) one of Winn-Dixie's strongest and most prominent features. Sadly, this sign (like all the other neon signs in the North Port store) doesn't light up anymore, whether that be because the signs are burnt out or management simply doesn't want to deal with lighting them up anymore. When lit up, this sign would have looked like this. Even though it's never lit anymore, it's still really cool to see this sign up on the wall, as this is classic Winn-Dixie at its finest (well, if you ignore the bottom of that Sweetbay decor aisle marker poking in on the shot, anyway!).

     From the cool old neon, it's back to the grocery aisles as we continue our way to the left side of the building...

     How sweet it is to be a Winn Win with The Beef People at the Marketplace, because things are getting better all the time, right? If any of those jingles are stuck in your head now, this one will certainly override all of them!

     A lot of water for sale here in aisle 10, which is the last aisle before we transition over to frozen foods.

     Before we get to frozen foods, here's another look across the back of the store. The wall above the meat coolers is actually a giant mirror, which kept tricking me into thinking it was a giant window the entire time I was here.

     Entering the frozen food department, we find two aisles separated by a coffin cooler in the middle. Like many late 1980's early generation Marketplace stores, we get a vaulted ceiling effect over this department, just like we saw at Marion Oaks. However, at Marion Oaks, the frozen food department at that store still retained its original blue floor tiles. Here in North Port, we see the flooring in this department was updated in the late 1990's when the tiles in produce and at the front end were changed out.

     Spinning around, here's a look from frozen foods toward the front check lanes.

     Frozen foods are left out of the store's aisle count, making the next aisle after frozen foods aisle 11.

     Stepping out of aisle 11, here's more of the back wall, as I really didn't know where else to stuff this photo in the progression of our tour.

     Turning around from our vantage point in that previous photo, here's a look toward the back left corner of the store. What we see here is the approximate area of the late 1980's expansion, which Winn-Dixie used to add in a modernized (for the time) deli and bakery department. In the back of the expansion we also find dairy, which lies in the coolers before me.

     I believe these poles in aisle 12 mark the official location of where the old store ended and the expansion space begins.

     The store's pharmacy would have been located here, in this nook behind the customer service desk. However, due to the presence of an Eckerd in the space adjacent to the Winn-Dixie store (now vacant), it appears that Winn-Dixie may have never had a pharmacy at this location (and why this space was used as an alcove instead).

     Aisle 13 is the last numbered aisle in this store, and home to chips and other snack foods. There are a few more aisles to follow this one, but they're all unnumbered (either by intention, or because whatever Sweetbay store these aisle markers came from only had 13 aisles to start with).

     Following aisle 13 is the wine, with the deli and bakery lying just ahead.

     The deli and bakery are located in the front left corner of the building, and since this is in the expansion space, these departments use a very 1980's design. This area probably looked much funkier when the neon signs were turned on, although a full late-era Marketplace remodel could have done this part of the store well! Before the walls above the counter were whitewashed, they would have been covered in the same chrome paneling we saw back at "Fisherman's Wharf", the neon lighting up in red. Unlike Marion Oaks, at least these neon signs got to survive, so these department have some kind of designation to point shoppers in the right direction.

     The deli takes up the counter space closer to the old pharmacy counter, with the bakery taking up the space closer to the corner.

     In front of the deli and bakery is an island of coolers, now used for prepackaged deli products. The way the coolers are set up with a small prep area in the middle seems to suggest these coolers had a more significant purpose back in the day, maybe a small offering from Winn-Dixie's 1990's Food Pavilion perhaps? Otherwise, it's a strange setup for coolers of pre-packaged prepared foods.

     A few short aisles of wine can be found behind the cooler island, one of which can be seen here.

     Dairy wraps around onto the left side wall, with beer following. Another oddity about this part of the store is the light blue grid pattern on the floor. The grid pattern begins in the first unnumbered aisle after aisle 13, and runs to the side wall. The pattern seems to signify something was here prior, something more significant than a few aisles of wine that don't match up with the pattern. I've never come across this tile pattern before, but it appears to be original to the Neon Marketplace era and not the later Marketplace refresh. If anyone knows what this tile pattern used to designate (or if I'm just overthinking it), let me know in the comments.

     Here we see the leftmost aisle as it transitions into beer, with the bakery and deli counter in the background.

     Here's one last look at the deli counter before we head back up front and begin to make our way out of here.

     I really like the faux skylight effect over the registers, although Winn-Dixie's attempt at faux skylights seems more convincing than Publix's, although I like that giant light over the front end in Publix's older stores too. Different designs but still a neat effect.

     A very old customer service desk resides between the check lanes and the old pharmacy counter, the desk most likely original to the Neon Marketplace remodel.

     Back outside, our tour of the most outdated Winn-Dixie is about to come to a close. With a 30+ year old decor mish-mashed between a few half-hearted updates since, this place is a sight to see. With the way Winn-Dixie's remodeling spree is going, this store's decor is most likely living on borrowed time, if a remodel hasn't already started yet (which very well may be the case, per my note that you'll find the end of the post).

     While a store that hasn't seen a thorough remodel in over 30 years is a spectacle for us, it probably is time for Winn-Dixie to come in and update this place. I have to say, the Winn Win remodels have been doing wonders to these previously tired old stores, taking a dated old store like Marion Oaks and bringing it to a whole new level. I'm sure this Winn-Dixie in North Port would look really good in green and red when the day comes, hopefully cleaning up this store enough to keep it going for another 30 years. For now though, the North Port Winn-Dixie will serve as our last look into what Winn-Dixie was like in the 1980's, a chapter that Winn-Dixie will most likely put behind them very soon.

     From the era of The Beef People, it probably won't be long before the era of "It's a Winn Win!" catches up to this store. I'm still amazed at how well Winn-Dixie has been sticking to their promise to remodel all of their stores by the end of 2023, and I'm very convinced that's going to happen at the rate the remodeling is going. I have four Winn-Dixie remodels happening in my area right now, and there are many more going on out there too. Only five years ago you could easily find one of about 10 different decor packages at any given Winn-Dixie ranging from the late 1980's to the late 2010's. Come 2024, we'll be looking at two: Down Down and Winn Win. I'm really enjoying seeing Winn-Dixie come back to life like they are, and succeeding at it too. Like the old saying goes, from the past we must look to the future, and at long last Winn-Dixie has taken that advice and stuck to it. Here on AFB we'll be seeing a lot more of Winn-Dixie from both the past and present. I have lots of photosets of older Winn-Dixie stores sitting in my archives, and we'll slowly take a look at those while we explore what Winn-Dixie is doing in the present too. Exciting times for Floridian retail, and if it's Floridian retail you like, be sure to come back in two weeks to explore some more right here on AFB!

So until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger

UPDATE October 2022 - Following the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, the North Port Winn-Dixie got beat up pretty bad, leading to the building being condemned by the city of North Port.

UPDATE November 2022 - Winn-Dixie decided to not repair this store, and to close it permanently, bringing the era of Neon Marketplace to an end. You can read more about that decision here.