Sunday, October 8, 2023

A Winn Win or a Lose Lose? I Guess We'll Find Out...

Winn-Dixie #2234
611 E. Main Street, Apopka, FL - Apopka City Center

Today's post is a presentation of Orange County retail

     While talk of Winn-Dixie's impending acquisition by Aldi has been one of the hot topics of the grocery industry lately, that breaking news has somewhat overshadowed the recent grand opening of one of Winn-Dixie's latest ground-up newbuild stores. Located in Apopka, which is a city just northwest of Orlando, the new Winn-Dixie serves as one of the anchors to the "Apopka City Center" redevelopment project. The Apopka City Center aims to bring new life and businesses to the eastern portion of the city's downtown area along US 441/Main Street - the main road through town. The project includes the new Winn-Dixie, a new hotel, additional retail, and 190 new apartment units. What the Aldi acquisition holds for the future of this shiny new Winn-Dixie is still a bit of a mystery, but I would like to see this nice new store carry on the Winn-Dixie name for many years more, especially since Aldi already has a store just over a mile away from here.

     Holding its grand opening on August 16, 2023, the Apopka City Center Winn-Dixie is one of the new Winn-Dixie stores born out of the chain's new lease on life that we've been seeing through most of the early 2020s. The new Apopka store is also significant as it is the second of Winn-Dixie's totally new, built from the ground-up stores from these last few years (with most of the other new Winn-Dixies having taken over existing buildings of some kind). Winn-Dixie's first built from scratch store in over a decade opened last winter in St. John's (near Jacksonville), and a third is planned to open in 2024 in Fruitland Park.

     The new Apopka Winn-Dixie is actually the chain's second location in town, joining a Marketplace-turned-Transformational store further up US 441 near Apopka's western edge. Eastern Apopka had a Winn-Dixie of its own for a number of years, with the 1980's Winn-Dixie store located in the shopping center immediately next door to this new location. That store moved to a newer shopping center at the intersection of Semoran Boulevard and Wekiwa Springs Road during the Marketplace era (across the street from Albertsons #4359), although that store closed during the company's 2005 bankruptcy purge. The new Apopka City Center store is yet another example of Winn-Dixie taking back an area the company pulled out of due to their financial woes in the 2000's, and even if the Winn-Dixie of today isn't as powerful as the Winn-Dixie of pre-2005, the company's small steps forward these last few years have been great progress for a chain that seemed to be swirling the drain for most of the 2010's. How the Aldi acquisition will effect Winn-Dixie's recent progress has yet to be determined, as that deal is uncharted waters for the grocery industry. Still, out of an abundance of caution, I felt it would be best to visit this store sooner rather than later, and at least see how this store was intended to run under the reigns of SEG.

     While things pick up a bit inside, the exteriors of Winn-Dixie's newest stores are a bit plain. The facades are just white rectangles with some gray accents, and lack a lot of architectural detailing (especially compared to Winn-Dixie's last attempt at new-build locations). The (presumably) faux windows along the front of the building break things up a bit for visual interest, but they really don't hide the fact that the facade is flat and not very exciting to look at. Having an overhang of some kind running along the entire front walkway could have dressed up the facade nicely, but from looking at other 2020's retail architecture, plain and flat seem to be the big trends these days in retail design.

     Since the exterior isn't anything too exciting, let's head inside and see what the interior of a 2020's newbuild Winn-Dixie is like:

     Well hello, Apopka! (And I can totally hear that in the voice of the Winn Win Twinns in my head too!) While it's been a small effort, I like how Winn-Dixie's latest stores (and the Winn Win decor in general) have embraced a little local flare by having signs with the city or neighborhood name in-store, with the "Made in Florida" logo sprinkled around too. While not much, it's a better attempt at local flare than a certain other Floridian grocery chain uses these days.

     The light coming in through the front doors and the window in the cart corral wasn't helping me, but I took this photo to showcase the fun cartoon graphics of food lining the wall of the cart area. I thought this was a really nice touch, and adds to the fun and whimsical feel Winn-Dixie has been trying to create in their stores of late.

     Those wall graphics from the cart area were carried over onto these store aisle directories I found in the weekly circular bin, most likely leftovers from this store's grand opening week to guide shoppers on where popular products were located in the new store. I have a few other directories like this from other Winn-Dixie grand openings and remodels I've attended the last few years. Between what we saw on the walls and what we see on this directory, those cartoon graphics have been featured quite a lot in the Winn Win decor...

     …and also have just as large of a role in the decor package that appears to be replacing the original version of Winn Win. While a new-build Winn-Dixie was enough to catch my attention, I was surprised when this store opened to see it had a new decor package, especially since the previous new build store in St. Johns opened with regular Winn Win. Outside of the decor, this store and the St. Johns newbuild are almost identical in terms of design (and I imagine the upcoming Fruitland Park store will also look the same). A second Winn-Dixie with the new decor we'll be seeing today opened on September 20, 2023 in Jacksonville, and it will be interesting to see if the new revamped version of Winn Win will begin to appear in remodels as well, or how the remodels are even progressing now with the Aldi deal lingering in the air.

     We begin our interior tour of this store with the produce department, which is located in the front right corner of the building. Outside of the Lucky's and Earth Fare conversions (and the new College Park store, which has an unorthodox layout), most of Winn-Dixie's new stores from the 2020's have followed the same basic floorplan we'll be seeing today. The new version of Winn Win still retains green as the primary color for the walls in this department, one of two departments (the other being Wine & Beer) in the store that doesn't use red as its primary background color. The wall decor gets a little more detail in this new version compared to the prior one too, with wood-slat style backing on the walls, and additional stock photos featuring graphics relating to the department, or Winn-Dixie's logo. The department signs are a bit different too, but we'll see some of those in more detail a little later, as well as the hanging circular signs.

     Unlike Winn Win's "Hello, [City Name]" wall sign, the new version changes that to read "Keep it fresh, [City Name]", the phraseology aligning better with Winn-Dixie's marketing campaign, which really likes to emphasize "fresh" (especially fresh produce, although maybe not quite to the extent that Kroger is pushing their "Fresher than Fresh" produce).

     The "Keep it fresh" sign serves as our segue between produce and the bakery department, as we continue further into the store's "grand aisle".

     Pre-packaged breads (as well as some chips) find their home between the bakery and produce. While not the fresh-baked kind, I always thought it made sense to put the white bread near the bakery so all the breads would be together. I've seen a lot of grocery stores (including some older Winn-Dixie locations) put white bread on the complete opposite side of the store from the bakery, so it's nice to have all my bread options in one place.

     Turning around 180 degrees from the last photo, here's a look at the remainder of the grand aisle, where we find the deli, the bakery, and the kitchen (with wine and beer making a special appearance in the background).

     We'll get a better close-up of this in a bit, but one neat thing about the reimagined department signs is that the 3D lettering isn't mounted from the back, but instead the letters are "floating" in front of the background, supported from the bottom by individual poles. It's a neat effect, and adds another level of depth to the signs. Each department (Bakery, Kitchen, Deli, etc.) also has a descriptor phrase above it, such as "Award Winning Bakery" and "Fresh & Ready Kitchen". While those two descriptors are a bit plain, there are more creative ones we'll see as we continue our journey through the store.

     Maybe it's a bit too early for me to be saying this, but after having seen this store in person and comparing it to the other recent new stores, I have to say the new decor looks better in one of these newbuilds than the original Winn Win did. Here's a photo of a similar scene from the St. John's store to compare with the photo above. The original Winn Win decor is a bit plain in places, with the newer version having more signage and stuff to fill the walls. While some people don't like busy decor packages with a lot on the walls, I like grocery stores that fill in the blank wall space with signs or props to keep the visuals more interesting.

     The kitchen at this store offers the usual Winn-Dixie hot food selection: a sandwich station, a hot food bar featuring WD's famous chicken wings and other various side dishes, pre-packaged re-heatable dinners, and the usual rotisserie chickens and hot sandwiches (and if you've never had a Winn-Dixie pulled pork sandwich, I highly recommend them, but they can be a bit hard to find as I don't think all stores carry them). However, one unique feature of this store's kitchen is its fresh-made tortillas, a pretty rare feature for a Winn-Dixie (although I believe Fresco y Mas stores have in-store tortillerias, so putting a tortilla making machine in here wasn't too much of a stretch).

     This little warmer next to the rotisserie chicken stand is where the tortillas are placed after they're made, which keeps them warm throughout the day. At the end of the day the remaining tortillas are moved out of the warmer and placed on the shelf below, as they still have a shelf-life of a few days after being made. As you all probably know, I like visiting stores at the crack of dawn, and my visit here was no exception (hence the empty hot food cases). The tortillas seemed to be a popular offering, as by the time I made it here, only 4 packages were left from the day before (however, you may only see 3 packages in the photo, as package #4 was in my shopping cart). Being a unique feature to this store I had to try the tortillas, and those too were good. I really like Winn-Dixie's deli offerings if you haven't noticed, so that's another reason why I hope Aldi doesn't change too much of that department once they take over.

     The back right corner of the store is home to the "Ready-to-go" Deli counter, with a small sushi case between the deli counter and the Kitchen.

     Next to the deli is a small alcove housing the store's Wine and Beer selection, although not to be left out, seltzer also gets prime billing on the signage too. Poor seltzer never gets a department sign of its own, and I believe this is the first time I've ever seen a grocery store give seltzer such a prominent place on the wall! In addition to having a black background on the wall instead of red, the Wine, Beer, and Seltzer department was also given a special spotlight fixture to give this department a mood of its own, giving the alcove a dark "wine cellar" feel.

     Located on the opposite side of the back actionway from the Beer, Wine, and Seltzer department was another Winn-Dixie first for me - a wine chiller. I've seen similar wine chillers at some top-tier Publix locations, but never at a Winn-Dixie.

     Beyond the Wine, Beer, and Seltzer alcove, here's a look across the remainder of the store's back wall. The seafood counter is the first service department we encounter, followed by the meat coolers and then the dairy department.

     With its text in blue, the signage for the seafood department stands out amongst the sea of red that otherwise blankets the wall, catching people's attention more to reel them in toward the counter.

     However, this isn't just any seafood department, this is Winn-Dixie's "Reel-y Fresh" Seafood department! The spotlights glared the "Reel-y Fresh" part of the seafood signs on all my photos, but you have to give credit to a clever pun when credit is due, as that one had to have been fished out from deep within someone's mind!

     Swimming right along, here's one last close-up shot of the seafood counter, with the store's cooler of house-made sausages to my left (another one of the big features touted during this store's grand opening). And yes, even in a brand new 2023-built Winn-Dixie, Winn-Dixie still uses the old-school style coffin coolers (which look brand new too, so someone is still making these!). These days the coffin coolers in the store are limited to these ones in front of the meat counter, and house products primarily for the meat department.

     Leaving the grand aisle behind us, we'll move along as we begin to zig-zag through the grocery aisles, starting with aisle 2, home to water and other non-soda beverages.

     Here's another look at aisle 2, this time looking toward the front of the store.

     Popping out from aisle 2, here's a glance across the store's front end, looking from Produce toward the check lanes, the party supplies department, and frozen foods.

     The first quarter of aisles 3 and 4 is a double-wide aisle for pallet drops of various promotional items, either chips or soda depending on what's on sale in a given week. Following the non-soda beverages in aisle 2, moving along to aisle 3 we find soda itself.

     From aisle 4 we get a better view of the double-wide portion of the aisle, with aisle 4 home to chips and cookies.

     While some Winn Win remodels from mid-2023 also feature these, the new decor exclusively uses these new tri-sided aisle signs. Outside of the change in shape to add the third side, these signs are identical to the flat aisle signs used in the original Winn Win decor.

     Back up front again, here's another look across the front end. Behind those fancy soda coolers is the store's customer service desk, which we'll see a better photo of later in the post.

     While I know some people aren't big fans of concrete floors in supermarkets, at least the concrete floor in this store was designed to see the light of day. With that being the case, outside of the necessary control joints visible in the photo above, the concrete floor in here is shiny and smooth, and free of nasty looking scrapes and scars that concrete floor retrofits are notorious for.

     Following the regular packaged meats, lunch meats are the next department we come across on the back wall. I have a much better photo of the lunch meats department coming up shortly, so we'll just consider this rather poor photo of that department a sneak preview.

     Moving into aisle 10 we find pasta and international foods. While Apopka isn't as heavily Hispanic as Kissimmee and South Orlando are (those areas become becoming some of the fastest growing areas for the Hispanic population outside of South Florida), there's still a sizeable Hispanic community in the Apopka area. As such most of this store's international section skews Hispanic, with a sizeable selection of Hispanic frozen foods and the fresh tortillas in the deli too.

     Another unique feature of this new Winn-Dixie is its Party City Celebrations store-within-a-store department. Outside of a few small party supply items near the greeting cards, most Winn-Dixie stores don't carry much in relation to party supplies. With the Party City partnership, this store offers a selection of themed decorations, banners, table wear, balloons, and piƱatas. It's an interesting concept for a store-within a store, and with people coming to the supermarket to pick up snacks and cakes for their parties, it makes sense for Winn-Dixie to try being a one-stop party shop. While the new Apopka Winn-Dixie has the Party City store-within-a-store, it appears the new College Park store in Jacksonville does not have one. I don't know if this will be our only example of a Winn-Dixie Party City Celebrations department in the chain, or if we'll be seeing more of these popping up in Winn-Dixie stores in 2024, right next to the new Aldi Finds departments.

     In addition to party supplies, from this vantage point we can also see the highly-touted glass enclosed liquor store, reminding shoppers as they browse for party decorations to remember the most important party favor for the 21-and-up crowd! The liquor store was constructed into the front left corner of the building, the big window helping make the isolated liquor store feel more like part of the main store. While other Winn-Dixie stores have windows of some kind connecting the main store to the liquor store, these are the largest windows I've ever seen used.

     In addition to the party supplies being over here, Winn-Dixie also uses the Celebrations department as the home for seasonal merchandise. The seasonal merchandise seems to be supplied by Winn-Dixie, with Party City only handling the supply of the decorations, as the Halloween stuff pictured here looked like Winn-Dixie's usual fare. In addition to the wall posters, this department's main decor piece is the large circular sign hanging above it, another new feature from the new decor. The round signs in the store are all double sided, with the inner part of the sign containing either more cartoon graphics or a phrase, much like how the sign here has written inside it "Food, drinks, and decorations for the Winn". It's nice to see the decor designers take advantage of that space inside the hanging signs too, adding a little more character to the decor than a blank backing piece could.

     Returning to the grocery aisles, in the greeting card department we find more special signage directing people to the new Celebrations department for additional supplies, a nice touch to get shoppers to check out the new area.

     The internet's most famous grocery aisle, aisle 12, is home to pet supplies at this store.

     Here in the "Famously Fresh Meat" department, we have a nice close-up of one of the new style department signs. With this sign, you can see how the lettering for the department names are pole-mounted. While it probably would have been easier to mount the letters from the back, I like the effort Winn-Dixie took to try something new.

     The health and beauty department is located in aisle 14, and also gets its own round sign hanging from the ceiling (which is decorated with cartoon versions of health and beauty products on the inner part of the circle). In the recently remodeled stores, Winn-Dixie has been installing these lighted shelves in the health and beauty departments, which makes this aisle extra bright. As you could have probably guessed, this store did not open with a pharmacy. Of all the new stores Winn-Dixie has opened since 2020, only one opened with a pharmacy, that being the Westlake store. As you probably heard, with the impending sale to Aldi, all of the remaining Winn-Dixie and Harvey's pharmacy locations will be closing. The pharmacy records will be split between Walgreens and CVS (I guess it depends on which store is nearby), and pharmacies have already begun closing as recently as mid-September 2023 (and will supposedly close on a rolling basis through the end of the year). Aldi doesn't operate pharmacies and doesn't have any kind of licensure to do so, so it's no surprise such a decisions was made prior to the sale. However, Winn-Dixie has closed a lot of in-store pharmacies over the last 7-8 years, and with most of the new locations lacking a pharmacy, it seems like pharmacies were not one of SEG's primary focuses of late anyway. Even without the sale to Aldi, I would not have been surprised if SEG got out of the pharmacy business on their own, especially with other big retailers like Target and Schnucks selling off their pharmacies entirely, and others like Raley's and ShopRite significantly reducing their total number of stores with pharmacies (and those are only select examples). With changes in insurance laws of late, supermarket pharmacies aren't the cash cows they used to be (and have to deal with more legal red tape too), which is why a lot of grocers now want out of that business.

     Leaving the health and beauty aisle, here's a close-up of the "Sandwich-ready Lunch Meat" sign, showcasing its construction. While I got a picture of the sign, that security camera probably got a good picture of me taking a picture of the sign too.

     Moving along to aisle 15, we find paper products and baby supplies, with the picture window looking into the liquor store straight ahead, tempting the parents in this aisle picking up cases of Pampers!

     The far left side of the store is home to frozen foods, with coolers occupying the last two and a half aisles. The only signage for the "Ready When You Are Frozen Food" department was the sign on the front wall to my left, with the remainder of the wall space in this part of the store dedicated to signage for the dairy department, which wraps around from the back of the store onto the left side wall.

     Half of aisle 16 is home to frozen foods, with freezer cases lining both sides of aisle 17, as can be seen here.

     The last little bit of frozen foods could be found here in aisle 18, the store's last aisle, with the Delicious Dairy department lining the left wall. Cream cheese, yes please!

     In the back left corner of the store we have the Ice Cold Milk coolers, with milk getting its own dedicated wall signage back here.

     While we're back here, here's one last look across the store's back wall before we return to the front as we begin to head out...

     Teleporting back up front, here's a look from frozen foods toward the Celebrations department and the front check lanes.

      As we wrap up our interior tour, I'd like to mention this store lacks two notable departments - Floral and the Dollar Shop. As I was looking through pictures of the new College Park store, I realized I hadn't seen those two departments in this store. I provided links to the new College Park store to showcase what those departments would look like with the new decor. The College Park store was designed to be roughly a mirror of the interior layout we toured today, although the building Winn-Dixie moved into in College Park had a bit of an odd lineage, so that store ended up with more of a non-standard layout compared to some of the recent new stores Winn-Dixie has opened. You can see more photos of the College Park store here if you're curious, or if you just want to see more photos of Winn-Dixie's new decor.

     The front end consists of a bank of 4 self-checkouts, followed by 4 regular staffed lanes and the customer service island.

     The photo above looks out toward some of the check lanes, although my primary goal with this photo was to capture some of the Winn Win-era graphics hanging above the front wall. While the other states Winn-Dixie operates in get their own versions of the "Made in [State Name]" graphic as part of the local and fresh aspect of the marketing campaign, I feel the "Made in Florida" graphic also (if not directly intended to) serves as a reminder that Winn-Dixie was founded in Florida, one of the last remaining Floridian supermarket chains after many years of those withering away.

     While the fancy soda coolers mostly block it, here's a look at the customer service island. The side of the desk closest to me (behind the bread warmer) serves as an express checkout lane, with the main service desk on the opposite side closer to the front doors. Customer service also got a round hanging sign of its own, so even if we can't really see the counter from here, at least we can see the sign!

     Here's a look at the store's front end from produce, which will serve as our parting interior shot as we bring this tour to a close...

     One of the fun exterior decorations Winn-Dixie uses on their new stores is placing a giant lighted version of their checkmark logo right next to the front doors. The sign itself isn't anything fancy, but it's a nice way to break up what would otherwise be a blank white wall. Also out front is a signboard advertising the new Celebrations department inside, that department being one of the biggest aspects Winn-Dixie wanted to feature with this new store.

     On the far left side of the building is the liquor store entrance, with the liquor store occupying the front left corner of the building. As we saw inside, Winn-Dixie installed a series of tall glass windows so shoppers could see inside the liquor store from the main store. While that may help draw people into picking up a bottle of booze as they leave, the glass windows also help make the liquor store feel like part of the main store rather than an isolated corner of the building. The few Target stores in Florida with liquor stores use a similar window-encasing design, although Target goes a step further and builds the walls of their liquor stores entirely of glass.

     Now that we've seen the liquor store, here's a final parting shot of the store's exterior. While it isn't anything extravagant, the new Winn-Dixie was really nice, and I really liked the new decor. Having seen the new decor in person, it really felt like a more refined evolution to the Winn Win decor, which was just a bit more simplistic in design that what we saw in here. The new decor takes all of the graphics and fonts from Winn Win and steps things up nicely. So far this store in Apopka and the new College Park store are the only two Winn-Dixies that have received this decor. I guess the future of this decor package will end up in Aldi's hands, and like I've sad before, what will happen when Winn-Dixie ends up in Aldi's hands is still a huge question mark. Aldi can be thinking so many things with this deal, so I guess we'll see what Winn-Dixie's fate will be come 2024.

     While we're in the neighborhood, I mentioned earlier in this post that the new Apopka Winn-Dixie was built practically next door to a former 1980's Winn-Dixie store. The above satellite imagery from the Orange County Property Appraiser was the only imagery I could find showing the new store as anything but an empty lot, with its rising shell labeled with the current Winn-Dixie logo. Since we're here, let's pop next door and see what the old Winn-Dixie is all about:

     Over here at the Apopka Square Shopping Center, we find the old Winn-Dixie now subdivided between a Citi Trends and a charter high school. The building is still quite recognizable today as a former Winn-Dixie, with the original windows and vestibule area still present. I didn't get a picture of it, but next door to this former Winn-Dixie was a former TG&Y store that's now split between a Save A Lot and some smaller tenants, this being one of the many TG&Y/Winn-Dixie shopping center pairings that were quite common to find across Florida in the 1980's.

     Before I finish this post, I'd like to make a quick note about my upcoming blog programming. As you may know, AFB is quickly approaching its 10th anniversary on the web. For that big occasion, I stocked up on supplies at the Celebrations by Party City department at Winn-Dixie I have a special posting series I'm going to launch beginning in November to celebrate the big occasion. In order to get all of that ready, this will be my only new post for the month of October. However, I promise you, the wait will be worth it, as I have some really great stores set aside for us to look at as part of my 10th anniversary celebration! I will release more details on what the celebration will entail on November 5th, so be sure to come back then for more!

So until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger