Sunday, October 13, 2019

Attention Shoppers: Fred Has Left The Building


Winn-Dixie #38 / Fred's Super Dollar #1940
1435 South Orange Avenue, Green Cove Springs, FL - Cove Plaza

     While I have lots of current retail news to keep me occupied (namely Sears and Kmart closures), I feel like addressing some different recent retail news in this next installment of MFR: the sad saga of Fred's Stores. If you follow the Mid-South Retail Blog, you've been hearing a lot about Fred's Stores and the company's sad demise over the last few months. Fred's started out 2019 with over 550 stores throughout the Southeastern and Midwestern states, most of which were in smaller, more rural communities. As 2019 progressed, Fred's kept announcing store closure waves left and right, issuing new sweeps of closures at the speed of a list a month throughout the late spring and summer of 2019. By the end of it all, Fred's was to be trimmed down to a company with 80 stores in the deep south, a sad shell of its former self. However, after a tumultuous few months of closures and uncertainty, it was announced in September 2019 that Fred's was going to declare bankruptcy and cease operations all together. Come October 30, 2019, Fred's Stores will be no more.


     If you'd like to read more detail about the history of Fred's Stores and the company's years of financial problems, feel free to jump over to the Mid-South Retail Blog's library of articles on Fred's Stores here. This particular article from the Mid-South Retail Blog goes into all the details about the company's history. Considering that the author of the Mid-South Retail Blog (MFR's very own Retail Retell) was featured in the news for his extensive coverage of the decline of Fred's, I'll leave it to his articles to explain the rise and fall of the company (if you're interesting in learning more about that). Since Retail Retell has already covered the history of Fred's in great detail, I'm going to use today's post to discuss the history of Fred's Stores specifically in Florida (in addition to touring one of the handful of Floridian Fred's that remained as the company entered its final year in business). Fred's had a bit of an odd tenure in the Sunshine State, with the majority of Fred's Florida stores closing after a few short years. It's yet another example of the classic "let's expand into Florida just to later fail miserably" story we've heard so many times in the past.


     Fred's opened its first store in Florida in Fernandina Beach in the 1970's. The Fernandina Beach Fred's, located in the city's downtown area, was more the size of a small discount store than a dollar store. That store had more of a quaint, old-school vibe to it than the smaller, modern Fred's stores did. For many years that Fernandina Beach Fred's was the company's only presence in the Sunshine State. In the late 1990's Fred's experimented with opening a second Florida location in Pensacola, however that experimental Fred's store closed after only two years.

     With Fred's having a large presence in the two states that bordered Florida, as well as the longtime Fernandina Beach store, it was only a matter of time before the temptation of expansion would eventually overwhelm Fred's to leap full-force into Florida. 2002 proved to be that fateful year, when Fred's opened its first modern Florida store in Crystal River. The Crystal River store was the start of a rapid expansion of Fred's throughout the Floridian Panhandle and the upper Peninsula in the early 2000's, a time of rapid expansion for the chain into other new markets as well. 2003 brought 6 new Fred's stores to Florida, and 5 more followed in 2004. By 2008 Fred's had a total of 23 stores in Florida, including the longtime Fernandina Beach store. However, by 2008, Fred's presence had peaked in Florida. Fred's would shutter 10 of its Florida locations that year, the majority of which were in the Peninsula. It was the beginning of the end for Fred's in Florida. Being the newcomer, Fred's had to contend with Florida's already high concentration of Family Dollars, Dollar Generals, and Dollar Trees that were already everywhere by the early 2000's. Even in the rural small towns that were Fred's sweet spot for running stores, the competition was already there. Fred's opened its last new store in Florida in 2008, with the remaining locations slowly trickling away as we entered the 2010's. Fred's slowly began to retreat to the rural towns of the Panhandle throughout the 2010's where competition was a bit lighter, eventually stabilizing to a total of 6 Florida stores in 2016. Those 6 stores were located in Bonifay, Green Cove Springs, Madison, Milton, Monticello, and Live Oak. Unfortunately, the longtime Fernandina Beach Fred's was unable to make it to the end, as that store would end up closing in 2016. Come 2019, that year's bombardment of closures would wipe away what was left of Fred's in Florida. The May 2019 closure sweep would knock out the Fred's stores in Green Cove Springs, Live Oak, and Milton, with the July 2019 list knocking out the last three Floridian Fred's by August 2019, only two months before the rest of the chain would eventually close.


     Thankfully, the stars aligned for me earlier this year, and I was able to pull off a visit to one of the 6 remaining Florida Fred's stores as a part of a much more extensive retail road trip I'd been dying to go on. This Fred's, located in Green Cove Springs (a small town located southwest of Jacksonville), had been on my radar for a while due to the chain's decline and relative rarity in Florida. I had also never been to a Fred's before, and I wanted to experience one while I still had the chance. No sooner had this store's demise been announced, only a few days later I was able to venture up this way for what I consider to be one of the best retail road trips I've ever taken. To give you insight into what made that day so amazing, I began the day with a grand opening, saw some very rare supermarket conversions and decor packages, some remnants of dead (in Florida) supermarket chains (including very old decor), and to end my day, the closing of this Fred's store. It was an amazing day, and we'll be seeing more from that trip later this year on AFB (see, there's good reason why I'm looking forward to the last 4 posts of the year over there, and there will still be more to come in the future from this trip too!).

     Anyway, you came here for Fred's, not to hear me give speeches about road trips. Getting back to the topic at hand, let me give you some background on the Green Cove Springs Fred's store. The Green Cove Springs Fred's opened in 2008 as the last new Fred's store in Florida, occupying the right side of a former Winn-Dixie. This Winn-Dixie (which is an exact copy of 'The Winn-Dixie that Time Forgot' in New Smyrna Beach) operated from 1982 until 1996, when it was replaced by a new Marketplace store on the north side of town (about 3.5 miles away). After Winn-Dixie left, a large portion of their building became home to a Save-A-Lot. Fred's took over the remaining portion of the old Winn-Dixie building that Save-A-Lot wasn't using, even though Save-A-Lot would close their Green Cove Springs store around the same time Fred's opened. Fred's would last in this location for 11 years before closing in June 2019. So now that we've learned about Fred's and the company's beguiled history in Florida, let's head inside for our first (and last) look at an operational Fred's Super Dollar store:


     Stepping inside, this was my first impression of Fred's. However, silly me accidentally walked into this store through the (poorly labeled) exit doors, so this is actually what you see after walking in through the wrong doors and cutting through the front registers. Had I walked in through the correct doors, our first look would have been shifted a bit further to the left, with more of the clothing department visible in the background. Here we can see some of the center store aisles, which we'll get back to shortly.


     Looking across the front of the store, here's an overview of the front end. The entrance doors are just out of frame to my right, leading shoppers into the seasonal and clothing departments.


     The Fred's logo was mounted on the wall in quite a few places here, along with a variety of accompanying slogans. The logo seen here was the logo Fred's used from the end of the 2000's until April 2019, when a last ditch survival effort brought about this logo. The 2019 logo began to appear on some Fred's branded products and some print and online advertising, but that was about it as the company entered liquidation only 5 months later. This particular Fred's location opened as the company was transitioning between their long-time block letter logo (which was installed on the exterior) and the all lowercase one, which is why both are present here.


     Beginning our tour in the front left corner of the Green Cove Springs Fred's store, we first run into the clothing department. Clothing takes up most of the sales floor space along the left side wall, signified by the "fancy" wood grained-flooring (hey, that's not something you'll be finding at a Dollar General anytime soon!) The main sign for the clothing department was hung in this corner, above the fitting room. What you see pictured here was the standard design for department signage here.


     Fred's had an impressively large selection of clothing, a selection more comparable to what you'd find at Roses Express than Dollar General.


     Fred's...Everything you need to make you smile! I can't say there's much to smile about anymore at Fred's, especially come the end of October...


     Fred's even offered a small selection of local apparel, such as these jackets representing the local high school.


     In this photo, we're looking down the main aisle that runs alongside the clothing department. Opposite the clothing we find greeting cards, while pallets of soda and other merchandise fill the center of the aisle.


     Home decor was located in the back left corner of the store, just beyond clothing. Even though this store was barely a week into its liquidation sale during the time of my visit, some gaping holes like the one seen here were beginning to form amongst all the merchandise.


     Tucked away in the back of the store with the home decor and furnishings was a clearance department. Curious to see what kind of fantastic bargains I could find on clearance, I decided to dig through the random amalgamation of stuff thrown onto the few shelves dedicated to such merchandise...


     Among the ripped boxes, yellowed packaging, random HBC stuff, and chargers for the iPhones from the days of yore, I pulled out this relic of electronics past: our good old friend the blank VHS tape, a stalwart of discount stores that still think it's 1997. And not only was this a representation of our dearly departed TV show recording medium, but these tapes were made by another struggling company that lost its direction as the film industry began to die, all for sale at a store on its way to total liquidation. I'm sure there's a lot of symbolism I could pull out of that, but this isn't English class, so I'll spare you 😁


     Returning to 2019, here's a look across the back of the store. The back wall began to transition from home decor to pet supplies to health and beauty as we make our way further to the right side of the building. And unlike many Fred's Stores, this location in Green Cove Springs did not have a pharmacy counter (which would have been located somewhere back here had one been installed, I believe). Throughout the 1990's and the early 2000's, one of Fred's key factors of differentiation from other dollar store chains was the fact many of their stores included pharmacy counters. The inclusion of the pharmacy counter made Fred's more of a destination in some small towns, where Fred's would be the only pharmacy around for miles. By the 2010's, Fred's began to lose direction with their dollar store roots, with upper management trying to push Fred's as a pharmacy more than a dollar store. That poor thinking nearly made Fred's buy 865 divested Rite Aid stores as part of the thwarted Walgreens/Rite Aid merger of 2016. That deal would have certainly killed Fred's, although in a much more widespread, spectacular debacle than the way Fred's ultimate fate would eventually play out. At least this way, Fred's will go to the great shopping mall in the sky with some dignity, rather than in shame if the expected results of the Rite Aid deal went through. After the thwarted merger, Fred's tried to come back to its senses by placing its roots as a dollar store as the company's primary focus. However, it was too little too late.


     Moving away from the back wall, here's another look up the main aisle that served as the border between the clothing department and the other departments in the center of the store.


     Speaking of those aisles, let's begin to make our way through them. Leaving clothing and home decor, the first aisle is home to crafts and party supplies.


     The center aisles were all cut in half by this aisle, which ran the width of the store.


     More home stuff came in the aisle after party supplies. 


     Moving along, the next department we find is electronics. Fred's offered a decent selection of electronics too, offering items such as TVs, DVD players, and audio/video cables in addition to the usual phone chargers and headphones and such.


     Fred's even sold this phone cable, although I still can't figure out to to hook this long coily cable with the funny tip to my smartphone 😁 It must be an iPhone accessory!


     It's a shame Fred's is closing, as this was certainly a good place for me to stock up on outdated electronics accessories! Anyway, as enjoyable as 90's electronics are, we'll move away from that department for another look across the center aisle. In this photo, the aisle markers come into view. They're nothing fancy, but they get the job done.


     Pet supplies could be found in one of the back aisles, this particular aisle dedicated mostly to food.


     Here's another look across the back of the store, looking toward home decor. You can see where some of the pet supplies spill out into the back aisle as well.


     As the back wall transitions from home decor to health and beauty, we can still find everyday basics for less. Those everyday basics could be bought for even less now, although with most items at only 5% to 20% off in the early days of the sale, the stuff wasn't flying off the shelves too much. At the time of my visit, the official signage was at 5% to 50% off for the closing discounts. I don't remember what was marked with the 50% discounts, but there wasn't much in here with that steep of a markdown yet. If I had to guess it was probably the greeting cards marked down that much, as it seems like liquidating stores just can't get rid of those things!


     The next aisle we go down is home to office supplies and some small appliances. It appears office supplies had a 40% markdown, so we did find one of the better deals in the store on this day!


     In the last aisle before the right side wall, we find cleaning supplies.


     And lastly, paper products and health and beauty as we turn the corner to enter this store's last aisle. While I did skip over photographing some departments like hardware, automotive, and some additional housewares stuff, I do have to say Fred's had a nice little selection of just about everything. It seemed like Fred's had much more merchandise variety than a standard Dollar General, a more in line with Roses Express than anything else. When news about Fred's demise came out, Roses' parent company said they would be interested in taking over some of the former Fred's locations for new Roses Express stores, which I feel will be a very good fit.


     Here's a look across the center of the store, as seen from the far right side of the building.


     While some more cleaning supplies took over the right side of this aisle, coolers of frozen foods were on my left. The coolers extended out from the grocery department, which was housed in its own little corner in the front of the building.


     Emerging from the aisles, here's a look across the front of the store once again, this time from the right side of the building.


   The last department we have to look at in this tour is the grocery department. Tucked into the front right corner of the building, the aisles within the grocery department run perpendicular to the rest of the aisles in the store. There were 2-3 aisles of groceries here, as well as the frozen foods in the wall of coolers we just saw.


     Here's a look at the grocery department sign, hanging over the corner. At only a 5% discount, the grocery department had one of the wimpiest discounts in the entire store (and therefore a rather thorough selection still).


     Here's a picture of a Fred's basket that was randomly placed on an endcap in one of the grocery aisles. As a dying company, I figured it was best to get a picture of this relic. It would have been better to get this relic into the trunk of my car, but the manager standing at the front counter probably wouldn't have appreciated that one!


     The drink aisle was the one that bumped against the front wall, the cash registers barely visible in the distance at the end of the aisle.


     Here's a look at some of the front registers. This store had three registers total, these two off to the side, and another one at the service desk. The register at the desk appeared to be the store's main register, with these only opening for overflow if it got really busy. If you look closely at this photo, you might spy something interesting if you scan over all the merchandise...


     If you looked closely at the endcap on register 2, you would have spotted this neat Fred's toy truck! I spotted this truck when I first walked in, mulling over if I should buy one as I got my pictures. In the end, I decided against buying one, a decision I'm now kicking myself for after hearing the entire company will cease to exist by the end of October 2019. My decision was swayed to 'no' by the fact that this truck was $20, with only a 10% discount. Not wanting to drop $18 + tax this day on a large toy truck that would end up sitting in my closet most of the time, I felt the need to pass. However, a much cheaper package of blank VHS tapes may or may not have come home with me in the end though, in addition to a bag with the Fred's logo on it, so I was still appeased.


     With that being said, we've finished our interior tour of the Green Cove Springs Fred's. Stepping back onto the front walkway, here's a look toward the front entrance and the cart corral. Unlike anything from inside the Fred's store, this walkway is still fairly original in design from this building's days as a Winn-Dixie.


     Since we're here, we might as well poke around the rest of the plaza to see what that's all about. This is a dying plaza on the edge of a small town in the middle of nowhere, so some interesting things have to be floating around, right?

     Leaving Fred's, here's a look across Winn-Dixie's former vestibule. I like the angled columns Winn-Dixie used in these 80's stores, which are a very distinct trait that helps to easily identify these old buildings.


     With Fred's closing, it will leave the old Winn-Dixie building completely empty. With the left half of this building going on 11 years of sitting empty, the prospects of finding a new tenant for the Fred's space seem rather bleak.


     Like I said earlier in this post, the left half of the old Winn-Dixie building was home to a Save-A-Lot for a while. This photo is looking toward Save-A-Lot's former entrance, which was also Winn-Dixie's. There would have been a door on the other side of the vestibule as well when Winn-Dixie was here, but that door was eventually closed in.


     Peeking through the door, there wasn't much to see in the vestibule.


     Moving to the front windows, here's a peek into the empty sales floor. When I visited this store, I didn't know this portion of the building was home to a Save-A-Lot after Winn-Dixie left. I had thought this half of the building was empty since 1996, considering how untouched the exterior looked. When I pressed my phone against the glass, you don't know how much I was hoping to see this! As great as it would have been to end my amazing day of retailing with untouched remnants of Winn-Dixie's early 80's decor, we got Save-A-Lot scars instead. But I'm not going to complain. I had a great time this day with everything I had seen already.


      Here's a better look at some of the scars from Save-A-Lot's old decor on the partition wall.


     Leaving the abandoned Save-A-Lot behind, here's a look down the remainder of the plaza. Immediately after the Winn-Dixie building is the old drugstore space, which our tour brings us to next:


     When this plaza was constructed in 1982, the original drugstore anchor in this space was Revco. Revco lasted here until 1990, the year Eckerd purchased all of Revco's stores in Florida (as well as Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi). Eckerd lasted in this location until the early 2000's, when this store was replaced by a freestanding Eckerd building further up the road. After Eckerd left, Bealls Outlet took over this space for a while. Bealls Outlet left this location by the early 2010's, and it's been empty ever since.


     Lastly at Cove Plaza, the former discount store anchor. The discount store that formerly occupied this space was TG&Y, which closed sometime in the 1990's. Currently, the old TG&Y is home to a variety of Clay County government offices.


     For completeness, here's an overview of the entirety of Cove Plaza. The old Winn-Dixie/Fred's is the northernmost building the plaza, the old TG&Y at the bottom.


     Before we go, here are some final exterior photos of the former Winn-Dixie, as well as the now-former Fred's.


     I'm glad it worked out that I was able to experience a Fred's for the first and last time this day. There have been so many chains that have come and gone that I never got to experience, and I'm happy to say Fred's will not be one of them. 

     Overall, I thought Fred's was a nice alternative to Dollar General and Family Dollar. Fred's seemed to have more of an old-fashioned discount store feel, a feeling from the bygone days of the neighborhood 5 and 10. So while Fred's will be missed, they certainly will not be forgotten. While this has been my contribution to the sad saga that is Fred's, you can experience more Fred's fun in the future over at the Mid-South Retail Blog. If you enjoyed this post, Retail Retell has a huge backlog of Fred's Stores to write about on his blog, so this won't be the last of Fred's to pop up in the retail blogosphere anytime soon!

     Also on the topic of Fred's, I'm pleased to announce a new addition to the AFB Retail Database! (And you thought I had forgotten about that site...) It's the Fred's Florida Store List, a complete listing of all the Fred's Stores in Florida. That table will show you everywhere Fred's has been in Florida if you're curious about that. While new additions don't happen to the database very often, I do have more list projects in my backlog to add to the database in the future. When that will be, I don't know (as all my other projects end up eclipsing my work on those lists), but be assured there's more to come!

     On that note, I believe this post is done. Next from me on MFR is something spooky to celebrate the "Spirits of Retail Past" theme that's been popping up in our little corner of the internet lately. After that we'll examine the evolution of another discount chain, as well as explore many more of the Publix and Winn-Dixie stores in my own backlog! Plenty more to come soon, so stick around!

So until the next post,

AFB