Sunday, August 27, 2023

Former Albertsons #4308 - Belleair Bluffs, FL

Albertsons #4308 / Publix #1309
2770 West Bay Drive, Belleair Bluffs, FL

Today's post is a presentation of Pinellas County retail

     The seemingly never ending saga of the Publixsons continues today, as we check another one of these Floridian supermarket anomalies off the list. For this post, our journeys take us back to the Publixsons capital of Florida - Pinellas County - to the tiny town of Belleair Bluffs. One of the smaller municipalities in the county, Belleair Bluffs is one of a cluster of four of tiny Gulf-side towns between Clearwater and Largo that all have "Belleair" in their names (including Belleair, Belleair Bluffs, Belleair Shore, and Belleair Beach). All of the Belleair cities are quite nice, with the original city of Belleair established as an exclusive winter colony for wealthy northerners in the 1920's. As you can see, some of that classiness has rubbed off on the design of this former Albertsons, even though the facade we see here today wasn't the original one from this store's construction in the late 1970's. Albertsons faced a tough road in getting this store in Belleair Bluffs built, which I'll discuss in more detail momentarily as we begin our tour of The Fresh Publixsons of Belleair:

     None of the Belleair cities have a lot in terms of retail - Belleair and Belleair Beach are almost entirely residential, and Belleair Shore is an odd mile-long strip of 57 homes that abuts the Gulf of Mexico (and is a strange little town to begin with, in addition to being one of the smallest incorporated entities in all of Florida). The intersection of West Bay Drive and Indian Rocks Road in Belleair Bluffs contains just about all the retail there is in the Belleair cities, and this intersection serves as the "downtown" area for Belleair Bluffs. Being the "retail hub" of town, Albertsons chose the large empty parcel at the southeastern corner of this intersection for its new store, the massive new 55,000 square foot supermarket being double the size of the A&P and Kwik Chek stores across the street combined! I'm sure neither of those two stores were happy about their super-sized new neighbor, but it wasn't any of the grocery competition that was about to make a fuss over the arrival of Albertsons, but a local resident named Stanley Michels instead.

     Stanley Michels was a resident of Belleair Bluffs and the owner of a chain of pharmacies based out of the Clearwater area (no, not that Clearwater-based pharmacy chain, a different one!). Shortly after Albertsons began the permitting process to build their new Belleair Bluffs store in 1975, Mr. Michels became the thorn in Albertsons' side. Mr. Michels' original motives for being so much against the Albertsons project stemmed from the fact that Albertsons (which at the time, was branded as Skaggs-Albertsons), was going to be operating one of its new food and drug combination stores. According to Mr. Michels, Albertsons' operation of a pharmacy would pose a threat to his own business (which at the time, had a location in the shopping center across the street). Mr. Michels began his quest to quash the Albertsons project following a city zoning hearing in early 1975, stating that the city did not follow the proper processes in recommending the zoning change for the parcel of land that Albertsons wanted to build on. Following Mr. Michels' concerns, a Judge ordered a permanent halt to all construction related to the new Albertsons as of March 31, 1975, until the zoning issues could be figured out.

     Even with the city trying to figure out its zoning matters, Mr. Michels also went ahead and filed a lawsuit against the city, on the grounds that the new supermarket would "violate the city zoning ordinance and damage Michels' business". Albertsons' own attorneys appealed the case, however, while all the legal processes were occurring, Mr. Michels decided to poll the public to determine how many others were unhappy with the construction of the new Albertsons store - all part of a tactic to build evidence for his own case.

The picture of the kitten has nothing to do with the Albertsons saga, but I thought it would be a nice way add a little fun to all of this legal drama, being right next to the Albertsons article!

     As legal pressure built, Albertsons also threatened to sue the city themselves, blaming the city for wrongdoing that led to Mr. Michels' suit and for causing a delay in construction of the new supermarket. According to Albertsons in the article above, the construction delay was costing the company $5,000 per month in addition to the $100,000 of sitework already done that Albertsons could lose if Mr. Michels won his case. The article above goes into much more detail on the legal challenges and the passing of the blame for causing this entire situation - I think you guys probably have gotten the point on all this by now, as I'm not here to bore everyone with a legal analysis of what happened here. You can click on any of these articles I have in the post to read more about the situation, or to see a larger version of our kitten friend in more detail!

     In May 1976, the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland overturned the lower court's order to block construction of the new store, allowing Albertsons to resume building the new store. However, Mr. Michels was still not happy with the thought of a new Albertsons coming to Belleair Bluffs, so he and his attorneys petitioned the Florida Supreme Court to review the case. The Florida Supreme Court agreed to review the case, that decision causing a halt in construction yet again, dragging this legal battle into 1977...

     On April 28, 1977, the Florida Supreme Court reviewed the Albertsons case and upheld the decision made by the appeals court in 1976 - Albertsons was now free to build their store. While many people were happy that two years of legal drama was behind them, Mr. Michels still wasn't happy, and said he would consult with his attorneys about bringing this matter to federal court.

     However, two years of legal battles must have worn Mr. Michels thin as well, as he never pursued taking the case to federal court, freeing Albertsons to finally build their store - or so everyone thought. Shortly after Albertsons resumed construction again in 1977, another lawsuit was filed against Albertsons, this time by Albert and Virginia Younghaus, a couple who owned a house adjacent to the Albertsons site. In their suit, the Younghauses alleged the new store would "damage the character of the neighborhood" since it would "attract large numbers of outsiders and create traffic problems". While the attorney for the Younghauses stated the couple had a good chance of winning their suit because "Albertsons, a 24-hour store, is not a community store and will create a fantastic amount of traffic", the couple decided to drop their case in September 1977. According to the Younghaus' attorney, the couple cited that a "long, drawn out litigation would not really be worth the aggravation", deciding it would just be easier to deal with the noise from the new Albertsons store. With the Younghaus' case out of the way, a statement from an Albertsons spokesperson was used to close out the article, stating the new Belleair Bluffs Albertsons, at long last, was "scheduled to open the last week of January [1978]".

     My little dive into jurisprudence out of the way, Albertsons #4308 did in fact open as scheduled in the last week of January 1978, with its grand opening held on January 25th, opening the same day as store #4321 in Tampa. While #4321 ended up being #4308's sister store due to the delay in construction, those two stores also have another feature in common besides their grand opening date - Albertsons #4308 and #4321 both lacked a liquor store upon opening. As one of the original concessions for the zoning change that triggered the big legal battle in Belleair Bluffs, Albertsons agreed to not open a liquor store at #4308 (although Albertsons was eventually allowed to open a liquor store here later on in the store's life). #4321 was denied a liquor license after a nearby elementary school filed a complaint stating that Albertsons, a business looking to sell liquor, would be too close to the school. YonWoo goes into more detail here about #4321's liquor battle at that link (although we'll talk more about #4321 on the blog at some point in the future too - that was a strange store in a lot of ways, outside of its lack of a liquor store).

Photo courtesy of namlocalcarts on flickr

     Albertsons #4308 received a rather deluxe remodel to the Grocery Palace interior sometime around the turn of the 21st Century, at which point the building's facade was remodeled to look how it does today. The facade was a classier take on the usual Grocery Palace design, with more of an "old Florida" architectural style to better fit the neighborhood around the store. The store's entryways were reconfigured into a newbuild Grocery Palace design as well, with the interior receiving a few changes during that remodel, although much of the original floorplan was kept in-tact.

     Publix inherited this store from Albertsons in 2008, one of the 49 locations Albertsons sold to Publix that year. This store was one of the quick turnaround locations, with the new Publix opening on November 13, 2008, roughly 3 months after this store closed as an Albertsons. While it seems like this store got a fairly light remodel the first time around when it got Classy Market 2.0, this store did get a much more thorough refresh in 2015 when it was remodeled to Classy Market 3.0/Sienna, a remodel which made this store feel much more like a modern Publix inside.

     Since Publix moved in, this building has seen a few different paint schemes, with the current color pattern more closely resembling how Albertsons originally had the building painted. Publix really liked to paint these former Albertsons stores in shades of dark brown after first acquiring them (see the first link), with most of these stores having been repainted to lighter colors since, and many incorporating light blue back into the color scheme as well (a nod to Albertsons, perhaps, as blue isn't one of Publix's typical paint colors).

Photo courtesy of namlocalcarts on flickr

     Going back in time once again, here's a look across the front walkway of this store from early 2008, back in the days when Albertsons' classic blue plastic shopping carts roamed these grounds. I can also see signs for the 10 for $10 sale in the window too (if you zoom in on the picture), another one of Albertsons' famous sales from the late 2000's.

     Publix decided to leave the carts inside, and dressed up the front walkway with some picnic tables and a display of beach toys (the Gulf of Mexico is just down the road from here). It was nice to see the picnic tables being used this early in the morning too, it was a nice day to be out at the quack of dawn! (Sorry, I couldn't help myself with that one, as I really thought it fit the bill!)

     Stepping through the front doors we enter a small vestibule where Publix now stores the carts. I believe this vestibule dates back to the Grocery Palace remodel, as most Grocery Palace stores had a little cart area like this between the two sets of doors, though Albertsons sometimes didn't use it for that purpose (my local Grocery Palace store used the cart area as a wall of deals, and left the carts outside). Also the inner set of doors matches the outer set of doors, which are all Albertsons' style of sliding door (as Publix's typical sliding door used in replacements is narrower than the ones Albertsons used).

     Stepping inside we're greeted by Publix's customer service island, which appears to have replaced Albertsons' original pharmacy island based off what I can see in this photo. The pharmacy was moved to the front right corner of the building when the island was removed in the 2015 remodel, opening up the front end to feel a little more spacious.

     Looking to the left after entering we see the grand aisle, with the deli counter located in the front left corner of the building.

     The main deli counter would have been located in front of me along the front wall when this store first opened. During the Grocery Palace remodel, the deli service counter was shifted over to the right into part of the bakery's space original space so the original deli counter could become home to the prepared foods department. The new deli configuration matched exactly how a new-build Grocery Palace store would have its deli set-up, although with the lower ceilings in this store, the giant spinning chef hanging from the ceiling was probably not included at this location.

     Publix kept the grand aisle layout from Albertsons in-tact, although the deli and its neighbor the bakery were both revamped to Publix's standard designs in the 2015 remodel.

     Here's a nice overview of the deli corner. All of Publix's deli services are located in the portion of the counter along the left wall, where Albertsons' service deli was located. The prepared foods counter along the front wall was blocked off by some coolers and shelves, as it was more space than Publix needed. Publix being Publix though, they positioned all the coolers and shelves perfectly to fool shoppers from thinking there's empty space back there, as blocked off former service departments are not something Publix ever does!

     Following the deli is the bakery, sporting its 2015 redesign as well. While the deli encroached a bit into the bakery's space during the Grocery Palace remodel, the bakery has always been in this part of the store.

     Beyond the bakery is produce, with the meat and seafood counter just behind that.

     Here's a nice overview of the deli, bakery, and produce all together. It seems like I didn't get a good picture of it, but floral was located in a small island between the bakery and produce, where all those balloons are in the photo above.

     Produce extends into the back left corner of the store with a nice spacious area to call home. I took this photo to showcase the placement of the produce department, however I also happened to capture how perfectly arranged those apples are on that display - I can't find a single one out of place! Only at Publix would you see something like that.

     At the edge of the produce department we find the meat and seafood service counter, with this look at the Seafood signage as seen from the end of the grand aisle.

     The signage for meats follows that for seafood, with the grocery aisles spanning out beyond that.

     I'm not really sure what was going on with that empty stretch of bottom shelf on the left, unless there was a mad run on Keebler Townhouse Crackers last year that I don't remember!

     Outside of whatever was going on in the cracker aisle, the rest of the grocery aisles looked fairly normal, like aisle 2 in the photo above.

     Pulling out of aisle 2, here's a look across the store's front end. The old pharmacy island would have ran from roughly where that wine display is to the self checkouts, the island's removal also triggering the relocation of floral from the side of the pharmacy island facing the checkouts to its new home over by produce.

     If you want a good idea of how dramatically the feel of this store changed between its original Classy Market 2.0 days (where the place was still seeping with Albertsons remnants) and now, just compare the above photo to this one, taken in roughly the same spot (although the linked photo may be one aisle over, as the big columns aren't present). That 2012 photo looks like it was taken inside a dressed up 1970's Albertsons, where the photo above looks like a funky modern Publix! I've said this before, but switching out the lighting from Albertsons' old fluorescent tubes to Publix's calmer square lights makes a huge difference on how the store looks and feels. The 2012 photo also shows the previous home of the health and beauty products, which were relocated over by the pharmacy in the front right corner when that department was moved out of the island.

     Returning to the store's back wall, here a look toward the back right corner of the building. To my left are the meat coolers, which transition into dairy where the wall stripe changes from black to light brown. The addition of that stripe does a good job of breaking up the blankness of the back wall, which is sometimes an issue in these 1970's era Publixsons stores that remodel to Classy Market 3.0/Sienna.

     While Publix is usually really good about hiding the roof support columns between the shelves in the stores they build, these inherited stores will sometimes present situations like this. While the giant column was smack in the middle of the aisle here, at least there was plenty of room for a cart to pass along each side, even if the photo makes this aisle seem more claustrophobic than it really was.

     While Publix seems to like pairing the peanut butter and jelly supplies across from the wine in many of their stores, Publix chose to be a little more school-lunch friendly at this store, pairing the PB&J supplies with soda this time. Grape soda just doesn't have that same lunchtime kick the other kind of grape beverage does.

     Leaving the PB&J and soda aisle, we'll take one more look at the meat coolers and the back left side of the store... well as our first glimpse into the dairy department and the back right corner of the building.

     With the relocation of the pharmacy to the front right corner of the building, health and beauty was shifted further to the right to be closer to the pharmacy counter, with those products now finding their home in aisle 10 (with additional pharmaceuticals located in a few short aisles in front of the pharmacy counter).

     The aisle between health and beauty and frozen foods which serves as our transition between the two is wine and beer, because why not? The beer is being kept cold like the frozen foods and some studies show wine is good for your health, so it works out!

     Back when this store first opened as Albertsons in 1978, the pharmacy counter would have been located back here where that cooler of cold cuts is now. Throughout the life of this building the pharmacy counter has moved three times (from the back right, to the front island, to the front right), making the pharmacy a very well traveled department in this store!

     The last two aisles of this store, numbers 12 and 13, are home to frozen foods. Frozen foods would have originally been located in the center of the store prior to the Grocery Palace remodel, as having frozen foods on the far side of the building from the grand aisle was a common Grocery Palace trait. Originally these frozen foods aisles would have been home to health and beauty, due to the placement of these aisles in front of the original pharmacy counter located behind me.

     Aisle 13 is this store's last aisle, split between frozen foods on my left and the remainder of dairy to my right.

     Returning to the front of the store, here's a look at the current pharmacy counter. Since Publix built this department new, it looks just like any other pharmacy from a mid-2010's built Publix would. This department did receive the updated Publix Pharmacy logo in recent years, which debuted just before the rollout of Publix's current Evergreen decor in 2019.

     The big columns get in the way of getting some nice overviews of the front end, and also make the front end feel a bit more cramped than it really is.

     The self-checkouts were also a recent addition to this store, as self-checkouts were not a common sight in Floridian Publix stores until the last 5 years. Most Publix stores are getting self-checkout now as they remodel to Evergreen, however some stores that received a "Sienna refresh" in 2018 or 2019 (essentially a light remodel that updated older Sienna stores to the decor's newer specs) also got self-checkouts (like this store).

     That's all I had to say about this store's interior, so let's spend a little more time outside wrapping up a few loose ends.

     While Albertsons did a rather major overhaul to the facade during the Grocery Palace remodel, the bones of this old Skaggs-era store remained in place. While painted over, you can see the store's original river rock panels remained in-tact here and along the side of the building.

     The right side of the building has remained mostly untouched since 1978, the only major modification over here being the closure of the store's side entrance during the Grocery Palace remodel. It's pretty obvious to this day where the old side entrance used to be, as the entrance was covered over with a stucco wall that doesn't match the original river rock panels to either side. Had this store operated a liquor store from the beginning, that would have been located over here too. Since Albertsons built this store to the Alabama specifications (which just deleted the liquor store space off the side entrance), Albertsons had to get creative when they were finally able to get permission to open a liquor store here years later, and we'll see what Albertsons did in just a moment...

     The left side of the building houses the loading dock, as the back of the building was constructed pretty close to the property line.

     Now that we've seen all of the main supermarket building, let's take a look at the unique Albertsons Liquors #4308 of Belleair Bluffs:

     Since Albertsons didn't have any room in the main building to add a liquor store, the liquor store ended up in this freestanding building just off the road in the main store's parking lot. What's interesting about this building is that it's actually been standing here longer than Albertsons has, as the liquor store building is actually housed in an old Pizza Hut built in 1971! While the building is pretty bland these days, the roof still does have a vague Pizza Hut look to it, and makes for the most unique Floridian Albertsons liquor store I know of!

     I couldn't find an exact timeframe for when Pizza Hut closed, but Pizza Hut hasn't operated out of this building for a long time. I'm also not sure if anything operated out of this building between Pizza Hut and Albertsons' Liquor hut store, or if the liquor store was added as part of the Grocery Palace remodel or a separate addition sometime prior. While a liquor store might not be the strangest reuse of a former Pizza Hut building I can think of, I still found this pretty unique. It probably would have been better if Albertsons kept some of the more obvious Pizza Hut remnants in place though, like the Funeral Hut I linked to.

     Anyway, the time has come to jump up to the sky for some aerial images, starting off with some Bird's Eye views courtesy of Bing Maps:


Right Side


Left Side

     And now some historic aerial images, courtesy of Google Earth and

Former Albertsons #4308 - 2020

Albertsons #4308 - 2008

Albertsons #4308 - 2002

Albertsons #4308 - 1995 - The original outline of the building can be seen here, before the Grocery Palace-era modifications were made.

Albertsons #4308 - 1984

Future Albertsons #4308 - 1971 - While there wasn't an Albertsons here yet, we can see the new Pizza Hut out front!

     Considering how much money Publix dumped into this store in 2015, I feel like this Publix will be around for a good long while. Even if Publix still feels the desire to call the bulldozer brigade to Belleair Bluffs, I think the locals will put up a big fight about Publix tearing down this building for a new store, especially since someone took all the trouble back in 2015 to write a bunch of nasty reviews about this store's remodel and how it violated city noise ordinances. As we learned earlier in this post, it only takes one really angry person to hire an attorney and get an entire construction project wrapped up in years of litigation. Hopefully this store sticks around for a while longer regardless, as it's a nice take on a former Grocery Palace Albertsons store.

     Anyway, that's all I have for now, so I'll see everybody again in two weeks for more Albertsons!

Until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger