Sunday, May 3, 2009

Winn-Dixie's Family Tree

The roots of Winn-Dixie’s “family tree” can be traced back to two small grocery stores in 1920’s Florida. The first of these was a wholesale grocery unit in northeast Florida, purchased by E.L. Winn and W.R. Lovett in 1920. From that humble start, Winn and Lovett built a chain of “small neighborhood-type” stores, reaching a total of 65 units by the end of 1928. On Christmas Eve of that year, the company was officially incorporated as Winn & Lovett Grocery Company. The company prospered through the depression that followed, and in the early 30’s embarked on a program to consolidate its small stores into fewer but larger units that would feature self-service, an emerging trend in the grocery industry. By the end of 1934, there were 55 stores located in central and northeast Florida and in south Georgia, under the Lovett’s and Piggly Wiggly names. By this time, W.R. Lovett had bought out Mr. Winn’s interest in the company.

The second of these two “founding stores” was opened in 1925 in Lemon City, a suburb of Miami by William M. Davis. Davis had operated a general store in Idaho in the years prior to World War I, and had recently relocated his family to Florida. Known initially as “Rockmoor Grocery, Inc.”, the company that eventually resulted was called Economy Wholesale Grocery Company. From 1927 on, the stores themselves went by the name of Table Supply. By 1934, there were 34 Table Supply stores in south and central Florida. The company had moved into the Tampa area three years prior with its purchase of the Lively Stores chain. That same year, the elder Davis passed away, and control of the company passed to his four sons – Artemus Darius (A.D.), James Elsworth (J.E.), M. Austin and Tine W. - “The Davis Brothers” would become a fairly well-known group in Wall Street circles in decades to come.

In November 1939, W.R. Lovett sold his interest in Winn & Lovett (a chain that had by now grown to 73 stores) to the Davis Brothers. Lovett stayed on in an advisory role as chairman, and A.D. Davis took over as president. For a five-year period, and despite the same ownership, the Winn & Lovett and Economy/Table Supply firms were run as separate companies. Davis’ three brothers, J.E, Austin and Tine continued to run the family’s original business during this time. On November 25, 1944, the two companies were combined into one entity under the Winn & Lovett corporate name. There were 118 total stores, half of which the company described as “supermarkets”. The retail stores themselves continued to operate under their existing names – Table Supply, Lovett’s and Piggly Wiggly. There were also a handful of Economy Wholesale Grocery stores.

(It’s interesting to note some of the major grocery chains that once operated Piggly Wiggly-bannered stores in addition to their traditional nameplates. Besides the Winn & Lovett-owned “Pigglys”, Kroger operated a number of them in Atlanta, and H.E. Butt (H.E.B.) had many in Texas in those years.)

Over the following decade, Winn & Lovett grew rapidly through acquisition, adding a number of new chains and territories. In July 1945, the company took a major step outside of its traditional Florida/south Georgia market area with the purchase of Louisville-based Steiden Stores, Inc., a 31-store chain. In late 1949, the Margaret Ann grocery chain, with 46 stores conveniently located within the company’s core Tampa and Miami areas, was acquired.


In 1952, Winn & Lovett achieved the special distinction of being the first Florida-based company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Of lesser note but still important was the company’s growing stable of private labels, with the purchase of the former B. Fischer manufacturing plant in New York, makers of Astor coffee, tea and spices, a longtime Winn & Lovett supplier. The company already had bread bakeries in Jacksonville and Miami and a salad dressing/mayonnaise/peanut butter plant in southern Alabama. In April 1955, Winn & Lovett purchased the Carr-Consolidated Biscuit Company, makers of Crackin’ Good cookies and crackers. Unfortunately, Carr’s Chicago plant burned down a mere four months later. A replacement Crackin’ Good plant was opened much closer to home in Valdosta, Georgia in 1958.

The company rapidly moved into adjoining markets, including Albany, Valdosta and Savannah, Georgia and Dothan, Alabama in 1953. The following year, Montgomery, Selma and Anniston, Alabama and Columbus, Georgia were added as well.

And of course there were more store chain acquisitions, including the Kwik Chek Supermarkets of the Tampa and Miami areas. I have to admit that this one puzzles me, as a number of web sources mention Kwik Chek as a company acquired sometime in the early/mid 50’s. The first mention of it in a Winn & Lovett annual report came in 1953, when the name Kwik Chek appears alongside the other familiar banners – Lovett’s, Margaret Ann, Table Supply, etc., but no merger or acquisition is mentioned in that or any subsequent editions. A search in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal historical archives, usually excellent sources for “fact-cheking” (sorry) the dates of even small corporate acquisitions, yielded nothing.

Kwik Chek is significant in that it provided the company an enduring brand icon, the famous “Chek mark”. In the late fifties, the company would phase out all but the “Winn-Dixie” and “Kwik Chek” banners, with the Chek mark prominently featured (encircled) in the center of both names. When they further narrowed it down to simply “Winn-Dixie” in the 1970’s, the Chek mark still reigned as the company’s logo, as it does to this day.

In mid-1955, Winn & Lovett bought out Columbia, South Carolina based Edens Food Stores, Inc., with 33 stores in the central and western portions of the state. The “Dixie” portion of Winn-Dixie came later that year when the company purchased Dixie-Home Stores, a 117-store chain based in Greenville, South Carolina, giving the company nearly 400 stores at the close of 1955. Still more acquisitions were just around the corner. On November 15, the company’s name was officially changed to Winn-Dixie Stores, Inc.

The next ten years would be "crackin’ good" for Winn-Dixie, by all measures.

The photos above are shown in a reverse chronology (more or less) of the store nameplates that would come to make up Winn-Dixie. The Dixie-Home photo (with its Food Fair-esque pylon) is from Chain Store Age, the Kwik Chek photos are shown courtesy of the Tampa-Hillsborough County Library System and the rest are vintage Winn & Lovett publicity photos. Below, from the Florida Photographic Collection, is an interior scene from the Davis family’s first Miami grocery store, circa 1925.

23 comments:

  1. Though I am not personally familiar with any of these grocery stores, I have heard of Winn-Dixie and to a lesser extent Kuik-Chek. It is interesting to get a good back story on these companies. Plus I love some of the mid mod looks of the stores particularly the Kwik-Chek. Keep up the great work, Dave.

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  2. Didi- Thanks! I think the Kwik Chek stores are the real standouts of this group as well.

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  3. The Kwik-Chek name continued into the late 60s in Miami.

    If you're looking for sources, see if your library has old copies of the Moody's Industrial Manual (published annually), which was the Bible of history for publicly-held firms for decades (including retailers, despite the "Industrial" name. that would give you a reliable date for the Kwik-Check and other acquistions.

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  4. Winn-Dixie doesn't list Kwik Chek as an acquisition and I have always had the impression Kwik Chek was adopted as a unifying banner prior to the adoption of Winn-Dixie and continued to be used until the mid or late 60's.
    King's is an acquisition made in the 50's, but I haven't been able to learn much about this chain other than the Columbus, GA area stores were from King's. Ketner-Milner was a North Carolina chain purchased on the heels of Dixie Home, and the former managers of Ketner-Milner left to start Foodtown, now known as Food Lion.

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  5. Dave, I'm sure this would interest you and Didi. Unfortunately the details are no longer listed on Winn-Dixie's website, but another Chicago connection existed in addition to Carr's Crackers. In a partnership with Jewel, W-D acquired a coffee roasting plant in the Bronx, NY. Astor coffee was long the brand used for coffee and spices, but apparently has been replaced by Winn-Dixie for mainstream and Winn and Lovett for the premium brands.

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  6. Man, I worked at Winn-Dixie in high school, and LOVED it. What a great chain, and it's about to become a hall of famer, but when I worked for them they were a great employer, and had great stores. It was a blast working there. Thanks again for these great pics, Dave.

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  7. The Table Supply banner was brought back for a number of stores in Florida before the bankruptcy. These were relatively small W-Ds that had been closed but for which the chain still held leases or ownership. The stores were converted to a discount format that primarily sold W-D house brand merchandise. I think they dropped this format after the bankruptcy. It was probably a sign of how desperate they were to maintain enough volume to keep all their food processing and manufacturing operations going.

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  8. Anonymous - Thanks for the tip on the Moody's manuals. I have seen them in the past, but assumed that "industrial" meant exactly that. I'll have to check it out the next time I visit a library that has them. The puzzling thing is that WD's other acquisitions are so well-documented and easily researched by comparison.

    Ken - That's what I thought as well - that "Kwik Chek" was a consolidation banner instead of an acquisition. I did dig up another web reference that supports the acq theory. In Google books, I saw a brief "snippet" from a (famous and well-repected) history book called "Chain Stores In America 1959-1950" that refers to it as an acquisition. Also, I noticed in Google's St. Peterburg Times archive that WD was actually co-branding Kwik Chek and Margaret Ann for a while around 1955. A little mystery makes this stuff more fun, I guess! The King's and Ketner-Milner buyouts are well documented.

    And that's very cool about the Jewel/WD partnership. I had no idea. Jewel's main house brand was called "Royal Jewel", and in the early years was actually roasted and packaged in the company's Barrington, IL HQ building. I like that fact that WD is using the Winn & Lovett name as a premium brand - a nice nod to their heritage.

    Jack - Glad it brings it back for you! Hope to bring some stuff from your era there soon!

    Anonymous - I think the table Supply name reappeared in the early 80's. I was under the impression that it was phased out sometime befor their bankruptcy, though. Thanks!

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  9. I kind of like the name "Table Supply". It is so minimalist -- it gets right to the point.

    --Dan

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  10. Dave, any idea where the store pictured in Tampa was located?

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  11. Table Supply was revived in the late 80's as a "Cub Foods" type superwarehouse. They seem limited to the areas of Florida where Pueblo opened Xtra! warehouse stores-Orlando and Fort Lauderdale, plus Macon, GA, which replaced the 2 W-D's that were in Macon. The format lasted only a few years.

    Dixie Home survived as the house brand of tea until the brand consolidation that began prior to bankruptcy. Currently W-D uses three tiers, Thriftimaid, Winn-Dixie and the aforementioned Winn and Lovett.

    R.I.P. Dixie Darlin', Crackin'Good, Superbrand, Astor, Lilac, Deep South, Sunbelt, Prestige, Palmetto Farms and several other house brands from over the years.

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  12. Dan - I like the name "Table Supply", too. Descriptive and retro as well.

    Dwayne - The first Kwik Chek pictured was at 211 South Prospect in Clearwater, and the second was at 5201 North Armenia Ave. in Tampa. Unfortunately I don't have addresses for the two Margaret Ann stores.

    Ken - Thanks - wasn't "Pueblo" a NY-based chain? Maybe I'm confusing it with something else.

    It seems that most chains have severely pared down their private label name rosters in favor of a more consistent brand identity. Some of the WD brands were well-liked, so its a shame. "Thriftimaid" definitely has that oldtime sound, and "Chek" is just too closely identified with WD to drop.

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  13. Dave, I am going to be over on Armenia ave tomorrow. I am going to see if the old building still stands. ill let you know!

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  14. Dave, finally I got to go by that store! It still stands and is now used as a church. It has been remodled with a facade added in front. the old sign frame still stands too...with the changes you'd expect.

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  15. Dave, forgot something if you google kwik check Tampa a pic of a store that was located on fifty sixth st pops up. its a great pic. that store and entire center still stands as well. The kwik check is now a sav a lot. It has hardly changed over the years.

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  16. Dwayne - That's good to hear, thanks for checking it out for us! And I have seen the 56th St. photo you mentioned, it's a good one. Nice to know it still stands as well!

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  17. I just stumbled across your site, but saw several comments dating back to May questioning where Kwik-Chek falls into the Winn-Dixie lineage. The history page on their web site doesn’t mention it at all, but I’m certain there was a connection at some point. I lived in Hialeah starting in 1952 right down the street from a Margaret Ann store (which had been a Winn-Lovett acquisition as of 1949). This store was later renamed Kwik-Chek for a number of years before eventually becoming Winn-Dixie. And for whatever this is worth, it stayed the same green color under all three names.

    woody072@att.net

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  18. Woody - As I mention in the post, the lack of info on the origins of Kwik Chek is a very puzzling thing! Especially so when you consider how W-D ultimately adopted the Kwik Chek identity for all of their stores.

    Speaking of Margaret Ann, I've actually seen some vintage newspaper ads from the St.Pete area where Margaret Ann and Kwik Chek almost appear to be co-branded.

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  19. Hubby and I would drive an hour and a half once a month to go to Table Supply on Eisenhower Parkway in Macon in the late 1980s. Loved their bulk foods...you could buy as much or as little as you wanted. They came in big bins: pasta, candies, cookies, rice...it was great.

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  20. I just stumbled across this site today and it brought back memories. As a young kid, I remember the Kwik Chek store with the familiar logo in downtown Jacksonville. The site is still occupied by Winn Dixie and is one of their recent remodelling accomplishments. Thanks for the memories.

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  21. Just stumbled across this myownself. What wonderful memories it brought back! 'Every other week' was my daddy's payday and we'd all pile in the car and drive (from Palm Harbor) up to Winn Dixie Kwick Chek (in Dunedin) for groceries. It was always a special treat to eat at Dog 'n' Suds first. And sometimes, we'd go as far as Cleveland Plaza in Clearwater. Seemed like the ends of the earth to us kids. 8-]

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  22. I have been researching an incident. 1962 the Dixie Darlin airplane crashed. Any info?

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  23. I was born in Miami in 1951 and clearly recall my mom saying she had to pick up a few items from Margaret Ann. Then she would quickly correct herself and say, “I mean Kwik Chek.” Because I was so young, I can’t honestly say I remember the Margaret Ann stores, but I do remember Kwik Check. It's hard to find anyone that even knows the Kwik Check name, let alone Margaret Ann.

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