Saturday, September 24, 2022

Rollback the Time at Walmart Neighborhood Market


Winn-Dixie #376 / Walmart Neighborhood Market #5759
6177 South Jog Road, Lake Worth, FL - Lantana Square

     Here's a rarity for AFB - back to back Walmart-related posts! However, unlike our last Walmart tour, there's actually something really interesting about this particular location. I was actually excited to visit this store, so if I was excited to visit this place (and this is coming from someone who typically views Walmart's stores as the soulless void of retail), it has to be something pretty rare, unusual, or outdated! I think all three of those adjectives describe this store perfectly, as I couldn't believe this still existed when I visited here in January 2020. So what do we have hiding behind that oddly preserved 1980's Winn-Dixie facade? Maybe not too much more from Winn-Dixie, but maybe a little more from Walmart's past than that exterior would like to imply...

     Before we head inside, let's discuss the history of this building in a little more detail first. The Lantana Square shopping center opened in 1986 with a Winn-Dixie supermarket as its anchor. Winn-Dixie was the first of three supermarkets to pop up on this busy corner of S. Jog Road and Lantana Road, with Publix joining Winn-Dixie two years later in 1988 across the street, and the last supermarket to join the bunch being Food Lion in the early 1990's (one of only two stores Food Lion ever opened in South Florida - a very short-lived venture that will be a story for another day!). Winn-Dixie closed their store at Lantana and Jog in 1999, this store indirectly replaced by a large new Marketplace store that opened a mile to the south of here at Hypoluxo and Jog in 1998. After Winn-Dixie left, this building was home to one of those low-budget furniture liquidation places for a few years, before sitting vacant again come the mid-2000's. Walmart came along in 2008, opening as one of South Florida's first handful of Neighborhood Market stores.

     Walmart Neighborhood Market traces its origins back to 1998, when Walmart opened their first prototype of this concept in their hometown of Bentonville, AR. The first Neighborhood Market store is rather odd looking, as it was built like a standard Supercenter building of the time, but one hit with a shrink ray. Walmart experimented with the Neighborhood Market buildings a bit after opening that first one, with other earlier designs looking like this or this in some form (although I still think the original Neighborhood Market in Bentonville is my favorite design - the shrunken Supercenter building is oddly intriguing!). Florida was one of the earlier markets where Walmart began testing out the Neighborhood Market concept, with the state's first Neighborhood Market locations opening in the early 2000's around Orlando and Tampa. It wasn't until the late 2000's when Walmart began a much harder push to grow their Neighborhood Market concept nationally, taking the format to more states outside of the original few where the idea was tested. This new push aimed to grow the company's grocery share and use the smaller format to enter places where a much larger Supercenter would be frowned upon.

     Like we saw last time, Walmart did preserve much of the building's original exterior. However, with the former Albertsons we toured last time, Walmart left the exterior nearly unchanged. Here, Walmart took a little creative liberty with the exterior, mostly when it came to creating a new entryway setup. Winn-Dixie would have originally had its entrances located on each side of the row of windows, the doors facing the sidewalk, leading directly into the building. Walmart kept the original windows, but turned WD's original entryway into a breezeway.

     Here's a look into the new breezeway. When Winn-Dixie was here, the customer service desk would have been straight ahead against the front windows, with the main salesfloor to my left. Walmart turned this into exterior space, with the main entrance now to my left. Speaking of the main entrance, let's head inside and see why I drove all the way down here to see this store...

     Some local flare, some Project Impact-era aisle markers - those are nice and all as we look straight inside from the front doors, but it would take more than that to get me to drive over 100 miles to see a Walmart. Let's turn the camera a little more to the right:

     Now there we go - yes, you are seeing that right - this store hasn't been remodeled since it opened in 2008! The original Bakery department sign can be seen on the wall to the left, and there will be plenty more vintage pre-Impact era decor to go around in the remainder of this tour. With its 2008 opening, this must have been one of the last stores to open with a pre-Project Impact era decor package. Project Impact was Walmart's big rebranding campaign from the late 2000's that introduced the current "spark" logo, and was off in full-force come late 2008. Project Impact did a good job of wiping away most of the older decor packages Walmart had left lying around, and the last few years wiped out most of the remaining stragglers left behind from the WAL*MART era that Project Impact didn't. As far as I'm aware, this store still has the pre-Impact decor as of 2022 also, although I can't find any photos more recent than these ones you're seeing today of the interior online. A recent exterior photo shows the exterior hasn't been painted lime-green, which would suggest a more recent remodel. If this store still has its pre-Impact decor today, it joins the West Point, MS Walmart Supercenter as the last two known holdouts of pre-Impact decor left in the chain.

    For "old" decor, this pre-Impact Neighborhood Market decor looks really nice to this day! Unlike the cheap decor Walmart uses in the Neighborhood Market stores today (which consist of cardboard signs as the decor), this stuff actually had some substance to it like decorative panels, 3D signage, and detailing. It's quite classy, actually, and these motifs carry through to the decor in the rest of the store as well.

    Upon entering the store, you find yourself in the bakery. This location does not have a full-service bakery, but it has a rather large selection of pre-packaged baked goods. Behind me is the store's deli counter, which we'll be visiting next...

     While this store does lack a service bakery, it does have a full-service deli counter. Walmart tried to eliminate the full-service deli counters in the early 2010's Neighborhood Market stores to save money, but ended up bringing these back in the late 2010's when grab-and-go and prepared foods started to become a popular trend for grocery stores to offer a wider selection of.

     As cheap as Walmart likes to be sometimes, when they try, they can pull off a decent decor package. The pre-Impact Neighborhood Market decor is a good example of that, and the current Airport package is actually pretty decent too, and brings back some of the 3D signage like we'll be seeing in here.

     Beyond the deli is produce, which takes up a large chunk of the left side of the store.

     The pre-Impact Walmart Neighborhood Market decor actually has a warm and inviting feel to it, with the earth tones, wood accents, and spotlighting (and I never thought I'd use the words "Walmart" and "warm and inviting" in the same sentence either!). My local Neighborhood Market store is actually an identical copy of this one in terms of layout, and after the few remodels it's had in more recent times, "warm and inviting" are the last words I'd ever use to describe it (cold and chaotic fits that store better). If Walmart continued to make their stores look and feel like this, then maybe I'd venture in there more often!

     In addition to the wall decor, the produce department has a spotlight structure and some decorative hanging photos of produce above it.

     I have no idea how Walmart has let this store go 15 years without a remodel. Prior to finding this store, the last Neighborhood Market with this package that I knew of was the West Colonial store in Orlando, which remodeled in 2017. I thought West Colonial was the last of its kind, but then again, if Publix has a lone Classy Market 1.0 holdout left in the wild, anything is possible!

     From what I understand, this is not the original Neighborhood Market decor package (and it seems too modern to have debuted in 1998 with the original store). I found one photo from within a really old Neighborhood Market store showing a glimpse at (what I presume was) the original decor intended for these store, showing mostly white walls with some stock photos and the department names dispersed within. The decor in this store was a huge step up from what it replaced, although everything after it was all pretty cheap too.

     In the back of produce we find the beginning of the dairy department, which stretches along the back wall.

     Since Walmart took over an existing building, you end up having to deal with some of the existing building's quirks in the process. A pretty big quirk of this store is the support poles running along the back aisle, taking up a good bit of space back here (and I can see this aisle being quite chaotic due to the poles when this store gets busy). The poles make things tight back here, as you can't get two carts by at the same time where there's a pole.

     I also had to find a good angle to get a photo of the dairy sign too, where the pole wasn't in the way, and this angle was the only way to achieve that.

     A view from the first aisle worked too, but the tall shelves take away from the clear view.

     For whatever reason, the only updates Walmart has ever done to this store was repaint the exterior and install the current logo, as well as replace the original aisle markers with these Project Impact-era ones. I don't know what the original aisle markers used with this decor looked like, as the West Colonial store also had its aisle markers swapped out for Impact ones before it remodeled in 2017. It must have been standard practice for Walmart to replace these signs in the early 2010's in all of the Neighborhood Market stores.

     The grocery aisles here aren't anything special, with the updated aisle markers and category signs from the Impact era.

     Here's a quick look across the store's front end, which we'll see more of later in this post. For now, we'll continue on with out tour of the rest of the salesfloor:

     Regardless of what decor a store had at the time, Walmart went through and installed these modern meat department signs in all their stores in the late 2010's. However, not all was lost when this sign was installed... behind the modern stuff, the original "Meats" department sign can be seen peeking out! At least Walmart just covered over everything rather than ripping out the original wall signage.

     Back to the grocery aisles for a few more photos...

     I took this photo for a view of the "Find the Price Here" sign, which was in an older style. Per my understanding, Walmart recently removed all the price scanners from their stores, now forcing people to download their app if they want to find the price for an item before heading to the checkouts.

     Produce is in the background, as we look across the store from the right side of the building near the pharmacy.

     The front right corner of the building is home to the restrooms, which actually got a full-blown wall sign instead of a small sign above the corridor. The wall sign is located between the two restrooms, with the space in between used for pharmacy products (as the pharmacy is located just out of frame to the left).

     A set of stairs was located to the right of the restrooms, presumably leading to an employee breakroom or office built above.

     From the restrooms, here's a look toward the pharmacy counter.

     The pharmacy box and restrooms project out from the building's actual right side wall, creating a small alcove in the back right corner of the building for frozen foods.

     Some small modern signs were added to the pharmacy, but otherwise it's mostly original, like the rest of the store.

     Like most Neighborhood Market stores, the aisles switch orientation near the pharmacy for the small general merchandise department. At this store (which is on the smaller side of the Neighborhood Market spectrum), the general merchandise selection is limited to pharmaceuticals, health and beauty, office supplies, party supplies, and greeting cards.

     Moving along toward the back of the store, we find the beginning of the frozen food department. Frozen foods are located in the small alcove created from the construction of the pharmacy/restroom box, occupying about two and a half short aisles in the back right corner.

     Frozen foods had two wall signs - the one pictured above being the main one over the coolers on the back wall. The decor really looks nice with the spotlighting and 3D effect, the pictures to each side of the sign bringing everything together.

     Here's the middle frozen foods aisle, which is oriented in the same direction as the rest of the grocery aisles.

     The next aisle is the last aisle, which runs along the store's right side wall.

     The secondary Frozen Foods sign is located to my left (although obscured by a hanging price sign). The pharmacy box is located behind the wall straight ahead.

     The view we see here is looking out from frozen foods toward the few general merchandise aisles. Besides the pharmacy counter, "Cards & Party" was the only general merchandise department to get any kind of wall signage.

     Even though the Card & Party department got its own sign, that entire department didn't get any more than a lone aisle of product dedicated to it. Unlike the oversized Walmart Neighborhood Market we saw in the 60,000 square foot former Albertsons last time, this former 35,000 square foot Winn-Dixie is more in-line size-wise to a store Walmart would have built from scratch.

     Lastly, before we finish our tour, here's a look at the front check lanes. This store had 6 staffed registers (only one of which was open, in typical Walmart fashion), and a bank of self-checkouts following them (which appeared to be more modern).

     The black triangular lane lights are original to when the store opened, and are quite different from any designs Walmart has used in the past (but are certainly much better than the cardboard signs Walmart was using in during their super cheap period  in the mid-late 2010's).

     Another one of the small alterations made to the original decor in recent times involved the modernization of the signage for the customer service (and pickup) desk. I can't find a photo of the original look, but I'd imagine this store had a customer service sign here that matched the rest of the ones used throughout the decor. When most stores of this design are modernized, the area where the service desk is now is converted into an online order pickup storage/sorting room, with the service desk moved to the other side of the check lanes. It's interesting to see how Walmart made the newer look work with the bones of the old decor here, but it's better than ripping out everything in the store and starting from scratch!

     Our interior parting shot will be this one, showing the classic "Thank you for shopping your [city name] Wal*Mart" sign. These signs were a classic Walmart staple, although Walmart has tried to bring back incorporating the city name into signage in the current Airport decor, after that fell out of flavor in the Impact era.

     Back in the breezeway out front, we find one last sign still featuring the old Wal*Mart Neighborhood Market logo, that being this one directing shoppers to the liquor store next door. What's interesting to me is Walmart went through all the trouble to update the exterior signage of this store to match the current branding in 2017, yet forgot to do anything about the interior! However, I won't complain, as the Pre-Impact decor in this store presently is so much nicer than what Walmart is using now. Like I said in the last post, the current Neighborhood Market interior graphics aren't bad, but the decor itself is still a few notches down in quality compared to what the company was installing 15 years ago.

     Here's a look down the right side of the breezeway, looking toward the liquor store entrance (which is that door down by the garbage can). It's weird to think that when Winn-Dixie was here, this area was part of the building's interior.

     Some of Walmart's 1990's stores had breezeways like this built in front of the entrance, but I haven't seen one of those in-person in probably 20 years. The original Walmart ones were much smaller and just covered their main entrance, but this gives a similar effect.

     While the exterior looks to deceive us, inside this building we have one of the last examples of a Walmart from before the Project Impact era, or "classic Wal*Mart" we could say. I think Walmart really changed as a company following the rollout of Project Impact in 2008, and ever since then I've shopped at Walmart less and less. It seemed to me that Walmart became more and more sterile and soulless following those changes, and it doesn't help that all of the Walmart stores near me are a chaotic madhouse either (which doesn't make me want to go there even more). This store was a refreshing little glimpse back in time to what the old Walmart was like. How much longer Walmart plans to keep this store around as-is I don't know, but the fact it's made it this long into the 2020's without a remodel is quite shocking. It will be sad when this store remodels, as the decor still looks really nice, and it has substance to it too!

     To wrap up this post, here's a retail relic I found randomly in this store's parking lot as I was walking back to my car. In a grassy island between the Walmart plaza and a gas station a few random carts were dumped, including this really old Winn-Dixie cart. I have no idea where this cart came from, as Winn-Dixie hasn't used these plastic carts since before the 2005 bankruptcy (and it looks like someone added some electrical conduit to the cart too). I doubt this cart has been hanging around this parking lot since Winn-Dixie left in 1999, but it was sure the odd coincidence!

     Anyway, that's all I have for now in our latest installment of supermarkets in Florida with really outdated decor! I may have some more decor surprises in my archives for the future, but for next time, we're off to explore more of those former Albertsons stores that dot our Floridian landscape.

So until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger