By the early 1960’s, Publix’s reputation for elegance and service beyond the supermarket norm was widely known. Having established a strong trademark with the “winged” facades introduced a few years earlier, the interiors of the new Publix stores were becoming more opulent than ever. On top of that, the stores themselves were becoming larger, with new stores averaging well over 20,000 square feet. A fine example of the Publix stores of this period was the Coral Ridge Shopping Center unit in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, which opened in 1962 and for a brief time, was considered the company’s premier unit. Most of the photos seen here depict that store.
(For the handful of folks who go back with me on this site to its very beginning, may remember an early post called Publix Panache, and are thinking “Gosh, Dave, there aren’t many classic stores out there, haha. Why don’t you feature the same store twice?” I hear you. I promise we’ll move on quickly!)
Many features that would become Publix calling cards, a few of which would filter through to the supermarket industry as a whole over the coming decade, were already in place on this store. All in “dramatic color”, they included boutique-style settings for the ice cream and bakery departments, dark paneling, elaborate wood cutouts, pastel-colored freezer and cooler cases, and of course those (soon-to-be famous) green and white striped terrazzo floors.
Probably the most striking features were the beautiful, wonderfully intricate mosaic murals (click the first photo to enlarge and look toward the lower left corner, and also see the second photo here) that graced the entrances of the new Publix stores. These were the work of legendary San Francisco-based artist John Garth, who also created a number of them for Safeway’s magnificent Marina-style stores. While his Safeway work tended to stress historical themes, the motif that Garth employed for the Publix store murals was described in detail in a 1964 Look magazine article – “The dominating figure in Garth’s murals is a long-stemmed, blue eyed blonde whose lush beauty seems about to bust right through her diaphanous white gown. She just sits or stands on a throne looking hard to please, while faithful food-industry workers come bringing beef, citrus, lobsters, watermelons and the world’s other taste-bud delights”. The article goes on to liken a lurking pirate with a treasure chest hiding out in a corner of the mural to the bounty of trading stamps that awaited shoppers inside. Wow! After Garth’s passing in 1971, Publix would use a different type of murals on its stores, more along the lines of a painting on a white tiled background.
Regarding the above-mentioned 1964 Look magazine article, this was the second instance in which George Jenkins and his company were profiled in a major national pictorial magazine - two more times than any other supermarket chain, to my knowledge. Amazingly, the tone of this article is even more giddy than the Saturday Evening Post piece from ten years earlier- “In 100 stately superstores, a Florida grocer brews up new enticements for Her Highness, the never satisfied housewife”, reads the article’s tagline. Jenkins’ stores were described with felicity –“Inside, his light is heaven-bright, his climate a conditioned 74 degrees, his floors a green-and-white candy striped terrazzo, his pastel walls a fiesta of fairyland frescoes. His clean air, scrubbed by deodorizers, hums with Muzak sonatas night and day”. (I’d quote more, but I’m not sure how much you can stand. In a good way, I mean.)
Gushing superlatives aside, one thing is very clear – that George Jenkins knew that creating a special “experience” for his shoppers was the key to Publix’s success. Though their lines of business could scarcely be more different, Jenkins reminds me in several respects of someone else I’ve always admired, Walt Disney. Both men were of the same generation, Disney being born in 1901, six years before Jenkins, and their life stories were both stirring rags-to-riches tales. There was also a striking physical resemblance as well - both were trim, impeccably dressed and sported rakish pencil-thin moustaches. The biggest similarity, in my opinion, was their business approach – Jenkins and Publix, of course, and Walt in relation to Disneyland, his greatest single achievement. No detail of Disneyland’s operation escaped Disney’s careful eye, and even mundane aspects such as how long customers had to wait in line for rides were the subject of never-ending study, a constant search for even the slightest potential for improvement. Forty-three years after his death, the Disneyland reputation is still heavily staked on Walt’s achievements, attitudes and ideals. In a sense, although Publix’s boundaries continue to expand well beyond Florida, the same is true for them. Thirteen years after George Jenkins’ passing, they are held to his very high standards. Although Disney spent a great deal of time in central Florida in his last years, laying out the early plans for Disney World, to suggest that the two men ever met would be more than a bit far-fetched. Bet they would’ve gotten along, though.
As mentioned, most of the photos above show the Coral Ridge Shopping Center Publix in Ft. Lauderdale, a store that still exists, albeit in a remodeled state. These are from a 1962 Publix promotional booklet, as is the final photo below. The second photo, with the coral-colored wall and the store directory (if you click to enlarge it, you’ll still have a hard time reading the “Where Shopping is a Pleasure” slogan in the next-to-last panel on the directory) is of the Coral Gables store, from a 1962 advertisement, and the black-and-white shot of the produce department is from an early 60’s book entitled “Modern Supermarket Operation”. Not sure which location it is but it might be the Ft. Lauderdale store, based on the way cool aisle marker. Below, Mr. Jenkins looks on proudly as the steel skeleton in the background displays a familiar shape - another Publix is about to take flight!