6005 US 301, Hawthorne, FL - Hawthorne Square Shopping Center
Dark skies, an empty parking lot, and an old grocery store that looks a little worse for wear...while that could have been an interesting scene for an Alfred Hitchcock movie, I'm not setting up the premise for a Hitchcock movie, but my visit to Hitchcock's Market instead. (No relation between Alfred Hitchcock and the supermarket chain though, as far as I'm aware). Our supermarket travels today will take us north by northwest into the Floridian Peninsula, to this grocery store in the small town of Hawthorne (located about 20 miles east of Gainesville). Situated at the crossroads of State Route 20 and US 301, Hawthorne is a junction town of roughly 1,500 people, its main attractions being this shopping center and a truck stop located next door. We touched a little bit on Hitchcock's Markets earlier this year when we toured the company's failed "Hitchcock's Green Market" down in St. Petersburg, however, today we'll explore the chain's history in a little more detail, while we explore one of the company's older "legacy" stores that more or less gives us a feel of what the rest of the Hitchcock's chain is like. So while I keep a close eye on the growing flock of birds gathering in the parking lot, let's talk a little more about the history of Hitchcock's Markets:
In 1945, Bob Hitchcock and his father opened the first Hitchcock's Market in the city of Alachua, a small town about 15 miles northwest of Gainesville. Under the control of Bob Hitchcock, Hitchcock's grew its Alachua store from a storefront on the town's Main Street (now named "Bob Hitchcock's Main Street") to a new modern supermarket building at the corner of Main and US 301, which opened in 1977. A year later, Bob would pass control of his grocery store to his son Alan. Alan wanted to grow his father's business even more, so one of Alan's first projects as the new head of the company was to begin an expansion effort. The second Hitchcock's Market opened in 1979 in the small town of Archer (located southwest of Gainesville), followed by stores in Jasper, Trenton, Williston, and Newberry. One of the largest expansion efforts that Hitchcock's Markets undertook was the purchase of select stores from the Miller's Supermarket chain in 2001 when they went under, which added 5 new stores to the company (including the one we'll be touring today).
Hitchcock's saw a lot of growth under the control of Alan Hitchcock, who established the brand as a staple for small towns throughout north-central Florida. By 2008, Hitchcock's had grown into a chain of 12 stores, evading many of the problems that plagued most other Floridian supermarket chains by focusing their service on small towns that the big names in the Floridian grocery scene wouldn't touch. Most of the towns Hitchcock's serves are not only small enough to lack a Publix, but are small enough to lack Winn-Dixie too, with Hitchcock's being the only grocery store in town in many cases (like here in Hawthorne). 2008 was a pivotal year for Hitchcock's, as after 63 years in family control, Alan Hitchcock decided that year to sell the chain to Huag Enterprises, a fellow Supervalu affiliate (Hitchcock's supplier at the time), as he prepared for retirement. Under Huag's control Hitchcock's remained relatively stable, with a few really small stores being cast off, and a new modern prototype store opening in Old Town in 2013. Huag also refreshed the Hitchcock's brand and created the chain's current logo. However, come 2019, Huag Enterprises sold the Hitchcock's chain once more to a man named Carlos Alvarez, who would run the company alongside his daughter, Giselle. The Alvarez family were the ones who tried to once again expand the Hitchcock's brand, pushing the chain to its limits with new stores in far flung areas of Florida like Indiantown (near Stuart in Martin County) and Homosassa Springs (near Crystal River). The Alvarez family also created the concept of "Hitchcock's Green Market", which we toured a few months ago on AFB. While the Alvarez family had good intentions and no shortage of ambition at the start, most of those crazy new projects were big flops, with both the Green Market and the new Homosassa store closing after only two years in business in 2022. The fancy new prototype store in Old Town, opened under the prior ownership, was also sold off by the Alvarez family. However, the far-flung new store in Indiantown seems to have been one success for the Alvarez family so far, as it's still open, and one of the 11 stores Hitchcock's currently operates. As far away as the Indiantown store is from the rest of the chain, the Indiantown location does fit the mold of Hitchcock's traditional operating pattern, of being a small-town store with no other competition around for miles. Other than some of those big new expansion projects failing rather quickly, Hitchcock's still seems relatively stable under the ownership of the Alvarez family as we continue further into the 2020's, which is good, as the chain serves a purpose in these towns too small or isolated to get the attention of Publix and/or Winn-Dixie.
|GIF courtesy of Alachua Freenet's Hawthorne Page|
So that's the summarized history of Hitchcock's Market, however, if you'd like to read some more details about the chain's past, this 2006 article from the Gainesville Sun and YonWooRetail2's post about the (now closed) Old Town Hitchcock's are also an interesting read. As for the Hitchcock's store we'll be touring today, this was one of the 5 stores Hitchcock's bought from Miller's Supermarket in 2001. Miller's Supermarket was, like Hitchcock's, a small chain of supermarkets that served small towns in North-Central Florida. However, there really isn't much more detailed history than that available online about Miller's Supermarket. I do know the Hawthorne Miller's opened in 1986, around the same time Miller's built similar stores along the State Route 20 corridor in Interlachen and East Palatka (which are also Hitchcock's stores today). Amazingly enough, I found the GIF above (which came from a website that looked like it was made in 1996), which contains a number of images of the Hawthrone Square Shopping Center from the late 1980's or early 1990's, including one of this store's exterior when it was still Miller's. Even though the image will pass by quickly, you'll see all Hitchcock's did to this store was swap out the "Miller's" sign for one of their own, and Hitchcock's even placed their sign on an angle just like Miller's did too! The entire exterior of this store looks the same today as it did back in 1986, and you can very much use that as a hint for what the interior of this store will look like too...
Stepping inside, the vestibule is filled with pallets of bottled water, blocking us from heading straight ahead and forcing us to loop around and proceed into the store's produce department:
Produce is located in the front right corner of the building, in a little alcove. For a small-town grocery store, the produce department (and this store in general) was quite large. The store itself comes in around 20,000 square feet in size, which is on the larger side for Hitchcock's (and for a supermarket in a town of 1,500 residents). When Hitchcock's bought those 5 stores from Miller's in 2001, 4 of the 5 stores purchased were these larger-sized stores. However, Hitchcock's also bought a tiny store in Astor, Lake County, from Miller's, which Alan Hitchcock even described as nothing more than a "glorified convenience store with a meat market". As such, Hitchcock's ended up closing the Astor store after only a few years due to its size, however the other 4 stores purchased from Miller's remain with the Hitchcock's chain today.
I'm pretty sure all the wall decor in this store originates from Miller's, as the other three Miller's conversions still in the Hitchcock's chain have this exact same decor, and I've never seen it in any of Hitchcock's other stores either. While I feel pretty confident the decor originated with Miller's, I can't say for sure that it's original to this store's construction in 1986. The decor is old and somewhat dated, but it doesn't look quite 1980's dated (it seems more late 1990's to me). However, the decor is generic enough it still could be from 1986, and as a smaller chain, it's possible that Miller's passed up on some of the fancier features like neon and pastel that were all the rage back then!
The back wall of the produce alcove is home to the "Wall of Values", which acted as a pseudo-dollar section of sorts, where Hitchcock's kept a selection of dollar store type deals and items. In front of the Wall of Values were a few tables of sale items, which upheld the Easter theme of the area.
From the produce alcove, here's a look across the front of the store toward the deli and bakery. We'll work our way over there shortly, but for now let's make a right turn and head down aisle 1:
Here's a look down aisle 1, which abuts the store's side wall. According to the aisle marker, aisle 1 contains canned juices, Kool Aid, and school supplies. I'm guessing the school supplies were moved at some point, unless teachers are asking kids to being canned yams to school these days!
Coming out from aisle 1, we find the meat counter along the store's back wall. From what I understand, the meat department is one of the highlights of Hitchcock's Market, and where a lot of the company's business comes from.
Looping back around into aisle 2, we find a lot of cardboard displays. Thankfully it wasn't very busy while I was here, as I can see this aisle getting cramped with all those displays in the way at busier times.
While I took a photo of Hitchcock's house-brand jellies at the Green Market, this photo shows the company's house brand also expands into canned fruits and pickled vegetables as well. Outside of this though, Hitchcock's uses Supervalu's Essential Everyday house brand for most everything else. Originally, Hitchcock's started out as an affiliate of Foodway, which was a brand used by a lot of independent grocery stores in small towns throughout Florida. Like Miller's, Foodway's history is a bit hard to come across, however, they seemed to operate like IGA. However, I don't quite know what happened to the Foodway brand or when Hitchcock's switched to Supervalu as a supplier. Miller's was a Supervalu affiliate, so I don't know of the purchase of those stores from Miller's is what brought Hitchcock's into the Supervalu system, or if Hitchcock's affiliated with Supervalu prior to that as Foodway's original distribution program dissipated.
Moving along to aisle 3, we find frozen foods.
At the very back of aisle 3 is this small coffin cooler, straddled between aisles 3 and 4. While positioned to look like an extension of the frozen foods department, I believe the coffin cooler was mostly home to more meats.
Some more meat coolers occupy the back wall of the store as well, taking up the remaining back wall space between the meat service counter and the back left corner.
Cereal, candy, crackers, and cookies - all of our C's are accounted for here in aisle 4.
Even though this store is only 20,000 square feet in size, it doesn't feel small when you're in here shopping. It's an interesting illusion, and the fact that the sales floor is almost perfectly square probably helps, as you don't have a narrow dimension giving you the impression the store is tiny.
Here's one last look at the store's back wall, looking toward the meat counter.
Paper products and baby supplies found their home in aisle 6.
The store's last aisle is aisle 8, home to the dairy wall and soda.
Aisle 8 spills out into the bakery and deli alcove. These two departments share a counter in an alcove in the building's front left corner, although the counter skews much more heavily toward deli products than baked goods. The store's selection of baked goods is mostly limited to the prepackaged goods on these tables in front of the counter itself.
The service deli counter was fairly large, especially for a small-town grocery store. The fact that a town of 1,500 has a grocery store with both a full-service deli and meat counter is pretty impressive, so this store must do a decent amount of business (although I'm sure being the only grocery store around for miles helps with that too).
The remainder of the deli and bakery alcove is home to snack foods and "beverages". While soda, juice, and water may have been located over here at one time (at least going off the graphic on the wall sign), the "beverage" department in the alcove skews toward the more potent kind of beverages these days. Also, that creepy advertisement trellis looks perfectly fitting to be placed in a store called "Hitchcock's".
From the deli and bakery alcove, here's a look across the front of the store back toward produce. Like I said before, this store is very good at misleading you into thinking it's much larger than it really is! The store looks pretty wide from this viewpoint, but the way the produce alcove was carved into the right side of the building adds on a tiny bit of length.
This store had 4-5 checklanes plus the customer service desk, which was located in an island between the checklanes and produce. Those curved lamp-like check lane lights I believe were installed by Hitchcock's (probably when the store was converted and the registers were swapped out), as I've seen those style lights at other Hitchcock's stores besides the ones acquired from Miller's.
Thank you for shopping Hitchcock's, the sign reads in large letters visible from the back of the store. If the font used for the "Thank you for shopping" part of the sign looks familiar to you, that's because it's the same font Winn-Dixie used for the wall signs in its Marketplace decor. That font (which is called 'Laser', in case you were curious) was pretty popular in the late 1980's and 1990's, as I've seen it make its rounds in other retail uses as well.
Back outside, here's a look at the cart corral. I probably should have placed this photo toward the beginning of the post, but here it is now. The cart corral is another one of the few instances where we saw the current Hitchcock's logo in use at this store, although it appears after my visit, the main sign on the front of the building was updated to the current logo as well (add GSV link). Since the Alvarez family has taken control, they've been trying to roll out the current logo to all the chain's storefronts, as most of the chain's stores still had a patchwork of old signs and inconsistent logos, dating back to ones from the Foodway days.
In addition to that, I believe all the carts Hitchcock's was using at this store were old Food Lion carts, as they looked pretty similar to the ones Food Lion used to use.
Over by the left side doors (which don't appear to be used anymore, as they were locked during my visit), I spotted this relic of the past - a payphone (which, according to that snarky sticker above it, still works). While I didn't test that claim, I wouldn't be surprised if this was the phone that people used to dial 'M' for murder...
Off in the plaza's left wing is this Family Dollar store, which is a longtime (if not original) tenant to Hawthorne Square (as it was visible in the old GIF posted at the beginning of the post). In addition to Family Dollar, the plaza's other original junior anchor was Eckerd. The Eckerd was at the opposite end of the plaza, and converted to a CVS in 2004 with all of the chain's other stores. CVS eventually moved to a freestanding building out in the parking lot, with the original Eckerd space now home to an O'Reily Auto Parts (which was under construction during my visit, but appears to be open now).
Turning our attention back to Hitchcock's, here's one last look at the store's exterior to wrap up our post with. Hitchcock's leogetivity here in Florida most likely comes from the chain's penchant to serve small towns mostly overlooked by other grocers. The company found its need, and for almost 80 years now, continues to serve shoppers in rural North Florida (and Indiantown). I think a lot of the reason Hitchcock's new ventures into St. Petersburg and Homosassa Springs failed so bad was because Hitchcock's wasn't used to operating in such highly competitive areas. I don't know what the new owners plan to do with Hitchcock's going forward, but if they want to expand, I think it would be best for them to stick to other small towns and not try to make a leap into a big city again. Considering their niche, I think Hitchcock's is in a good position to stick it out as an anomaly of Floridian retail. Hopefully the new owners will continue to invest in the current stores as well, as a lot of them (like this location) could use a freshening up (and whoever the Alvarez family contracted to design the decor in the St. Petersburg and Homosassa Springs store did a really good job too, so it's a shame all that went to waste!)
Anyway, that's all I have left to say about Hitchcock's Market. It's a bit of an oddity that there's a tiny supermarket chain hiding in the woods of North Central Florida that people rarely talk about, but Hitchcock's serves its purpose, and hopefully the chain will be around for many years more.
While that's everything for today, I'll be back in two weeks with more Albertsons, so until then,
The Albertsons Florida Blogger