Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Truly Scintillating Publix

"1. The neon pylon and background wipe on and silhouette the letters."

"2. When the wipe on is complete, the letters scintillate."

"3. Then the neon wipes off, leaving only the scintillating letters.
Scintillating letters go out and the cycle repeats."

Yup, born too late.

This is the Publix Super Market at Britton Plaza, 3838 Dale Mabry Road in Tampa, Florida, as depicted in a 1959 ad for Time-O-Matic, Inc., the manufacturer of the control system that enabled this little bit of neon magic.

Thanks to Debra Jane for the tip on the existence of this ad.


  1. Simply scrumptious!

  2. Nothing like an animated facade. I love it.

  3. Oh, how fabulous!! *SIGH* I wish I could've witnessed this magic. I know I would've BEGGED my parents to shop there, just to see the sign. :D

  4. All of the winged Publix facades had the "Publix Market" letters in the same place, but only a few of the stores had this three-way light show. This light design seems to have been added in 1959; stores built two or three years prior to that were smaller [or at least narrower] and while the cascading waterfall was present, the Publix Market light were atatic.

    I remember sitting in the car in front of Publix at Byrd Plaza in Cocoa, being fascinated with the changing of the letters. My favorite was just the green neon without the lights. The pattern would change about every five seconds. This store opened in August of 1959; none of the other stores in Brevard County [Melbourne, 1958; Titusville, 1961] had this feature. While the wings continued to be used on stores up through about 1968, this light configuration didn't last long. Maybe it required increased maintainence, because by 1965, "my" Publix in Cocoa had the same letters, but the lights stopped flashing.

  5. Didi – Well said!

    Steve – I do too. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a full animated facade in person, and most of the ones I’ve seen on film seem to have been 50’s/60’s-era casinos in Vegas. What a treat this must have been!

    Mel – You and me both! I could have stared at the thing for hours (and could now, as an adult, for that matter...). It must’ve really lit up that parking lot!

    JimBobGA – I didn’t think there were very many of these at all. Even though the basic “winged” design was used from 1957 through the late 60’s, with many stores beings opened, the lettering – neon in the years, internally lit green plastic later on –was usually against a white unlit background. The “column section” between the wings was often neon-lit in this manner, though.

    Good point about the earlier stores being narrower. The winged design was adapted to fit Publix’s growing average store size. And I agree that the maintenance cost was probably fairly high, while the energy cost had to be way up there. What a show, though!

    A reader was kind enough to send me a link to a film clip of a lighted Publix facade (less elaborate as this but still nice) that I hope to edit and place on the site soon. Thanks!

  6. Envy me; "my" Publix, in the Gainesville Shopping Center (FL), did all of the above, in glorious color...and I *did* sit in the car while Mom shopped, watching the lights go through that pattern. If memory serves, the letters lit up one-by-one: P - U - B - L - I - X...PUBLIX!
    I think I know where my OCD comes from.

  7. It's not Publix, but I just realize you have nothing on a film with a classic supermarket scene...THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS (that's where the quirky rock band got its name).

    It stars George C. Scott as a man who thinks he is Sherlock Holmes, in present day (circa 1970) New York, traveling the city to solve a mystery, accompanied by his Dr. Watson--Mildred Watson, played by Joanne Woodward.

    All the while they are threatened by doctors who want to commit him to an institution--and mobsters who would simply kill him (either way, his fortune would wind up with his brother, who is in debt to the mobsters).

    The climax occurs when the doctors, aided by the police, attempt to take "Holmes" and Watson away, cornering him in a Pathmark supermarket. It turns into a serio-comic set piece when all the quirky characters the two have met during their adventure come to their aid.

    Of course what matters here is that it offers great views of a supermarket of the time and the products within.

  8. Thank you for posting this about the Publix neon. I was just feeling nostalgic for the old neon, and ran across this blog. When I was a very, very young child in the late 1970's, some of my earliest memories were of the flashy Publix sign in Brandon, Fl. I don't think it was as elaborate as this one; instead, the pylon in between the wings flashed in an upwards pattern, and the letters P-U-B-L-I-X and M-A-R-K-E-T came on one by one and then flashed in unison a few times. The sign stopped flashing sometime in the early 80's I believe. It is a shame none of these neon patterns were preserved. Current sign ordinances in most places would not allow something like this again, yet I believe in many cases if the sign is still functional it can be grandfathered in.

  9. Bryan – You’re welcome, and thanks very much for the comment! From what I’ve heard, Publix had several different flashing patterns for their great signs. A while back, a reader sent me a great video clip of one, and your comment has reminded me that I need to edit it and put it on the site. Thanks again!

  10. Dave - did that video clip ever end up being posted to the site? I can't find it!

  11. This Publix is no longer there, and the Britton Plaza is now a bit seedy.

    There is another, newer Publix less than a mile away, though, at the corner of Dale Mabry and Gandy.

    I worked at Publix all throughout high school. Probably one of the best jobs I ever had, and I'm in my late '50s now.

  12. Dave, here is a video of the Publix in College Park near Orlando. The store was rebuilt to page homage to the winged facade. The sign at the road is from the original store.

  13. What are the two rectangular boxes within the wings? I first thought they were packs of cigarettes but then noticed the the shape sticking out the top are not straight. Almost like those flexible straws but juice boxes like that weren't around in the late 50's & 60's.

    1. Gary, those are S&H Green Stamp signs, designed to look like the stamps themselves did at the time. (They were redesigned to the more familiar look not long afterward.)Publix was one of S&H's best customers for decades. Looks like some sort of "ray" is shooting out from the top of the stamps.

  14. My family moved to Punta Gorda, FL in 1971, where there was a very similar Publix. I really miss those old style stores. There is a nostalgia there that can't be beat or replaced. The Publix is still there, but the neon is long gone now.