Tuesday, August 25, 2009

An Endearing Late Fifties Publix

A look at some of the colorful interior scenes (actually from several different locations) that would have greeted shoppers of the Publix stores featured in the previous post. By the time these pictures, from 1956 and 1958 promo pieces, were taken, Publix had a firmly established reputation for attractive decor and well-thought out displays, nearly as elaborate for their realm as the nicer department stores would have put together for theirs. Here we can see some holiday decorations - the first and third scenes sporting brown and gold flower arrangements, presumably for Thanksgiving, and the second and fourth decorated for Easter, with a donkey for Palm Sunday and an Easter Bunny. This was a decade or more before I would have been concerned about such things, but I loved the PAAS Easter egg decorating kits once I was old enough to use them. Maybe it’s just me, but the kits seemed so much better designed in those days, making today’s look boring by comparison.

Visible at the end of the aisles in the first photo are miniature red-and-white striped carousels, leading me to wonder if this may have been the Publix store at the Ringling Shopping Center in Sarasota, Winter Home of the famous Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

These are some of the last Publix stores to open with tile flooring. Soon, all new Publix stores would have green and white terrazzo floors, a feature that would become one of the company’s most recognizable signatures. Also, Publix’s devotion to S&H Green Stamps is evident – they’re literally “flying the banners”, so to speak.

Another prominent aspect of the interior design was the internally lit strip signage that can be seen around the inside perimeter. Although a number of chains used a version of this, Kroger among them, I believe Publix was unique in their use of pictures interspersed with the signage text. The signage in the third photo, with Libby’s and Del Monte brands clearly visible, underscores Publix’s strongly-enforced policy at the time – to promote strictly national brands. With very few exceptions – coffee, eggs and a few other staples – Publix stayed away from marketing food products under its own private label. This philosophy, which Publix adhered to for decades, stemmed from a perceived need to provide familiar brand-appeal to the throngs of vacationers and families relocating to Florida from the Northeast and Midwest regions. Many years later, Publix would launch its private label program, now one of the most admired in the industry.

One last note – check out the store renderings in the framed picture at the top of the third photo and on the right-hand edge of the illuminated strip sign in the last one. Usually these depicted the facade of that individual store itself. If that’s not endearing, I'm not sure what is.


  1. The black cash registers theme (or are they brown) continues. Nice store, but I am a little bit jarred by the dairy case. Compare that to the size of dairy cases today. I'm always amused by the endless variety we have in terms of brands and flavors. Sometimes, such as in the case of trying some awful Kraft cheese, I wonder why all these brands are in existence.

    I'm also amused by the detalied product descriptions in the picture around the perimiter of the store. Eggs, Butter, Milk, Oleo ... why not just put a sign up that says "Dairy"? (I'm tempted to make some joke about Southerners being too dumb to understand what the word Dairy means ... but I'll be nice.)

  2. To my eye, these interiors seem a little nicer than the 1972 Publix interior you showed on a previous post. They're more refined and the decorations are more interesting. I'd imagine that the stores were just as sumptuous in person.

  3. Danny: Each dairy item written had that particular product in the section below it.

  4. Maybe it's just me, but I had to Google the word "OLEO". That term for margarine is one I had never seen before.

    1. I only knew it because my great-grandmother used the term (Oleo) always. She said it was white and came with a dye packet to make it look like butter.

  5. Don't feel bad, Larry. I never heard of the word Oleo either.

    And question: What IS a waffle cuplet?

  6. Danny - I'm guessing that there weren't a lot of choices other than black for registers at the time of these pics. Later on it seems to have been a conscious decision to go with black, when tan or gray had probably become the most common colors.

    Based on what Dexter says below, it was probably aided customers in finding individual items faster.

    As an adopted Southerner, I'll pass on the "dairy" thing. (I've actually known what it meant for years now!) :)

    Steven - I like them both, but would give the edge to these as well. Sumptuous is a good way to describe them. The framed pictures alone have a great, funky look and represent some high quality work.

    Dexter - Makes a great deal of sense, especially with those items you had to lean in to see.

    Larry - The only reason I know is because as a kid we had an aunt and uncle join the family by marriage who always used the word "oly" to describe (oleo)margarine. "Ya want butter or oly with yer bread?" was a regular question at meals. Took some getting used to! :)

    Didi - They appear to be small ice cream cones with a waffle pattern (by Nabisco, no less).

    This site is getting way too educational for me!

  7. I'm glad Paas is still keeping it real and old-school with their Easter Egg dye kits.

  8. The technical name for margarine is "oleo margarine" and the term "oleo" as a colloquialism for margarine was common outside the South a couple generations ago.

  9. "Oleo" was also a Jazz tune composed IIRC by saxophonist Sonny Rollins--sometime in the fifties.

  10. I imagine that the old registers were like a Model T, you can have them in any color you want as long as it is black. Tan or beige seems to be the colors that were most popular in my lifetime. I never saw a late 60s or early 70s mechanical register that was black, as far as I can remember. Of note, the POS system that Publix adopted in 2006 to replace the IBM SurePOS Ace is black with generous amounts of chrome trim on the checkstands themselves.

    The interiors look more modern than the art deco exteriors, I was actually surprised, the sherbet colors remind on the stores that were built prior to the earthtones that came into vogue in the 70s.

    My first encounter with the word oleo came as a bagger, a women with a Southern accent thick enough to cut with a knife asked me, an 80s teen, "Wheah can maght Ahh locayte youah Olayoh?" You can imagine the dumbfounded look on my face.

  11. Meatismyrtle - I'm glad too. In a way I wish they'd bring some of their old character designs back. I think today's kids would love them!

    Anonymous - Thanks. One thing I did learn a while back (can't remember where), since we're on the subject of oleo, is that yellow margarine (oleo) used to be subject to a special tax at a much higher rate than natural colored margarine, which was actually grayish-white. This was done as a means of protecting dairy farmers, who were upset at the market share loss of butter to margarine. Eventually enough homemakers protested at having to pay the higher costs for dyed margarine (or having to mix in yellow food coloring manually) that the tax was dropped.

    Dexter - Cool - I'll have to check that tune out.

    Ken - Wow, sounds like you'd almost need a translator for that one! I'm guessing she was dressed to the nines, and was as refined and genteel as could be.