Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Publix and the Wings of Time

A couple of years back we featured a series on the history of Publix, the Florida-based supermarket chain. As mentioned throughout those posts, Publix is a company that has inspired a highly unusual degree of loyalty among its customers, a fact that’s no surprise to most folks who live in their market areas. They have a “mystique”, if you will, acquired over the years - something most retailers would kill for. A key ingredient in forming the Publix mystique in the decades following World War II was their unique store architecture – bold, forward looking, well-executed designs that stood out in a sea of strip mall similarity. The “winged” Publix stores in particular stand today (virtually, that is, as I believe all of the originals are gone) as enduring icons of the “Florida Boom” years.

Recently, I was delighted to receive an email from Florida native Tim Fillmon offering to share some photos he took between the late 1970’s and early 90’s of various classic Publix stores. At the time, Tim worked for the State of Florida in historic preservation, and on his travels he documented the changing sights along the way – “from signs and shopping centers to courthouses and motels”, as he puts it. In this day and age that type of activity is (thankfully) becoming increasingly common, but before the advent of digital media, when film was expensive and there were no easy means to share one’s work, it was all too rare. I want to express my thanks to Tim for sharing these with us and hope that you will do the same in the comments section.

Tim has strong family connections to Publix. His sister worked there from 1966 until her untimely passing in 2009, and his father headed up the construction of many Publix stores, including “Central Plaza in St. Petersburg, Britton Plaza and Northgate in Tampa and many others in Orlando, Hollywood, Lehigh Acres, and other places around the state.”

The fun thing for me is how the photos depict these Publix stores as I would have known them had I grown up in Florida. For other tail-end baby boomers or Gen-Xers who did grow up there or who vacationed there regularly, they should bring back some good memories. In any event it’s clear that, 20 or even 30 years after opening, these stores had charm to spare.

In the spirit of recreating the random nature of a typical “early 1980’s drive around town”, I’ve deliberately avoided putting these in any sort of chronological order. I’ve added a few notes for each photo.

“Always start with the night shot” is my philosophy, and shown above is a great one of the Publix at Gainesville Mall, a store that opened in 1967. Does your local supermarket have animated neon? I didn’t think so!
The neon is glowing here, and it’s not even dark out! This was the Southgate Shopping Center location in New Port Richey, Florida, not to be confused with the other Southgate (of Johnny Depp/Edward Scissorhands fame) in Lakeland. Look at the gold “winged” parcel pick-up sign in front, typical of the attention to detail on these stores. Isn’t this nice?
Many of the shopping center-based Publixes pictured here have since been replaced with much larger stores, usually sporting the Spanish-styled architecture that’s de rigueur in the Florida retail world of today. Here’s one instance, however, where the replacement Publix is as fun and quirky as the original, if not more so – from the College Park neighborhood of Orlando. Check out this video of the “Retro-Publix” that occupies this site now. The “rotating wings” sign is reportedly original. Wow!
A wonderful little jewel box of a store, located at 1720 16th Street North in St. Petersburg. Save for the 60’s/70’s cars and the S&H sign (which replaced an earlier neon version), this one looks virtually as it did in 1950, the year of its opening. It featured design elements that Publix would employ through the early and mid-50’s (up until the advent of their famous “winged” designs) on ever larger stores, including Art Deco styling with glass blocks, Vitrolite-faced awnings and two-toned cutout letters. This tiny Publix finally closed in 1982, and the building now houses America’s finest-looking Family Dollar store.
A unique facade was employed at the First Federal Shopping Center Publix in St. Petersburg. The transitional period between the Art Deco and “Winged” eras is clearly in evidence. (“Transitional period.” You’d think I was talking about Picasso here.)
Here’s an example of the larger deco-style Publix stores, a unit that was located at 3615 Gandy Boulevard in Tampa. The framed “arches” jutting out from the sides of the store were common features of their early 50’s stores and appear to have been more important as a decorative element than as a gateway to storeside parking. The word “PUBLIX” once appeared across the top portion of the arches on either side of the store, but by the time this photo was taken it had been removed. A modern Publix now sits on this site.
Hillsborough Boulevard in Tampa, with a parking lot full of “downsized” American cars. I remember my deep disappointment with the looks of the first downsized full-size cars introduced by GM in the fall of 1976 (I wasn’t a driver yet –just in eighth grade!), thinking how ugly and “chopped off” they seemed. The following year, they downsized the mid-size cars, which looked even worse. It seemed to take eons for the “Big Three” American car companies to get their styling mojo back, by which time their overseas-based competition (for whom smaller cars were always the rule, of course) had racked up huge market share gains. Interesting times, those were.
Here’s the Publix store at the Hollieanna Shopping Center in Winter Park, Florida, just north of Orlando. To the right is trusty sidekick Eckerd Drugs, Publix’s pharmacy tenant of choice for many years starting in 1959. Prior to that, most Publix-owned shopping centers featured Rexall drugstores, owned by franchisee Walt Touchton. When Touchton sold off his stores to Rexall mega-operator Liggett, Publix was disaffected by the ownership change and offered Jack Eckerd the proverbial “opportunity of a lifetime” to locate his drugstores in Publix-owned shopping centers. Within ten years Eckerd became one of the largest drug chains in the country, and in his autobiography Eckerd was quick to credit the Publix deal as the catalyst of that success.
The Hollieanna store once again, wings clipped and remodeling underway. Those letters have baked in the Florida sun for a long time. I'm digging the two-toned Monte in the foreground!
On an earlier post there’s a 1960’s-era postcard showing the Punta Gorda Mall Publix (again, the place was much more “shopping center” than “mall”) as it appeared in its early years. This photo shows the store after its 1970’s remodeling, a makeover that many Publix stores received. Not nearly as dramatic as the “winged” look, but very attractive nonetheless.
By the early 1970’s, the company’s new and remodeled stores featured only the word “Publix”, along with the famous “Where Shopping is a Pleasure” slogan. Interestingly, they made a slight attempt at modernization of this store (at Cleveland Plaza in Clearwater) by removing the “Market” signage and replacing it with three sets of mini-wings. Kind of gives the usually humble Publix a bit of swagger, don’t you think? Instead of “Publix Market”, you get “Publix, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh!” Strictly my interpretation, of course.
A wide view of the Midway Shopping Center in Largo, Florida, showing part of a Publix store (once again minus the “Market” and plus the “swagger”) among some hard-to-identify fellow tenants. One that’s not hard to identify is Cloth World, the “Wonder World of Fabric”, a chain that was bought out by Jo-Ann Fabrics in 1994.
Another deco classic, located at 6001 N. Nebraska Avenue in Tampa, once again virtually unchanged in appearance since its opening, which took place in February 1954. Again, the modern-day S&H signs are about the only new thing. Publix was The Sperry and Hutchinson Company’s largest and most loyal customer, a relationship that lasted some 35 years. In 1987, when the company began a two-year phaseout of S&H Green Stamps (more than a decade after most chains threw in the towel on stamps), it was a crushing blow from which S&H never really recovered.
One of the hallmarks of the early Publix-developed shopping centers was their way-cool neon signage, and the memorable “arrow” design of the early 60’s, shown here at the Venice Shopping Center (today the place would have to be called “The Merchants of Venice” or something equally imposing) was one of their favorites. These signs were built for Publix by Lane Neon Company of Lakeland. According to an article in Signs of the Times magazine, the yellow arrow measured “28 feet vertically from tip to tip”. All of these signs originally had a marquee board where the “Southeast Bank” sign is located on this one. I’m aware of the following locations, in addition to Venice, that featured this type of sign: Melbourne, Douglas, Indian Rocks, Southgate (New Port Richey) and Punta Gorda. The last two can be seen on this previous post.
The Searstown Shopping Center (later renamed Town Center) in Lakeland, Florida featured a Publix store with the “letterbox” variant sign. Martin Scorsese would not be pleased.
Another fine example of the classic mid-60’s winged Publix at the Tri-City Plaza in Largo, Florida, which opened in April 1966 with a ribbon cutting by “Donna Dehart, Miss Largo, Dorothy (Kitty) Carr, Miss Clearwater and Dorothy Argo, Miss St. Petersburg” according to a St. Petersburg Times article from the morning of the big day. Again, a modern, much larger, Spanish-style Publix has long since taken the place of this store.
“Something for everybody” or “back-and-forth through time” would be a good way to describe the scene in this photo of the Pine Hills Shopping Center (Orlando area, west of town), where at least three distinct architectural styles are represented in the space of about 150 feet. To the left of the Publix, on an unidentified store, we see a nice 50’s zig-zag awning. To the right, on the Firestone dealership, a set of 60’s Roman scalloped arches. What better way to tie them together than with some good old 70’s diagonal stained wood? Now let’s top it off with some turrets, the new look of the 80’s, to bring things up to date!
Saving the best for last, we present the pièce de résistance…a prime example of my new lifelong favorite style of architecture, which I refer to as “Jet-Age Antebellum.” Not much information to go on about this one, although Tim thinks it could possibly be a South Florida location, and may have originally been intended as a “Food World”, Publix’s short-lived discount food banner. If anyone can fill us in on this store, I’d be forever indebted. And if by some chance, hope against hope, it still exists as a Publix and looks like this, please send me a copy of the local “Homes For Sale” magazine, ‘cause I’m moving there!

Thanks to Edric Floyd for identifying the location of this Publix store, at 100 West El Camino Real in Boca Raton, Florida. The building still exists as a Fresh Market, and while some changes have been made to it, some of the store's distinctive features (not the wings, of course) can still be seen. Since it's no longer a Publix, guess I won't be a Florida resident anytime soon!


  1. The "best for last" photo may be of the Publix that was at 100 W Camino Real in Boca Raton Florida. I grew up in the area.

    I knew of only TWO Publix markets that had this exact design and one was in Boca Raton with an Eckerd Drugs store on the extension to the right of the store and the other was in Coral Springs Florida but it had a small shopping center that extended from the left of the store in an "L" shape that included a small Walgreens drug store.

    Neither of these buildings operate as a Publix anymore. The Boca Raton store (that I think may be this photo) closed in the mid 1990's when Publix built a new store a few blocks east at the corner of Camino Real and US-1 Federal Highway. But the building still stands with some slight renovations is currently operating as THE FRESH MARKET. There are still hints of the old Publix you see in the photo.

    The Coral Springs store that also looked like this was demolished after Publix built a new store in the area to replace what was the first supermarket in that city when it was built in 1965.

  2. I lived in Tallahassee, Florida from 2003-2009, and I regularly shopped at a quite new Publix in Lake Ella Plaza at Monroe and Tharpe Streets. Publix's slogan, "Where Shopping is a Pleasure," was quite apt; I always enjoyed shopping in this store. It was spacious, well lit, well stocked, clean. It also had great retro touches, like flooring that reminds of terrazzo and fantastic vintage Publix photos. Other stores in town seemed antiquated, dark, dingy, dirty when compared to it. I always enjoyed seeing the Publix photos; every time I went in to shop, I'd give them a look. The old stores were just so sharp and had some fantastic architecture. Thanks for sharing the ones you shared!

    1. Hey Dave. Great job posting the pictures. I loved the extra research you did on them. I can put a couple other facts on one or two of them. The stores in Mid-Way SC (from sometime after its opening) to the left and out of the picture was a J M Fields (constructed seperately though attached). Immediately to the right was Publix's Danish Bakery with an outside entrance(like the one in Southgate in NPR and College Park). Then a shoe repair followed by a mini-mall with 10 or so stores consisting of a barber, beauty salon, and the like. Nobel Jewelers was next. Then F W Woolworth(at the time of the photo the Cloth World store)and then a Colony Shops. Three stores followed. One was a Fremacs. I don't recall the other two. Fremacs moved to the Sunshine Mall when it opened if I remember correctly. Maybe the other two did also. The large store following was a W T Grant (later a Duffs Restaurant). Next was a S&H Green Stamp store. It moved across the street in later years and a Rutlands moved in its place. Finally the end store was an Eckerd.
      As for the great shopping center signs, Mid-Way had one along with Haines City Mall, Tarpon Mall (Tarpon Springs), Northwood Mall (Tallahassee), Wabash SC (Lakeland across from the Publix Corporate Offices), Gulf-To-Bay Plaza (Clearwater), Northeast SC (St. Petersburg), and Lakeview SC (St Petersburg). I'm sure there were others, but I don't recall where.
      As to the response by Edric as to which store the last picture was, Boca Raton gets my vote. I know I snapped it along US 1 and I did spend quite a bit of time in that part of Palm Beach County.

  3. Thanks for the older pictures. When I think of "Distinctive Grocery Store Architecture", I always think of the Publix Arrowhead, and the Safeway Marina style.

  4. There was a store in Coral Springs, Fl that was very similar to the last picture. The key differences being that it did not have the wings, and it had a much less dramatic looking sign. But it was brick, and had the large pillars with tile mosaic on both sides of the main entrance. That store was demolished 3 or 4 years ago. I was really sad to see it go as it was the first Publix I had ever been way back in 1985. One somewhat unusal aspect of the Coral Springs store is that it had a Walgreens (with similar facade) instead of the typical Eckerd.

  5. I think the correct name for a zigzag awning is "folded canopy."

  6. Wonderful set of pictures, Dave. I always enjoy looking at the awesome Publix designs even if I am not familiar with teh chain. I still long to visit one day. That will be the first thing I do if I ever go to Florida. I had two friends who lived down there. One of them grew up in Lakeland and actually worked at Publix at one time. Alas, both of my friends have moved away from Florida so my reason for visiting has gone out the window. Rats!

  7. I was born and raised in Florida. I had a high school job at our neighborhood publix. Since moving away my grocery store is one of the things I miss most. My mom mails me some of the staples that are not available where my family lives now (Duke's Mayonaise). Publix can't be beat, and neither can their deli subs.

    1. HillaryPearl - Glad that this helped bring back some nice memories for you. And about Duke's, all I can say is this: Best. Mayonnaise. Ever. We tried it for the first time a few years ago on vacation in Myrtle Beach, SC, and were hooked. Fortunately our local Kroger started carrying it not long after that! ;)

  8. Edric Floyd is absolutely right! That last picture is now The Fresh Market in Boca Raton. The building still looks very much like this save for the wings. The address is 100 West Camino Real, Boca Raton, FL. If you look at it on Google Maps you can see that it does still resemble this.

  9. FWIW, the moment I saw that last picture, I also thought it was the Publix on Camino Real in Boca Raton. My grandma lived up in Camino Gardens (down at the end of Walnut Terrace) and did her shopping there. I've got a pretty good memory of that building--the checkout counters had circular rotating tables instead of conveyor belts, something I'd never seen back home in Michigan. When I saw the last picture with that overhanging roof and the pillars and the palms out in front, I immediately knew that was the one we used to drive past every day on Mom and Grandma's trips to the various shopping malls. And I also remember the Eckerd's to the right of the store that Edric mentioned. That's definitely Boca.

  10. I worked for Publix throughout high school and college during the late 80s / early 90s. For better or worse, at that time they did not keep their older stores as "refreshed" or up-to-date as they seem to today. For me, I loved it. In 1991 you could walk into any number of the older stores in South Florida and basically find yourself in the middle of a 60s/70s time capsule decor-wise. They were building so many new stores that the old ones stagnated (in a good way) for awhile. There was even at least one original winged neon facade that lasted into the 1990s on SE 17th Street near the beach in Fort Lauderdale.

  11. Excellent post, Dave. (I've been away from Blogger too long, I have to catch up!) Publix is a heck of a supermarket, they do a great job with design, both externally and internally, and their PR is top-notch. I remember what a pleasure it was to shop in one during a visit to Florida a few years ago. I have affection for all supermarkets, but many of them could learn a thing or two from Publix.

  12. Thanks for this. The Publix I remember in Cocoa Beach, Florida, in the '60s was the winged type. Modern stores have a photo montage on the front wall that includes a store of that type.

    Publix has now expanded beyond Florida to Georgia and Alabama, and in Tennessee at least around Chattanooga. We have a store here in Perry, Georgia that opened in 2009, and other than our nearby Commissary (I'm retired military), it is easily our store of choice. It's VERY clean, well-lit and well-stocked and the employees are always friendly and happy to help.

    Two years ago, after I had back surgery, the employees at Publix got used to seeing my wearing a back brace and shopping with my wife as I couldn't drive yet. When I made my first solo trip, the girl with the bagger said, "I'm carrying those. Your wife would be mad at me if I let you carry them!"

  13. I wish Publix still had it's "wings"! My inlaws live in Central Florida, and I have to admit that one of the odd highlights for me whenever I visit Florida is going to Publix.

    Even today, their stores are beautifully laid out and they offer a lot of products that I can't get at my local grocery stores (here in poduncktown, North Carolina, I'm limited to Food Lion, Piggly Wiggly and Walmart- thank gosh I'm moving back to St. Louis this year- Schnucks, Straubs and Dierbergs! Yay!). Publix however a wonderful grocery shopping experience!

    Keep up the amazing work with your posts!

  14. This is great. Though I grew up in Chicago, we would often drive down to my grand mother's house in Beacon Woods in New Port Richey/Bayonet Point, and I vividly remember the Publix down the street (ie: on Highway 19 near 52).

  15. not sure but the last shot looks like a store here in coral springs fl...west of pompano beach,,,that was recently destroyed by hurricane wilma and leveled bout a yr ago,,,not sure was the city's first store opened in the mid 60s

  16. I remember that Gainesville store, I believe it was #142 in the chain (and I still shop at #125). The whole mall was pretty cool, with the script Sears in red neon on one end, and Publix on the other. The Publix space is now shared by a Goodwill and a party store. The rest of the mall has been torn down and rebuilt as a Lowe's, except for the old Sears part, which is two furniture places. Publix is a great place to shop, but I wish they'd do more of the retro stores.

  17. Wasm not born in Florida and never visited Florida. One of the hardest things for me are to remember the past. This is why I appreciate the older pictures and the stories that accompany them-even if they are not mine. Thanks David Emme

  18. The Venice Shopping Center brought back memories....lived there and mom shopped at that one from when it opened and was new, until we moved north in 1962...they use to hold a "Summer Festival" there each year, with rides, food, and stuff....grat memories.

  19. I love old fashioned publix stores

  20. Wow. I've never been to Florida, but I do like 1950s/60s-style supermarket architecture that I remember as a kid. Today's supermarkets are so bland.