Sunday, April 28, 2024

The Family Choice n' Karry Sweet-Dixie

The Family Mart #85-014 / Florida Choice #FL-712 / Kash n' Karry #615 (pre-Delhaize era) and #1724 (Delhaize era) / Sweetbay Supermarket #1724 / Winn-Dixie #2411
6851 Gulfport Boulevard South, South Pasadena, FL

Today's post is a presentation of Pinellas County retail

    Last time on AFB we toured the South Pasadena Publixsons, and over on MFR we took a peek at the original South Pasadena Publix store that's now a Walmart Neighborhood Market. That comprised two out of the three supermarkets that made their home at the intersection of Pasadena Avenue and Gulfport Boulevard - so of course I wasn't going to leave everyone hanging by not checking out the super interesting 3rd supermarket on that same street corner! Completing our tour of the retail of South Pasadena, Florida, we'll be checking out the town's The Family Choice n' Karry Sweet-Dixie, a mouthful of a name for a building that's housed 5 different supermarkets over the last 46 years. What's even better is that after 5 different tenants, the building hasn't changed too dramatically from when it was first built in the late 1970's, giving us an interesting glimpse into some long-lost Floridian supermarket history. For a town as small as South Pasadena, the supermarkets in this city have proven to be quite interesting, so lets talk a little bit about our third destination in town before we debate in the comments which of the 3 supermarkets in South Pasadena you found the most intriguing:

     The building that now houses the South Pasadena Winn-Dixie began its life on February 14, 1978 as Florida's first location of The Family Mart. The Family Mart was A&P's new Food & Drug combo store, touted to be a revolutionary change for A&P as a means to stir up some new business for the beguiled supermarket chain. Planned as a chain of modern grocery "superstores" throughout the Southeastern United States, the concept of The Family Mart came from A&P's new chairman at the time, Jonathan L. Scott. Scott had come to A&P from Albertsons (the company's former vice chairman), and wanted to copy Albertsons' success with diversification into "the combination supermarket-drug store-mini-department-store business" with A&P. As was mentioned in my post about Albertsons #4381 in Tamarac, A&P admitted to plagiarizing the Albertsons format of the late 1970's for The Family Mart, and having a former Albertsons insider at the company would also explain A&P's desire to copy what Albertsons was doing too (to the point of building a store that looked near identical to an Albertsons of the time).

     Upon The Family Mart's February 1978 debut in South Pasadena, A&P's new Floridian venture grew the attention of a group of picketers. Those picketers were former A&P employees laid off in late 1977 when the company closed its six remaining namesake stores in Pinellas County as part of a "national economy move". The 132 employees who lost their jobs due to A&P's closure decision were represented by Retail Clerks Union Local 1636, and when those union-backed employees tried to apply for positions at the new Family Mart store, all were denied employment. Claiming that they were not rehired due to their union representation (as The Family Mart was established as a strictly non-union operation), the former employees began to picket at the new South Pasadena store's grand opening, and continued to picket outside of Family Mart stores for a few years after as well.

The Family Mart store on 34th Street North in St. Petersburg is pictured in the article above.

     Most Floridian supermarket chains (especially the Florida-originated ones) are non-union operations, and most other retailers in the state typically operate the same way too. Unlike other parts of the United States, Florida has never been a strong area for retail unions over the years, so it's uncommon to come across big news like this about union demonstrations and protesting involving retail compared to others areas (such as Kroger's many battles in the 1970's and 1980's with unions, which led to a few market withdrawals due to union disputes). The article above dates to 1980, two years after the opening of the South Pasadena store, but describing a picket over the same issues that caused the protesting described in the article from two years prior. From what the two articles about the disputes describe, it doesn't seem like the picketing impacted business at The Family Mart too much, and I think it was just A&P's overall financial troubles and instability in the 1980's that led to The Family Mart's Floridian demise come 1987.

     With the new "combination supermarket-drug store-mini-department-store business" not seeming to be the answer to A&P's financial problems, A&P made the decision to sell off all of its Floridian locations of The Family Mart to Kroger in 1987 (however, The Family Mart as a whole managed to survive until 1999, when A&P closed its last few stores in Georgia, which included a few straggler Family Marts). Upon the sale to Kroger in 1987, The Family Mart stores it acquired were all rebranded to the company's new Florida Choice brand, yet another "combination supermarket-drug store-mini-department-store business" that was supposed to be the company's breakthrough in Florida.

     The Family Mart stores Kroger acquired for conversions to Florida Choice lasted for barely a year under their new brand, following Kroger's decision to pull out of Florida completely in 1988 after years of trouble trying to find a format that clicked with Floridian shoppers. The ad above was run for Florida Choice's only Thanksgiving season in the Tampa Bay area in 1987. All of the Tampa Bay Florida Choice locations listed at the bottom of the ad are ex-Family Mart stores, as the purchase of those stores is what brought Kroger into the Tampa area for the first time.

     Following Kroger's announcement to exit Florida in 1988, Kash n' Karry stepped in to purchase all of the stores Kroger was looking to sell along Florida's I-75 corridor. Kash n' Karry managed to reopen all the stores purchased from Kroger fairly quickly, although full remodeling of all the buildings to Kash n' Karry's decor took a few years, as the grand reopening ad seen above for the South Pasadena location is dated November 1992. November 1992 would have been within Kash n' Karry's orange decor era, with the interior looking something like this after its 1992 grand reopening. Kash n' Karry remodeled this store once again to the Purple and Teal decor in 1997, shortly after the chain was purchased by Delhaize.

     Like most Kash n' Karry stores that survived into the early 2000's, this location was converted into a Sweetbay Supermarket following the retirement of the Kash n' Karry brand. The Sweetbay conversion brought about an interior decor swap inside (the store's 3rd in a little over a decade), and the addition of the arched gable over the building's entryways, but otherwise this place was left mostly undisturbed from its original 1978 design.

     This Sweetbay location was one of the 72 stores sold to BI-LO Holdings (later Southeastern Grocers) in 2013, who converted all of the remaining Sweetbay stores into Winn-Dixies over a two month span in early 2014. Winn-Dixie hasn't touched this store much at all since its 5 day conversion period from Sweetbay to Winn-Dixie in 2014, and as of 2024, still retains its interior from Sweetbay as well.

     Some Sweetbay remodels from the mid-2000's were more involved than others, with this one being one of the lighter examples. Some of these old Family Mart buildings were completely reconfigured when the Sweetbay conversions came around (like this one), some had the entryways reconfigured (like this one), and a few, like the one we see today, were barely touched. The vestibule you see here today is the original design and configuration from The Family Mart, and as far as I'm aware, is the last of the Sweetbay stores sold to Winn-Dixie that still has the original vestibule in-tact in its original design with the doors on each end.

     While both sets of doors remain in-tact here, Winn-Dixie only uses the doors on the right side of the vestibule (seen above, which we'll be entering through) - the doors on the left side are kept locked and blocked with displays these days. However, the old side entrance by the liquor store is still active, and serves as a secondary entrance that we'll see in more detail a little later in this post.

     Stepping inside, here's an overview of the vestibule as seen from the front end. The vestibule is one large picture window, which must let in a lot of light to the front end throughout the day. The check lanes are all positioned within the windows, with people entering the store from the front having to walk around the check lanes to enter the salesfloor.

     Once you pass the check lanes, you end up in a large open area Winn-Dixie was using for various promotions and BOGOs. Off in the front right corner of the building we see the side entrance as well as the service desk, which is set back a bit from the rest of the front end. I believe this placement of the service desk is original, especially with the way the front end was designed with all the windows across the front of the building.

     While the placement of the service desk may seem a little strange these days, it is conveniently located next to the side entrance for anyone who entered through there and needed to make a quick return or buy some lottery tickets. 1970's Albertsons stores would have had their service desks located similarly to what we see here, tucked into the corner by the side entrance, given that Albertsons' similarly designed stores also had a large picture window across the front of the building.

     Turning around, behind the small cart corral for those entering through the side entrance, we find the first few grocery aisles. Those grocery aisles are home to the health and beauty department...

   …or should I say, "Heath and Beuty" department. It's hard to see from this angle, but a few of the letters from Sweetbay's signage had given away from the walls by the early 2020s. Sadly, a number of the Winn-Dixie stores that still cling onto the original Sweetbay decor suffer from similar issues to this, as Delhaize probably wasn't intending this decor would still be hanging around 20 years after it first debuted (I know, it's crazy to think this decor is that old now - it debuted in 2004!). Not only is this decor 20 years old now, but Sweetbay has been gone for 10 years now too. As time flies, a few more letters from the old decor fall from the wall!

     Moving further down aisle 1 and the right side wall, a small alcove opens up, which is where Winn-Dixie (and Sweetbay) keep the shampoo. While this is a shampoo alcove in the present, I'd have to guess this was originally Family Mart's cosmetics alcove, as cosmetics alcoves were an Albertsons thing as well.

     The pharmacy counter was located in the back right corner of the store. While the pharmacy counter looks to have been remodeled a bit by Sweetbay, the placement is most likely original, as Albertsons used to keep their pharmacies in the back corner of their 1970's stores too. Since Family Mart was essentially a ripoff of that 1970's Albertsons building design, I can't imagine the pharmacy was anywhere else, especially with how much the layout of this building mimics that of a 1970's Albertsons.

     The pharmacy in this building lasted until Winn-Dixie's early days here, with this pharmacy appearing to have been purged back in 2016 during that year's big pharmacy purge. Winn-Dixie's pharmacy count remained stable after that (outside of closing entire stores still operating a pharmacy) until Fall 2023, when all remaining Winn-Dixie pharmacies were closed in preparation for the sale of Southeastern Grocers to Aldi. After Winn-Dixie closed the pharmacy here, they repainted the entire counter white, walled off the counter, and stuffed some soda in front to make it look like nothing important was ever here. In case you were wondering, the pharmacy counter would have looked like this with the Sweetbay decor (which was mostly white to begin with, interestingly).

     Looping back around to aisle 2, we have another look back toward the service desk through the tunnel of the greeting card and party supply aisle.

     The bakery and deli departments reside in the front left corner of the building past the check lanes, and slowly but surely we'll zig-zag our way across the store to take a look at those departments toward the end of this post.

     More non-foods occupy aisle 3, with paper products to be found in this aisle. Is is just me, or does it seem a bit strange that a supermarket would orient a store with non-foods at the beginning of the intended shopping path throughout the building, ending in the grand aisle? I feel most supermarkets tend to go with the reverse layout psychology, pushing shoppers into the showier grand aisle and fresh departments first, ending on non-foods, health and beauty, and pharmacy. Or maybe through the years and many tenants this building has had, someone decided to reverse the numbering of the aisles, with Family Mart originally intending to have shoppers start on the left side of the building?

     All of the grocery aisles in the store are split by this center aisle, which runs the length of the salesfloor from aisle 1 to produce on the left wall.

     Leaving aisle 3, here's a closeup of the Lunchmeat department on the store's back wall, giving us a detailed look at Sweetbay's department sign and wallpaper graphic. Unlike some of the other signs that were falling apart, this one looked quite nice!

     Beyond lunch meats were the other meats, filling the coolers along the back wall all the way up to the service counter in the distance.

     Moving along to aisle 5, still more non-foods as we encounter the baby supplies (well, I guess it's not all non-foods, as I do spy jars of baby food to the right).

     Back at the front end again, we catch another glimpse of the bakery and deli in the distance, as well as a very picked-over table of Winn-Dixie's famous (formerly) $1 giant chocolate chip cookies. While you can still buy those cookies today (and they're still quite popular), they'll now run you $1.79 without a rewards coupon.

     Finally, food in aisle 6 (across from the Ziploc bags - those are slightly less edible than the stuff on the left side of the aisle!). In addition to the original Sweetbay wall decor and aisle markers, Sweetbay's original category hangers over the aisles have also persisted into the present (including a somewhat uniquely styled one for "Authentic Mexican" foods on the left).

     Nothing pairs as well with afternoon tea as a can of chicken noodle soup!

     Before entering frozen foods, here's one last look at the meat cases along the back wall. If you haven't seen recently, Winn-Dixie has released a new marketing campaign that revived their longtime moniker of Das Rindfleischvolk The Beef People, reminding people that at Winn-Dixie, they're "Still The Beef People".

     Frozen foods began here in aisle 9, with a full aisle of freezers next door in aisle 10.

     I'm still a bit unsure whose floor tile we're seeing in this store. I originally thought it was Kash n' Karry's (which it could be), as Kash n' Karry used a similar beige and orange pattern in their 1990's remodels. However, Kash n' Karry's typical 1990's tile pattern used a striped design, not this zig-zagged one. However, Florida Choice did seem to have a thing for zig-zag tile patterns, one that looked really similar in color to this if you compare those photos too. I don't know how much time Florida Choice had for remodeling following the purchase of all those Family Mart stores, and the fact this store lasted barely a year under that brand too. There's always the possibility this floor is from Family Mart too, however, I do know for certain that it's not from Sweetbay or Winn-Dixie!

     The tile in this store was most interesting in the frozen food section, with these blue tiles bordered by the zig-zag pattern. The rest of the store was mostly white tiles with the occasional beige patch, with the floor right in front of the bakery and deli replaced by faux wood during the Sweetbay era. With all these pictures I took in the Frozen Foods aisles, you can certainly tell I was intrigued by that tile pattern!

     Unlike the rest of the grocery aisles, the category markers in the Frozen Food section were replaced by Winn-Dixie to the typical Down Down/Winn Win-era black rectangles. The freezers the category markers are mounted to are old, and are no newer than this building's Kash n' Karry era.

     Just past frozen foods, along the back wall of the store we find the meat and seafood service counter. I still find it crazy that Winn-Dixie took the effort to replace Sweetbay's meat signage with custom made, matching signs that read "The Beef People" in all of the stores with this decor they took over. It's not like Sweetbay had any special copyrighted name for their meat counters either - under Sweetbay, they were just called "Butcher Shop"!

     Also to note while we're standing here, above the meat counter you'll see the windows from the mezzanine offices over the store's back room, yet another way this building mimics the Albertsons design of this era.

     When this store remodeled to Sweetbay, the meat counter was reconfigured to the look we see here, as the semi-circular counter was a uniquely Sweetbay thing. The tile and graphics behind the counter is very much a Kash n' Karry remnant though - purple, beige, and teal is Kash n' Karry's late 1990's decor summarized!

     From the meat counter, here's a look into the building's back left corner, home to dairy. However, before we get to the land of milk and more, we have to pass by a different kind of beverage first...

     …water! (All that wine you saw in the previous photo is actually two aisles further down).

     In the front halves of the beverage aisles you'll find the natural foods department, designated by the large wooden circles hanging from the ceiling. When Sweetbay was here, the entire area under the circles would have been home to natural foods. However, Winn-Dixie consolidated natural foods into the two aisles to my right, with more assorted beverages in the aisle straight ahead of me.

     Aisle 12, the soda aisle, gets its moment in the spotlight above.

     However, wine gets a lot more spotlights than aisle 12!

     Wine gets a double-wide aisle, which is an unnumbered aisle between numbers 12 and 13. The grocery aisles get a little wonky following the natural foods area, with that department throwing off the spacing and alignment of the last few main aisles (with the partition wall between produce and natural foods, which we saw in the previous photo, not helping either).

     Next to the meat and seafood service counter was the "Seafood Market", home to the pre-packaged frozen seafood.

     Following the wine we enter aisle 13, home to chips and the beer coolers.

     Finally, we've made it to the dairy department, located in the back left corner of the building. The main dairy signage is located on the left wall around the corner, with some of Sweetbay's stock photo collages being used to fill some of the blank space here in the corner.

     The back half of the store's last aisle (unnumbered aisle 14, which is actually aisle 15 if the wine aisle was counted) is home to the dairy department. The dairy department runs about half the length of the salesfloor before transitioning into produce and the rest of the fresh departments.

     An artistic outline of Sweetbay's logo serves as the transition piece between the dairy paint scheme and the paint scheme of the produce department along the left wall. I'm surprised Delhaize didn't try to cover those logos (or make Winn-Dixie cover them) in the transition, as Hannaford uses the same "Food Triangle" logo Sweetbay did.

     From produce, here's a look across the store from the center cut-through. I should have gotten a better photo of it from closer up, but in this photo it's much easier to see the missing letters in the "Heath & Beuty" sign on the other side of the store (if you click on the photo and zoom in the sign becomes much clearer).

     Now in the front left corner of the building, we find the produce department, with the deli and bakery counters tucked into the corner itself. Floral was placed in a small island in the middle of the produce department, although I don't know if that's where that department was always located, of if it got shuffled around through the years by the many tenants of this building.

     To make the grand aisle feel like its own little area, a small partition wall was built in the middle of the salesfloor between produce and the grocery aisles, which we see above. I believe this wall is original to the building, as the similarly well preserved (but now sporting Winn Win) The Family Choice n' Karry Sweet-Dixie on 34th St. in St. Pete has the same wall in produce, but the wall in that store doesn't run all the way to the ceiling like it does in here.

     From produce, here's a nice overview of the dairy department we just saw, looking into the orange painted back left corner of the building.

     In addition to the sign on the center partition wall, Sweetbay was able to produce a second "Produce Market" sign for the left wall.

     Moving into the store's front left corner, here's a look at the "Bake Shop". It may look small, but this was still a full-service Winn-Dixie bakery with everything you'd expect from one.

     Between the bakery and the check lanes is the "Neighborhood Deli", as seen from afar in the above image...

     …and from a slightly more zoomed-in angle here. The bakery didn't have much space for a tile backsplash to be installed, but the tile backsplash in the deli (with the printed images of food) is from Kash n' Karry.

     Like produce, the deli also got two wall signs - one over the main deli counter itself, and a second one visible from the entryway on the angled ceiling that overlooks the front end.

     Walking into this store, the first thing that your eyes are drawn to is the "Neighborhood eli". The "Neighborhood eli" joins the "Heath and Beuty" department on the other side of the store as the two departments with signs missing letters during my visit. As of April 2024 this store still has the Sweetbay decor, and I don't know how many more letters may have fallen off the walls since my visit a few years back now. It seems that after the sale to Aldi was announced, Winn-Dixie stopped the big remodeling campaign that was sweeping the chain these last few years, as I've yet to see any signs of remodeling at any of the older stores I've been keeping tabs on since. I can't help but wonder if some of these older decor stores that remain will be part of the 50 stores converting to the Aldi brand later this year, which makes me a bit fearful of this location's future being that of The Family Choice n' Karry Sweet-AlDixie. None of the 50 stores mentioned to be converting have been announced yet, so we've yet to see what kind of pattern there may be on what stores will be converting. We've also yet to see if Winn-Dixie remodels (and new stores openings) will pick up again with the new ownership, so I guess we'll have to see what the latter part of 2024 brings to Das Rindfleischvolk.

     Leaving the deli, we return once again to the front end, with the store's 7 check lanes coming into view here.

     From here we can see both the side entrance and the main entrance as well, and quite a bit of the early morning sunlight coming in through the store's front windows.

     The check lane lights (and associated computer hardware) were the only major things Winn-Dixie swapped out for their own during the 2014 conversions of the former Sweetbay stores. These cube-shaped lights were specifically designed for the ex-Sweetbay stores, as I've never seen them appear in any other Winn-Dixie before. The white cubes are fairly plain, especially compared to the lights Sweetbay used to have, which looked like flags.

     That completes our interior tour of this store, as we return outside for a few final exterior shots of this building to wrap things up here.

     The right side of the building contains the side entrance and the entrance to the liquor store. For comparison, here's what the side of an Albertsons from the same era looked like as well. Outside of that linked store being a reversed layout of this Family Mart, doesn't the design look almost the same?

     The entrance into the liquor store is just to the right of the side entrance, somewhat tucked away by itself on the right side of the building.

     When I was at this store, it appeared the side entrance was the more popular entrance choice for locals than the main entrance by the check lanes. I was here earlier in the day when the store was slower than usual, but most of the cars from people shopping at the time were parked by this door than in the lot closer the main entrance. During busier times of the day that pattern may change, but I thought it was an interesting observation.

     Out by the road, Family Mart's original sign frame still stands tall, even after the flying of five flags from within that sign frame since 1978. Also, unlike the rest of the store, Winn-Dixie managed to get their current logo onto both of this store's road signs.

     With one final look at the store's main entrance, we've finally wrapped up our tour of the retail of South Pasadena, FL. For a small retail district consolidated to one intersection, the three supermarkets at this corner all had a lot to share! At least for now, going grocery shopping in South Pasadena will not be a cookie-cutter experience with any of the three chain grocers in town, and those three stores made for some interesting blog posts as well. Since we've run out of things to see in South Pasadena, we'll be off to another part of Florida for my next post, so be sure to come back in two weeks for another former Albertsons store somewhere in the Sunshine State!

So until the next post,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger