In the world of mid and late 20th century retail architecture, there are a number of store exterior designs that are indelibly, inextricably linked with one company. Where supermarkets are concerned, it’s a fairly small number. Two of those that immediately come to my mind are the Marina style stores (glass-front, arched roof design) of Safeway and the Centennial stores (Early American/Colonial design) of A&P. Those two companies certainly weren’t the only ones to use these designs – Philadelphia-based Penn Fruit was a pioneer of what would later be called the “Marina” style (named after Safeway’s 1959 flagship store in San Francisco’s Marina district), and many supermarket firms, including Grand Union, Acme, Albertsons and Food Fair to name just a few, opened stores that featured the Marina look. And I’ve seen a couple of very nice early 60’s examples of Colonial-style architecture on a Stop & Shop unit (Coventry, Rhode Island) and even on a Piggly Wiggly store operated by Shop Rite of Texas (who built some of the nicest looking Piggly Wigglys ever, in my opinion). Despite this, the association of those two styles with those particular companies (Marina = Safeway) and (Colonial = A&P) still hold the strongest.
Another one I would add to this list is Publix, with their magnificent winged-facade stores that first began to appear in 1956. Perfectly capturing the optimism and good-natured flamboyance of the times, these stores caused a stir when first opened, and the design was such a hit that Publix would stick with it for nearly 15 years.
A commenter on a recent post noted that “it’s easy to see how the ‘winged’ Publix stores evolved” from the previous art deco designs the company used, and I would have to agree. If you look at the series of black and white photos at the end of that post, a natural progression can be seen, with nearly every store showing slight differences from the previous one. One design element in particular, the large “PUBLIX MARKET” lettering, was used on several pre-“winged-era” stores, and in a few cases was even retrofitted to older stores, replacing their more subdued original signage. In one sense, the move away from the art deco look was necessary as more and more of the new Publix stores were in-line with shopping centers instead of free-standing. The distinctive art deco curved corners could no longer be used, rendering the style much less effective in a shopping center setting, something that can be seen in the later photos on that same post.
On top of that, styles were changing. To me, there’s a parallel between the look of American automobiles of the late 40’s and early 50’s and the Art Deco Publix stores, which both sported curvy lines and high profiles. A similar parallel can be drawn between the late 50’s winged Publix stores and the long, low, sleek car designs of that period, razor-sharp tailfins replacing the curved lines of the preceding years. So it must have been like grocery shopping in a ’59 Cadillac, or a “wide-track” Pontiac! (Ok, I guess some analogies can be carried too far…)
Publix’s tagline, “Where Shopping is a Pleasure”, was boldly emblazoned on the new facades. Still in use today, this slogan was the creation of Publix advertising manager Bill Schroter. In the 1940’s and early 50’s, the company had used another slogan - “Florida’s Finest Food Stores”. Schroter discussed his feelings about the original slogan in the book “Fifty Years of Pleasure”- “doggone it, the thing was self-congratulatory, offering no promise…I realized this could be a sacred cow”. “People would say, ‘Publix was such a pleasant place to shop.’ Or ‘The people are so pleasant’. It triggered something, and I just came up with a slogan idea”. Initially apprehensive about approaching Publix founder George Jenkins with it, Schroter pressed forward and presented his case, and one of the retail world’s most enduring slogans saw its first use.
From a corporate standpoint, Publix continued to grow steadily through the late 1950’s, reaching a total of 37 stores by 1958. The following year saw the beginning of an initiative that played a big part in Publix’s explosive growth over the following decades. In 1959, Publix took its first steps outside its Central Florida home base, opening its first store in the Miami area on July 5th of that year. Things took a big step forward there in November, when George Jenkins learned that The Grand Union Company had decided to put six of its Miami area stores up for sale. Despite the hand-wringing of some observers (Miami has always been a notoriously brutal grocery pricing market), Jenkins moved ahead on the deal. Thus was established Publix’s Southeast Coast division. By 1963, the company had built 14 additional stores and opened a distribution center in Miami. Publix also entered another new market in 1959 when it opened a store in Jacksonville. With prohibitive single-store advertising costs and the need to marshal their resources for the competitive battle in Miami, the company soon decided to sell that store to hometown heroes Winn-Dixie. In 1971, Publix would return to Jacksonville, this time for keeps.
Another venture that did much to shape Publix’s destiny was its entry into shopping center development. In fact, the first “modern” shopping center in the state, St. Petersburg’s Central Plaza, had a Publix store as a tenant. Florida’s second shopping center, in Largo, was actually developed by Publix. Over the next 25 years, Publix would develop 70 centers, all featuring major general merchandise and specialty retailers to complement their supermarket units. In the early years, Publix’s shopping centers typically included such variety stores as W.T. Grant and F.W. Woolworth, a drug store (mostly Touchton–Rexall, and later Eckerd), along with all manner of bakeries, toy stores, dry cleaners, shoe stores and clothing stores among others.
One Publix-developed center has even achieved a measure of pop culture status (again, owing to a movie) – 1958’s Southgate Shopping Center in Lakeland, which featured a gigantic arch in the middle of the shopping center that is thankfully still intact. The shopping center was the site of a scene in the 1990 Tim Burton movie “Edward Scissorhands”, starring Johnny Depp, providing what one columnist called “Lakeland’s Hollywood debut”. (Have there been other movies filmed in Lakeland?) Earlier this year, the Publix store, which was remodeled a number of times and most recently featured an early 70’s-ish Publix look, was torn down. Soon a much larger, brand new Publix store will reopen on the same spot. The iconic “Southgate” arch will remain in place, but the new store will be in the modern Publix mold. While I’m sure the new Publix will be beautiful, part of me wishes they’d “winged it”.
All of these photos are from a 1958 Publix promotional booklet. The first photo shows the new winged facade at the North Gate Shopping Center in Winter Haven, Florida, resplendent in palm trees and S&H Green Stamps signs. Second, an impeccably dressed mother and daughter experience some pleasant Publix service. Note the box of Tide, “The Washday Miracle”, in the shopping cart. Consumer products don’t get more photogenic than that. Third is an aerial view of Lakeland’s Southgate Shopping Center. With all of those customers, who needs Hollywood? Below are some black and whites of some the first winged stores, painstakingly captioned below for your surfing pleasure!
Cleveland Plaza, 1209 E. Cleveland, Clearwater
211 Douglas Ave., Bradenton (unusual "concave" variant)
West Gate Shopping Center, 3909 W. Manatee Ave., Bradenton
Britton Plaza, 3838 Dale Mabry Ave., Tampa (Debra Jane sent me a link to an incredible ad that shows the neon lighting pattern for this particular store. It's on her Flickr page at this link. Wowza!)
Colonial Plaza, 2418 E. Colonial Drive, Orlando
North Gate Shopping Center, 8815 N. Florida Ave., Tampa
Madeira Shopping Center, 662 East Welch Causeway, Madeira Beach