|Photo courtesy of a really old real estate listing
3950 Central Sarasota Parkway, Sarasota, FL - Sarasota Oaks
Albertsons always seemed to have an odd relationship with the city of Sarasota. While the nearby cities of Bradenton and Venice managed to secure themselves an Albertsons store by the early 1980's, it took Sarasota until 1988 to finally get an Albertsons of its own. As I explained last time we visited Sarasota (when we visited the city's original 1988 store, #4372), Albertsons wanted to build in Sarasota much earlier than 1988, but the company's original proposed site at Bahia Vista Street and Beneva Road was met with much resistance by area residents. Thankfully it was much smoother sailing to get #4372 up and running, with Sarasota finally getting an Albertsons of its own. After giving #4372 time to establish itself on the south side of town near the entrance to famous Siesta Key, come the late 1990's, Albertsons decided it was time to blitz Sarasota with more new stores. By 1998, there were confirmed plans by Albertsons to build three more stores around Sarasota, with rumors of a 4th location in the works as well. Those four sites included new Albertsons stores on the far southern edge of town near Sarasota Square Mall (that one would become store #4464 - the one we'll be looking at today), another store on the far northern edge of town at University Parkway and Lockwood Ridge Road (that one becoming #4465), a third along the Bee Ridge Road retail corridor at the intersection of Bee Ridge and Honore Ave. (that being planned store #4457, which was canceled due to community protest), and the fourth and final location being a rumored new store in Downtown Sarasota at the corner of S. Osprey Avenue and Ringling Blvd. (which also never came to be, the property redeveloped into other uses). If all that had gone as planned, Sarasota would have went from having 1 Albertsons store to 5 by the turn of the 21th Century - crazy! Sadly only two out of those 4 planned Sarasota expansion stores ever came to be, and we'll take a look at the first of those two today as we venture into the story of former Albertsons #4464:
|Photo courtesy of the Sarasota Herald Tribune
Albertsons #4464 opened for business in January 1999, and was a significant opening for Albertsons too - Albertsons #4464 happened to be Florida's very first Grocery Palace store to open, and was the second Grocery Palace store in the entire chain as well (following the opening of the company's first Grocery Palace prototype in Texas a few weeks prior). *Update - Per the research by Anonymous from Houston in the comments section below, it turns out this was really the 4th or so Grocery Palace store in the chain to open, so the Sarasota Herald Tribune was off on that statistic - however, this still was the first Grocery Palace store in Florida - that part is correct! While the interior of this store looked pretty typical for a Grocery Palace store, the exterior was odd, with an unusually designed entryway with swinging doors and a blocky 2000's "futuristic" facade. I believe the strange facade was meant to compliment the odd architecture of the rest of the plaza (which we'll see more of as we go through this post), but the entryway seems to be a transitional holdover from the mid-1990's Albertsons stores.
Following the store's opening in January 1999, the Sarasota Herald Tribune did a huge write-up on the new store and its pioneering prototype. In addition, we'll also get a few photos of the interior of a Grocery Palace Albertsons store from the glory days of the design. As the caption of the above photo states: "The new store concept is based in part on new product "centers" and new signs," which is exactly what Grocery Palace's outlandish decor and designs were intended for. The photo above shows the original decor and design of Grocery Palace's baby department, with its specially designed super-sized department sign, category markers, and floor pattern.
I grew up shopping at a Grocery Palace Albertsons, but I don't remember the large self-serve pastry case we see here. Granted, the Grocery Palace store I went to most was actually 5,000 square feet smaller than its sibling new-build stores of the same design, so I missed out on some of the more deluxe features of this design (like the dairy barn, and apparently the pastry wonderland!).
It's grocery day. You're tired. You left your list at home. If only you could grab a latte and a seat, and take a few minutes to compose yourself and recompose your list. You walk into the new Albertsons store at 3950 Central Sarasota Parkway, and front and center is a coffee bar. Life is good. From where you sit, you look around the store. It's like no grocery store you've ever experienced. It's revolutionary and one of only two Albertsons stores like it; the other is in Texas.
Items in this store are grouped together in "centers" by category, and centers are clearly identified by signs and other unmistakable markers. A giant baby hangs over the baby products center to lead you over to it. Need milk? It's as easy as locating the giant barn. The beverage center is beneath a container of giant plastic soda bottles and ice. A gigantic bowl of plastic chips, pretzels, peanuts, and cheese doodles identify "Snack Central".
The article published about this store's grand opening had a rather poetic way of describing Grocery Palace, didn't it? In person, Grocery Palace has the strange effect of being the perfect balance of over-the-top but not totally overbearing, and is really quite mesmerizing. This decor played a large role in what made me like Albertsons so much, as it really made grocery shopping more fun with all those crazy props scattered around! Even today, I'd have to say Grocery Palace is one of my favorite supermarket decor packages of all time, both because of its crazy design and the pure nostalgia factor I have for it.
"This is the future," App [Albertsons district manager at the time] said. "We're training people to shop a new way." The concept was designed by the people who know best what a grocery should be - the people who shop. App said the design grew out of information gathered during focus groups of shoppers. "This is what they wanted," he said.
Customers seeing the store for the first time Wednesday said they liked the concept. Stewart and Nell Gillison like the revolutionary design of the store. "It's tremendous," said Stewart Gillison. "I think it'll be pretty easy to find things after you get accustomed to the store," said Gillison's wife Nell.
Above is the remainder of the article published about Albertsons #4464's grand opening, the excerpt I typed out above featuring some interesting insight into how Albertsons developed the Grocery Palace design. (I want to know who in the focus group mentioned hanging a giant bowl of chips from the ceiling - that must have been some focus group!) That section of the article also goes into detail about some other fancy features of the new store, including one of the stranger features being a "fragrance counter stocked with $40,000 worth of merchandise, including $50 bottles of Calvin Klein's Contradiction and other designer fragrances." I vaguely remember the designer perfume section at Albertsons, as it always seemed odd to me that a supermarket sold expensive perfumes. That particular feature didn't last long, as buying a bottle of Chanel No. 5 with your chop meat and milk probably seemed strange to others too! (But probably came in handy for last minute Valentine's Day gifts).
|Photo courtesy of a really old real estate listing
In addition to Albertsons, Oaks Plaza also featured Toys R Us as a co-anchor to the center, with some of the other smaller tenants of the strip listed below those two on the sign. However, unfortunately for both anchors, neither had a very good future lying ahead of them.
As revolutionary as Albertsons #4464 may have been, it only lasted for 7 years before being selected for closure in 2006. As part of the breakup of Albertsons that year, this store was included as one of approximately 100 stores Albertsons shed as part of the breakup deal. All the stores closed as part of that deal were some of Albertsons weakest stores, and this ended up being one of them. Toys R Us also had a large closure wave in 2006 as well, however, instead of closing their Sarasota store outright, the Oaks Plaza Toys R Us location was converted into a Babies R Us instead. Babies R Us lasted until 2013, at which point Toys R Us finally gave up on this location.
As with most of the funky or unusually designed Albertsons stores to have operated in Florida, of course, the fate of this store can be seen above. Yes, that is Albertsons #4464 as it appears today, the original building too (although you'd never know that from first glance). After sitting abandoned for 5 years, Kohls would end up taking over the building from Albertsons, with their new store opening on September 25, 2011. Kohl's completely gutted and rebuilt the place; however, the shell of the building is still from Albertsons (which you can see in the satellite images at the end of the post - from the ground, you'd probably think this building was always a Kohl's).
Thankfully, what Kohl's did here in Sarasota was better than what they did to the other Floridian Albertsons building they purchased in Tallahassee, which was totally flattened in order for Kohl's to build a new store from scratch. I would have loved to get a better look at this store's strange facade from the Albertsons days though, as it was a design both unusual for a Grocery Palace store, and also because the funky early 2000's futuristic look was rather interesting! Sadly, all we get to see here today is a fairly plan Kohl's facade that looks like the facade of every other Kohl's store out there.
I guess this Kohl's is fairly unique as it only has a single entrance (the one pictured here), rather than two entrances like most other Kohl's stores. This store didn't feel any smaller than a typical Kohl's, so I don't know if it's size or just the layout of the property that dictates how many entryways a typical Kohl's store gets.
Stepping inside, the grandeur and pomp of Grocery Palace cedes way for your typical department store fare. The dairy barn has been replaced with white walls, Snack Central reduced to some clothing racks, and Beverage Boulevard is now paved with some very shiny white tiles. If nothing else, at least the designer fragrance counter has made a grand return to this building, with some more complimentary products than chop meat and milk this time around!
The above photo looks from the front entrance toward the front right corner of the building, where the deli department used to be. Men's clothing now occupies the space where the deli was, extending back into Albertsons' old produce department.
Our little loop around Kohl's has us going in a counter-clockwise orientation, with us talking a quick circuit around the salesfloor. Here we've turned the corner from the last photo, looking into what used to be produce when Albertsons was here. This side of the store is home to all of Men's clothing, with housewares picking up on the back wall where the Albertsons bakery used to be.
Housewares and the store's small selection of hard goods occupy the space along the back wall, where Albertsons' bakery, "International Deli", meat and seafood counter, and dairy barn used to be (and in that same order from where I'm standing to the opposite side of the store).
If I remember right, women's clothing occupied the middle of the store down that aisle to my left, with children's clothing along the left side wall in the old frozen foods department.
Kohl's "Infant/Toddler" department doesn't have that same pizzazz as Albertsons' did, as we saw in the third photo of this post. It's just not the same without a giant baby suspended under a rainbow hanging above your head (although Kohl's decor may be less nightmare-inducing than that)!
Rounding the corner, here's a (slightly blurry) look toward the front end, as seen from the front left corner of the building where pet supplies used to be. Additional space for Women's clothing lines the front wall.
Our final interior photo looks down the store's center aisle, back toward the exit in the distance. Since there wasn't a whole lot to see in here, let's head back outside to take a look at what other elements from the past may be lurking around the property:
Back outside, here's another look across the entirety of Kohl's facade. The former Albertsons liquor store was located on the right side of the building where Albertsons joined the rest of the plaza. You'd never realize it, but the liquor store is still here...
…however Kohl's did a very good job of disguising it! The brown painted wall from the right side of Kohl's logo to the corner is the old liquor store. From both the outside and the inside of the building, you'd never even know the liquor store was still there, but it is. Kohl's merged the liquor store space into the main building, and it appears to be used as offices or some other kind of backroom space for Kohl's. In the aerial images we'll see at the end of the post, it's obvious the old liquor store space is still there, but from the ground (at least without walking around to the back of the building), it blends right in now.
Turning our attention away from Kohl's, let's take a walk over to the small strip of stores that once connected Albertsons to the old Toys R Us:
This (rather sad and abandoned looking) strip of stores contains the only original architectural elements from the plaza's early days still in-tact. The odd column projections, yellow window trim, and the overall blocky aesthetic are all original, and would have matched Albertsons' unique facade. It seems like whoever designed this shopping center was trying really hard to make it feel futuristic with the new millennium and Y2K just on the horizon at the time, with the abstract modern touches like the "Tetris shape" holes on Albertsons' facade, the slight industrial vibe, and the points that project out from the building for the columns.
What was futuristic and modern back in 1999 wasn't looking so hot as we entered the 2020s. While the architecture might be a bit dated, the fact that this little retail strip was mostly abandoned wasn't helping with the overall aesthetic much either. Of the 10 spaces that make up this little strip, I think only one was occupied when I made my visit (a nail salon right next to Kohl's). There were signs for a pet shop and a tanning salon up too, but both of those had "Space Available" signs in the windows.
Nearing the far right side of the little strip of stores, here we find some obvious remains from the plaza's former Cici's Pizza. Cici's was the unit with the white doors, the three door set-up an obvious sign of a former Cici's. The two doors to the right were the entrance, where one would have originally been marked "Dine-In Entrance" (most likely the inner one) and the other marked "Take Out Entrance" (most likely the one on the right). The door on the left would be the exit from the dining room. From what I can tell, Cici's closed this location around 2006, so 2006 really proved to be a terrible year for this shopping center. I peeked inside hoping there would be some Cici's remnants visible through the windows, but it turns out a medical office took over this space following Cici's departure, leaving the setup of the doors as our only remnant the endless pizza buffet.
Going back in time to the much happier days of the early 2000's, here's a look at the strip center when it was a little more lively. Cici's Pizza is visible in the foreground of this photo, along with some of its neighbors.
At the other end of Oaks Plaza was the former Toys R Us, pictured here while still in business. To the right of Toys R Us was another small strip of stores, that strip's towering "World Savings" sign peeking out from behind Toys R Us (denoting the bank of the same name, which anchored that little strip). As for the fate of the former Sarasota Toys R Us building, here it is:
Only about a year or so after Babies R Us finished its short stint in the old Toys R Us building, the building (along with the strip of stores to the right of it) was demolished. In its place another little strip of stores was built, which features a Tropical Smoothie Cafe and Skillets Restaurant, as well as a few other (mostly empty, from what I can tell) storefronts. In addition to that, a new Walgreens was built in the area that was once Toys R Us's parking lot. We can actually see the layout of all that in the satellite imagery, which we'll jump into right now:
Former Albertsons #4464 - 2019 - Bing Maps apparently doesn't have Bird's Eye aerial images for this area, hence why we're skipping those today and jumping right into the historic satellite imagery, courtesy of Google Earth. The image above shows us the modern configuration of Oaks Plaza, with the new structures where the old Toys R Us once was.
Former Albertsons #4464 - 2012 - The plaza in its original form, but with Kohl's in place of Albertsons. Here you can see how Kohl's incorporated the old Liquor into the main building following their renovations.
Former Albertsons #4464 - 2010 - The abandoned Albertsons, before Kohl's came along.
Albertsons #4464 - 2006
Albertsons #4464 - 2003
Future Albertsons #4464 - December 1998 - Only a month away from Albertsons' opening when this satellite image was taken, with the strip of stores connecting Albertsons and Toys R Us still in the works.
Future Albertsons #4464 - 1995
With former tenants being a Grocery Palace Albertsons, Toys R Us, and Cici's Pizza, this shopping center would have been a retail wonderland for a young AFB, with a lot of the places I liked going to as a kid bundled up into one shopping center - if only I grew up in Sarasota instead! However, my childhood Albertsons, Toys R Us, and Cici's Pizza all managed to stick around quite a bit longer than the ones here in Oaks Plaza did (even if they weren't all in the same place), however, all of those are long gone now as well. As you can tell, it doesn't take any more than one look at a Grocery Palace Albertsons to make me wax nostalgic, but then again, I think there are a lot of us who would do anything to bring back the retail of the late 1990's/early 2000's again!
Anyway, that's all I have to say about this former Albertsons store. In two weeks we'll be back to take a look at another former Floridian Albertsons location, so be sure to come back then for more.
So until the next post,
The Albertsons Florida Blogger