Sunday, March 31, 2024

Former Albertsons #4321 - Tampa, FL (East Fowler Ave.)

Albertsons #4321 recreation courtesy of YonWooRetail2

Albertsons #4321
1401 E. Fowler Avenue, Tampa, FL

Today's post is a presentation of Hillsborough County retail

     The former Albertsons store we'll be touring today is one that I've been wanting to write about for a while now. While it may not be the most visually interesting former Albertsons store out there these days, former Albertsons #4321 (the "countdown" Albertsons, with a store number that would have been so much more appropriate for a location in Brevard County) has quite the interesting past, and quite the interesting downfall too. I've mentioned Albertsons #4321 in passing a few times before, so it's about time we finally discuss Hillsborough County's second Albertsons store, which also holds the title of Florida's first Albertsons casualty too. There's a lot to talk about today, so I'm just going to warn you all now, be prepared for a lot of information to come your way in this post!

     Albertsons first entered Hillsborough County with the opening of store #4318 in 1977, located just outside the Tampa city limits at the intersection of Hillsborough Avenue and Sheldon Road in the unincorporated neighborhood of Town n' Country. Nine months later, it was time for Albertsons to make its debut in Tampa proper, with the opening of store #4321 at the intersection of Fowler Avenue and N. 15th Street, just down the street from the main campus of the University of South Florida and Tampa's University Mall. This stretch of Fowler Avenue was a bustling retail district in the late 1970's and 1980's, feeding off the population from the nearby USF campus and serving as the main retail district for the residents of Tampa's Northside. Albertsons #4321 opened on January 25, 1978, the same day the delayed Albertsons #4308 opened across the bay in Belleair Bluffs. Like its sibling store in Belleair Bluffs, store #4321 had an unusual quirk compared to most other Albertsons stores in Florida - both opened without a liquor store.

     Albertsons was the first large grocery chain in Florida to push to addition of attached liquor stores, so Albertsons wasn't going to open a new store without a liquor store if it was up to them. In Belleair Bluffs, a long drawn-out legal battle over zoning uses led to Albertsons conceding the liquor store to get that location cleared for construction. In Tampa, the reason for #4321 lacking a liquor store was a bit different. Located diagonally behind store #4321, just across the railroad tracks, was Shaw Elementary School. Under Tampa zoning laws at the time, a retail liquor store could not be located "within 500 feet of a church, school, hospital, or certain other buildings." Officially, the distance from the school to the planned entrance to the liquor store was 600 feet, outside of the required buffer, but parents and others who lived near the school still thought that was too close for comfort for the new liquor store. A group of concerned parents, teachers, and faculty from the school petitioned the Tampa city council to deny Albertsons' liquor sales permit "for the safety of our children", and the city ultimately sided with the school group. With that, liquor was a no-go for Albertsons #4321.

     While Albertsons #4308 was eventually able to get a liquor sales permit much later in its life, Albertsons #4321 didn't live long enough for Albertsons to even warrant trying again. Considering how short-lived #4321 was, finding pictures of it while it was open was not easy, so above is a photo of its sibling #4308 the day after it opened, as featured in the St. Petersburg Times. #4308 and #4321 opened on the same day and were nearly identical, the only difference being that #4308 and #4321 had mirrored floorplans (#4321 had its side entrance on the left side of the building, and grand aisle on the right - #4308 was the opposite). Since the two stores were so similar and shared a small bond with their opening dates (and because I didn't discover the above photo of #4308 until after I published its post), we'll use that to picture in our minds what #4321 would have looked like back in its heyday.

     Not having a liquor store was already on strike against store #4321, but after 10 years in operation, Albertsons gave this store another strike, one that probably hinted at the fact that #4321 didn't have much longer to go. Into the 1990's, pretty much every Albertsons store was a 24-hour operation, another one of the features that set Albertsons apart from its Floridian competitors at the time (I know for sure Publix has never operated a 24-hour store at any point, and Winn-Dixie and Kash n' Karry experimented with 24-hour stores, but not until the 1990's for those two). In 1988, Albertsons announced that store #4321 would be switching to a 1 a.m. closing time, the first Floridian location to break away from the 24-hour operating mold. From the article above, it appears this store attracted a bit of a rowdy late-night crowd with the college campus being so close, with one of the more interesting comments about the night owl patrons being that the store attracted "fraternity and sorority initiations (which usually involved dressing in embarrassing outfits and shopping late at night)". I'm sure the overnight crew from this store had plenty of stories to tell!

     Entering 1989, Albertsons #4321 lacked a liquor store, was no longer operating 24-hours, and was approaching the time when Albertsons would typically evaluate its stores for a remodel. Instead of remodeling this store around the time of its 10-year anniversary (which was typical of Albertsons at the time), Albertsons decided to close store #4321 in the Spring of 1989, the first store Albertsons to ever closed outright in Florida (although I should note store #4341 in Stuart closed in 1988, although that closure was due to Albertsons moving to a former Florida Choice across the street - #4382). Come 1990 Albertsons would close a few more lackluster Floridian locations, although those closures were nothing compared to what we saw unfold in the 2000's.

     Just prior to Albertsons' closure announcement, it was announced that Circuit City would be taking over their former building on East Fowler Avenue as part of that chain's push to expand within Florida (mentioned in the article two photos up). From the sound of that, it seems like Albertsons was shopping this building around, the cut in 24-hour operations probably being the sign that Albertsons was looking for an out. Circuit City would remodel the former Albertsons building upon the grocer's closure, with roughly half of the former supermarket becoming home to a new Circuit City. Circuit City was open just in time for the 1989 holiday rush, with their new Tampa store opening in November 1989. In true 1989 fashion, on special for Circuit City's grand opening were a selection of boomboxes, large VHS camcorders, and a knockoff Sanyo Walkman for only $24.97. Throw in one of the many VCRs and someone you know will be having a very Merry Christmas from the store where service was state of the art!

     Since Circuit City only needed half of the former Albertsons building, that left room for one more tenant in this former Albertsons building. Opening in the remainder of this former Albertsons store in November 1989 (alongside Circuit City) was a location of a new up-and-coming office supply chain called WORKplace. WORKplace has a bit of a backstory to it, so let me explain:

     The late 1980's was a popular time for the expansion of "category killer" retail stores, the retail stores that specialized in one specific area and were popular tenants for the new "power centers" appearing at the time. Like the flurry of electronics and off-price clothing stores aiming for national domination at the time, office supply stores were also a popular retail concept where a number of startups were aiming to make it big. One of those many office supply start-ups at the time was WORKplace, a chain of "office supply superstores" that most (except for some longtime Tampa Bay residents) probably don't remember or have never heard of. Opening its first store in St. Petersburg in 1987, WORKplace began to expand throughout Tampa Bay, as well as in Southern California. (Why the cross-country jump, you ask? Well, one of WORKplace's founders, George Orban, was from California, and it seems he had some influence in getting to brand to open some stores near him. In addition to WORKplace, Orban was more famous for being one of the investors who helped bring Ross Dress for Less into the national spotlight in the late 1980's). WORKplace wanted to revolutionize the sale of office supplies by offering a selection of computers and software (in addition to the pencils, pens, and such) to both businesspeople and individuals, using large promotional offers to entice both groups into its stores for computer products (with the hope that other items would be purchased alongside the computers and software to make up for the steep discounts). According to the ad, WORKplace also offered free coffee to shoppers as well - although I doubt that was a major component to the marketing strategy, it's a nice feature nonetheless!

     Like a lot of start-up retail chains in the 1980's, WORKplace had really ambitious expansion plans. WORKplace wanted to blanket Florida with stores - 40 locations total by the end of 1991, trying to take a piece of the pie from its largest foe, fellow Floridian chain Office Depot (who at the time, was the nation's largest office supply store). With Office Depot continuing to solidify its grip on the Floridian office supply market as WORKplace continued to grow, WORKplace abandoned their far-away California stores after only a handful of years in an attempt to double-down on Florida. Well, considering most of you have probably never heard of WORKplace (I didn't know about WORKplace until I started writing this post myself), I think you have a pretty good idea of how this story is going to end:

     WORKplace's grand plans for Floridian office supply domination weren't very successful, as you probably figured. Instead of having 40 stores in Florida by the end of 1991, WORKplace only had nine. Competition in this segment was fierce, WORKplace's computer promotions were costing the chain a lot of money, and the chain seemed lost on who its core customer was. As such, amidst the financial downfall, WORKplace sold out to upcoming rival Staples, who purchased WORKplace as their first foray into Florida. Staples began making changes to WORKplace immediately after the acquisition was finalized, trying to retool the stores to Staples' more business-centric prototype. After a year of transition, the 9 WORKplace stores were rebranded as Staples, with WORKplace being tossed aside like a bent paperclip as another lost piece of Floridian retail.

     Now that I've highlighted that obscure piece of office supply retail history, let's get back to the lineage of this former Albertsons store - Staples and Circuit City co-existed with each other in this former Albertsons building until the turn of the new millennium. That was the time when the Fowler Avenue retail corridor began to experience its major retail exodus, especially as a new retail district began to emerge a few miles north of here along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard near Interstate 75 in the emerging New Tampa neighborhood. New Tampa is exactly where both Circuit City and Staples relocated to in 2001, a photo of this building from after both of those stores left seen above, clipped from a newspaper article we'll be discussing in much more detail in a little bit. In the photo above, you can see that Circuit City occupied the right side of the former Albertsons building, with WORKplace/Staples to the left. The photo isn't the best, so I can't tell how much from Albertsons was left behind following that subdivision, but the building still seems to have some general characteristics of a Skaggs-era Albertsons store in that photo.

     The building sat empty until approximately 2005, when the structure was gutted to allow a charter high school to move into the back portion of the building. At the same time, the old Circuit City and WORKplace/Staples facades were stripped off the front of the building, with the front rebuilt to be a plain, blank wall. By 2013, some extra space along the front of the building was carved out for retail use, giving us the spots for the current retail tenants Beauty Depot and Meat Depot (not sure if the names are a coincidence or if the store stores share ownership). The Prince Private Academy storefront on the right side of the building dates back to the building's original conversion into a school around 2005, with Meat Depot and Beauty Depot occupying space that both school tenants in this building probably decided they didn't need.

     Even with the creation of the Meat Depot and Beauty Depot spaces, the facade was still left in its plain, blank state, with only those blue awnings dressing the place up. #4321 has the most boring current design of a former Floridian Albertsons I know of, essentially existing as a stuccoed square, the school conversion being quite utilitarian in nature. With the facade stripped away, there isn't much to see here from Albertsons anymore (or WORKplace/Staples and Circuit City). However, the ramp cut-outs along the front walkway do align with the location of Staples' and Circuit City's former entrances, so we do have that at least.

     Meat Depot is extremely tiny, but it still brings a supermarket back to this space after all those years of pencils and televisions being sold out of this building (although Albertsons did sell both of those products back in the 1970's as well). While we're here, let's pop inside Meat Depot and see if there's anything of interest in there:

     Walking inside Meat Depot, to your left were a few check lanes and about 4-5 short grocery aisles, with a small produce department to the right. Going a few steps further in you'd see the coffin cooler pictured above, on the opposite side of which were the prepackaged meats. I didn't get a good picture of the produce department (here's one from Google though), but you can see some of its signage above the meat coolers along the right wall.

     With a name like "Meat Depot", you would expect there to be a large selection of meats in here, and that expectation was certainly upheld. In addition to the packaged meats by produce, the entire back wall of the store was a full-service butcher counter, the only service department in the store. Meat Depot did not have any other service departments, as this store was essentially a butcher shop with a few aisles of groceries and a small produce department.

     Here's a look from one of the grocery aisles toward the meat counter. The grocery selection in this store skewed Hispanic, as is typical of many of these tiny independent grocery stores around Florida.

     The left-most aisle of the store was home to drinks and some dairy coolers. While this store doesn't have a whole lot in terms of wall decor, it appears that until sometime around 2020, it did have a a dairy department sign inherited from a former Sweetbay store, as well as a few generic aisle markers holding on for dear life. By the time I made it here all of that was gone, but it would have been fun to get a picture of that old piece of Sweetbay decor that was sitting around in here.

     Behind those pallets and drink coolers were the check lanes, with the exit being underneath that window peeking out in the background.

     In addition to the old ramp cutouts, the concrete along the front walkway of this building had a lot of scars left over from where the WORKplace/Staples and Circuit City facades were scraped away. From where I was standing, we would be looking at the former entrance into WORKplace/Staples. Now, we see Beauty Depot in the distance, and a lot of scarred concrete (which is a more acceptable sight for being outside than what some grocery chains these days try to pass off as an interior finished floor).

     Walking past Beauty Depot and turning the corner, here's a look at the area where Albertsons' former side entrance would have been located. You can somewhat make out where the side entrance used to be by following the stripe along the center of the wall. The right-most patch where the stripe fades out was the side entrance, with the shorter patch to the left of that being the former entrance into what would have been the liquor store. Even though this location never operated a liquor store, I imagine the space intended for one was still built out like it would have been at a similar building with a liquor license, the space here just relegated to being used as storage or office space while Albertsons was here instead.

     Panning a little more to the left, we see the entrance into the charter high school, which occupies the entire back of this former Albertsons building. The high school made use of this building's former mezzanine area, carving out a few new windows into the building's upper level that used to go over the stockroom. I didn't venture all the way to the back of the building for a better photo of the school's entrance, but YonWoo did, and you can see his close-up here.

     The two sides of the building are the most Albertsons-feeling pieces of old #4321 left these days. While the original river rock panels were stuccoed over, that stripe running between the two panels is still a distinctive Albertsons design, and is still present on the right side of the building as well (which we'll see in a moment).

     Back up front, here's another look at the current flat facade.

     Beyond Meat Depot is a building that currently houses a small strip of stores. While that building doesn't seem like much these days, it does have an interesting history I'll discuss in more detail as we delve into some of the other retail relics surrounding this former Albertsons store.

     Before moving on, here's a look down the right side of the old Albertsons building. At the back right corner of the building were the receiving docks. The back of #4321 abuts right against some railroad tracks, which left no room for the receiving docks in their usual spot at the back of the building. As such, those were moved over here, and are still in-tact today for use by those making deliveries to the high school.

     While there wasn't much left to see here at old #4321, scanning over this area on Google Maps, I couldn't help but notice some of the other former retail buildings surrounding the old Albertsons store. I was intrigued, and ended up getting a few photos of these buildings while in the area to add as a bonus to this post. After the fact I stumbled upon the following Tampa Tribune article from 2003, which actually profiles some of the problems that led all these stores to flee the area, what's being done with these buildings, and what their futures may hold. The article also lists some of the buildings around this former Albertsons store and when they were vacated (see the map at the bottom left of the article's first page), and we'll be taking a look at some of these building in a little more detail, following the order in which they were presented in the article (with the exception of the old Albertsons, which the article lists last, but which we saw in detail already). Anyway, before reading on, I highly recommend you click on and enlarge the two parts of this article to learn more about the area, and give yourself a better idea of why we're seeing what we're about to see:

     "Grayfields" is defined as "obsolete and dying shopping centers", according to the above article. It's an interesting term I don't see used much in the retail history community, although it may be more of a niche term popular amongst professional urban planners and city officials. Still though, it was a fitting term to describe this stretch of Fowler Avenue in the early 2000's, as many of these retail buildings sat vacant. By the turn of the new millennium, this area was hit with a number of strikes against it - the 1995 closures of the Kmart and Builder's Square (which shared a massive building with each other at the southeastern corner of Fowler and Nebraska) being the start of it all, according to the article. On top of that, some of the retailers in this area (like Save and Pack and Service Merchandise) went out of business completely around the turn of the new millennium, and some of the surviving retailers were enticed to relocate to the blossoming new retail districts of New Tampa and Wesley Chapel a few miles to the north of here. The neighborhoods surrounding this part of Fowler Avenue were also developing a reputation for crime and transiency around this time as well, which was probably triggering decisions by some of the remaining retailers to move out as we entered the early 2000's.

     Taking a look at that list of buildings on the first page of the article, we'll go through them in the order of the "Demise of a Shopping District" map, beginning with building number 1 - the former Save and Pack:

Photo courtesy of

1. Save and Pack #3208
11612 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa, FL

     A long time ago on AFB, I profiled the Save and Pack chain in two posts (see here and here). For a short refresher, Save and Pack was Safeway's odd foray into Florida in the 1980's. Instead of entering Florida with traditional supermarkets, Save and Pack used a warehouse-style format that originated with Safeway's Pak n' Save brand from California. Safeway's original plan upon entering Florida was to use the Pak n' Save name shared by their California counterparts, but the Jacksonville-based Pic n' Save chain filed a copyright dispute against Safeway due to the similarity of the names "Pic n' Save" and "Pak n' Save". Due to that, Safeway chose to reverse the wording of their chain's name to "Save and Pack" to avoid a messy legal dispute, especially since the first Save and Pack was set to open in Jacksonville in 1984, Pic n' Save's home turf.

An ad from the era of Safeway's ownership of Save and Pack - including some rare interior photos of an unknown location!

     Under Safeway's tenure, Save and Pack peaked at 8 Florida locations - 3 in Jacksonville, 3 in Tampa Bay, and one each in Casselberry (north of Orlando) and Pensacola. While not in Florida, a Save and Pack was also opened in Mobile, Alabama, and was grouped with the Florida division. Save and Pack began to experience store closures starting in 1987, and by 1992, Safeway sold off its remaining Florida stores. As part of Safeway's exit, the company sold the three Tampa Bay Save and Pack stores to Kash n' Karry, as well as the rights to the Save and Pack name and branding.

An ad from the era of Kash n' Karry's ownership of Save and Pack - notice Kash n' Karry changed the logo's font, as well as the spelling of the chain's name to "Save n' Pack", probably to match the way that Kash n' Karry's own name was spelled.

     After the sale, Kash n' Karry continued to operate Save n' Pack as a warehouse chain, growing the brand to 13 stores throughout the company's west coast operating area by the late 1990's. While Kash n' Karry made a modest success of Save n' Pack following Safeway's failure with the brand in Florida, amidst Kash n' Karry's own financial turbulence as we entered the 2000's, Kash n' Karry finally brought Save n' Pack to an end in 2000. The store here at Nebraska and Fowler was one of the stores closed outright by Kash n' Karry following the brand's retirement, although 5 of the 13 Save n' Packs at the time were rebranded back to the parent brand instead of closed. You can read more about the demise of Save n' Pack in this article:

     As for the Nebraska Avenue Save n' Pack pictured a few photos back, following Save n' Pack's closure in 2000, the building became home to the Tampa Flea Market. The building appears to have never been heavily modified under the tenure of Tampa Flea Market, with most of that architecture dating back to Safeway's ownership of the chain. The interior of Tampa Flea Market was probably fairly original too, but being a warehouse chain with a fairly sparse interior to begin with, I don't know how many Save n' Pack remnants could have been lurking inside the flea market. I would have loved to see the inside of that flea market and get a better look at the exterior myself, but the flea market closed sometime around 2018, and the building was converted into a charter school in 2021, stripping it of any original supermarket elements that may have been left behind.

2. Winn-Dixie #635
11605 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa, FL - Fowler Square

     Moving across the street from the Save n' Pack store, we find a former Winn-Dixie. Winn-Dixie's time at the corner of Nebraska and Fowler dates back to the early 1960's, when a Kwik Check store occupied this site. Over the years the Kwik Check was expanded and converted into a regular Winn-Dixie, with the building's current size and facade appearing in the 1980's.

     I like the facade of this particular Winn-Dixie, with the sloped roof over the vestibule, reminiscent of one of A&P famous Future Store designs. As we can see, not much had changed with this store's facade over the years since Winn-Dixie left. For comparison, here is a photo I found of this store from the early 1990's:

     The old block-letter "WINN✔DIXIE" logo looked really good on that sloped facade, as 1980's of a sight as that may be. Winn-Dixie remained at the Fowler Square shopping center until July 1996, when the store was closed, per corporate, because it was "old, worn out and expensive to maintain." Not helping the situation much was that Winn-Dixie's co-anchors at Fowler Square, Kmart and Builder's Square, called it quits the year before, which could have also driven into the decision to abandon this store. During this store's final few days in business, a group of residents from a nearby apartment complex held a protest out front to show their disappointment about the closure, which was also attended by the local state representative who said he would work with the property owner to try to attract another supermarket to the site, but that would never happen. In the years since Winn-Dixie closed, their building housed a VA Medical Research Center during the 2000's, and currently is home to operations for The Hope Center of Tampa, a local homeless outreach group.

3. Kmart #7479
11311 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa, FL - Fowler Square

3. Builder's Square #13XX
11309 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa, FL - Fowler Square

4. Varsity 6 AMC Theaters
11301 N. Nebraska Ave., Tampa, FL - Fowler Square 

     Moving to the right of the old Winn-Dixie, we find this large, nearly 200,000 square foot building that used to house both a Kmart, Builder's Square, and an AMC movie theater (Kmart was in the portion of the building to the left, with Builder's Square to the right, and AMC built into the front right corner). While the entrance into the former Kmart space has a resemblance to one of Kmart's late 1970's stores, this building was too unusual to have been built by Kmart, and when viewed from the air, looks like it was one really big store at one time (minus the theater in the corner). As such, this building was indeed not built by Kmart, but was instead inherited from Grant City when that chain when out of business in 1976.

     Grant's opened this monstrous North Tampa store in 1974, one of the store's grand opening ads shown above. At the time, most Grant City stores tended to be around the size of an average Kmart, roughly 80,000-100,000 square feet depending on the area, but this one was nearly double the size of an average Grant City. The reason this store was so big was because this building was designed to hold not only a Grant City store, but it also served as a home for Grant's regional offices, as well as Grant's credit division and call center. All of that occupied roughly three-quarters of this structure, with the AMC Theater occupying the front right corner of the building (which opened alongside Grant's in 1974). Even with the movie theater, Grant's still controlled the majority of this nearly 200,000 square foot structure for their own use, so this was a big store, even if a lot of that space was dedicated to office and operational use. The new Tampa Grant's only lasted for 2 years before the entire Grant's company liquidated in 1976, when Kmart came in and took over many of these former Grant City buildings, like this particular one.

     While some of the Super Kmart Centers of the 1990's came close to 200,000 square feet, Kmart's largest stores in the late 1970's didn't even come close in size to what Grant's was operating here. As such, Kmart only took over the left half of the building upon moving in, remodeling the building's entryway to match the style of a 1970's Kmart store. Kmart retained control of the right half of the building, and following Kmart's 1984 acquisition of Home Centers of America, converted the remaining space not occupied by the movie theater into a Mr. HOW hardware store. In 1986, Kmart consolidated all of their hardware stores operations to the Builder's Square name, upon which this building became a Kmart and Builder's Square combo, a pairing that would last until Kmart shut down both of these stores in 1995.

     The two newspaper clippings we just saw showed a very nice photo of the Kmart while it was still open, but I was only able to find the above photo of the Builder's Square, showing one of the side entrances, with a Builder's Square delivery truck parked out front. The Kmart store was included in a wave of 110 closures announced by the chain in late 1994, with the Builder's Square's demise following shortly thereafter in a closure wave of 15 locations announced for that chain a few months later. Kmart closed in February 1995, with Builder's Square following suit that March. The AMC theater managed to last two more years until 1997, but still, having three-quarters of this large structure empty at the time didn't look good, however, things seemed promising for this building at first:

     Mere months after Kmart closed at Fowler Square, Burlington Coat Factory was found to retenant Kmart's space, with the new Burlington opening by the end of 1995 as Tampa Bay's second location for the expanding off-price clothing chain. While that seemed like a big win for Fowler Square, Burlington ended up leaving this location after only 7 years, opting to move about a mile to the east of here in 2001 to fill the former Montgomery Ward building that had just opened up at University Mall. Burlington remains in that building to this day, however, as part of the mall's redevelopment, Burlington will be relocating to a new (and smaller) space in the mall complex in the next few months.

     In the years after Burlington left, the former Kmart and Builder's Square spaces spent some time as a flea market, with the vacant movie theater just rotting away off in the corner. The flea market appears to have closed sometime around 2014 or 2015, and the entire building has just been sitting abandoned since.

     Google Streetview drove across the front of this building in 2022, and you can see how this building isn't in very great shape in those images. I'd imagine this building will eventually get torn down at some point in the future, although as of right now, there aren't any plans for anything at this site yet - a great example of a "grayfield" as defined by the article above.

5. Toys R Us
1235 E. Fowler Avenue, Tampa, FL

     When the "Grayfields" article was published in 2003, Toys R Us was the last major big box retailer left in the stretch of Fowler Avenue the article profiled, having served the area since 1983. In reference to the Toys R Us at the time, the article had this to say about the store:

     David West, president of the North Tampa Community Crime Watch and Civic Association, worries that the area will lose its only remaining "big box" store: Toys R Us.

     "I hope the Toys R Us stays, but I don't know if it's a real marketable area," he said. "They probably just see brighter futures up the road in New Tampa."

     [Anita] Kramer [director of retail development for the Urban Land Use institute in Washington] said Toys R Us might be the one big box store that can survive being surrounded by empty big boxes.

     "Toys R Us is a destination store," she said. "I've seen them in locations where they're completely isolated. It doesn't really need other stores around. So they can probably stick it out longer than the neighbors."

     Well, Mrs. Kramer's sentiments were somewhat true...Toys R Us did stick it out longer than the neighbors, until 2007 that is, 4 years after that article was published. Much like Mr. West predicted, Toys R Us did see brighter futures up the road, but not in New Tampa where Circuit City and Staples relocated to. Toys R Us relocated the Fowler Avenue store all the way up to Wesley Chapel - 17 miles north of here.

     The Fowler Avenue Toys R Us closed on November 30, 2007, with the new Wesley Chapel store opening the next day on December 1, 2007. The Wesley Chapel location lasted until the chain's final liquidation in 2018. As for the Fowler Avenue building, it sat vacant until 2010, when Crossover Church took over the building. Crossover Church still occupies the former Toys R Us today.

6. Wilson's / Service Merchandise + Bookstop
1251 E. Fowler Avenue, Tampa, FL

     Lastly on our little exploration of Fowler Avenue retail, we find ourselves at the building right next door to the former Albertsons. The building above originally housed a location of Wilson's, a catalog chain similar to Service Merchandise that had locations around the Tampa Bay area. As part of Service Merchandise's national expansion, they purchased the Wilson's chain in 1985, and converted all the Wilson's stores to Service Merchandise.

     In 1991, it appears Service Merchandise downsized this location, leaving a portion of the building to lease to another tenant. That new tenant, who opened in November 1991, was Bookstop, a growing bookstore chain that also went by the name Bookstar in other markets. Retail Retell of the Mid-South Retail Blog did a really good write-up on Bookstar/Bookstop a few years back, if you're interested in learning more about that chain in more detail (and I've gone into detail about a variety of obscure dead retail chains in this post so far, so I won't explain Bookstop again!).

     The Fowler Avenue Service Merchandise closed with the chain in 2002, with Bookstop's closure coming that same year as well. Following the closure of those two stores, a locally owned flooring store called JB Factory Carpets opened in this building, operating from 2005 until sometime around 2009. Following the closure of JB Factory Carpets, the building was subdivided into multiple smaller units, essentially turning the building into a small strip plaza. One of the busier stores in this strip was the Patel Brothers grocery store, an Indian market part of a much larger national chain. Like Meat Depot next door, Patel Brothers is not a very big store, with Patel Brothers featuring a produce department and a few grocery aisles, lacking any other service departments.

     After walking through Meat Depot I walked over to this building for a few exterior photos. While over here I decided to walk into Patel Brothers to see what it was all about too. Upon entering Patel Brothers, you find the produce department, which is sectioned off into this double-wide aisle that's only accessible from the front of the store.

     A few tall grocery aisles extend out beyond the produce department, like this one.

     I'm not sure which side of the building Bookstop was on, to know if Patel Brothers occupies the former Bookstop space, or the Service Merchandise. Either way, it appears the interior of this building was mostly rebuilt when it was converted into a strip center, so I don't think there would be any remnants of either in here. The arched exterior of this building, however, I believe is original to Wilson's.

     Next door to Patel Brothers is the Mr. and Mrs. Crab Seafood Restaurant, a chain of seafood restaurants that was founded in 2017 in Bradenton, and now has 22 locations located mostly in Florida, but with a few others in places like Michigan, Utah, and Mississippi. I only took this photo because I thought the giant crab statues were interesting, but by this point in the post, I hope you all aren't crabbing about how long it is!

     Obscure short-lived office supply chains from the early 1990's, an abandoned Kmart, an Albertsons that closed in 1989, Safeway's original odd foray into Florida, and two giant crabs (of which I hope you don't think I'm one!) - we've talked about a lot today! From the old Service Merchandise, here's a look back toward the former Albertsons store that spurred this eclectic retail tour, as we begin to wrap up this post with some satellite imagery, starting off with some Bird's Eye aerial images courtesy of Bing Maps:


Right Side


Left Side

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

Former Albertsons #4321 - 2023 - Maybe I should have gotten a photo of it, but the outparcel of this former Albertsons store has one of the unique hexagon-canopy Shell stations on the corner. That station still sold Shell-branded fuel until recently as a Shell/Circle K combo, until that station fully converted to the Circle K branding in 2023 as part of the company's move to bring fuel sales under their own branding.

Former Albertsons #4321 - 2007

Former Albertsons #4321 - 2004 - The Circuit City/Staples facade still in place here, with the original Albertsons facade blended in behind the 1990's modifications.

Former Albertsons #4321 - 2002

Former Albertsons #4321 - 1995

Albertsons #4321 - 1982

Future Albertsons #4321 - 1971

     I threw a lot of information at you all in this post, but hopefully you still found today's look at this long-closed Floridian Albertsons store, as well as our look at some of its neighbors, interesting. My next post will be a little less intense than this one, so be sure to come back in two weeks for our next former Albertsons tour!

Have a Happy Easter everyone, and until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger