Showing posts with label Margaret Ann. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Margaret Ann. Show all posts

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.