777 E. Merritt Island Causeway, Merritt Island, FL – Merritt Square Mall
Merritt Square Mall originally opened in 1970, and as of 2018 is anchored by Sears, JCPenney, Macy’s, Dillard’s, Cobb Cinemas, Books-A-Million, and Ollie's Bargain Outlet. Merritt Square’s Publix store opened with the mall in 1970 as an outparcel behind the mall. The Publix was originally constructed as one of the last few “Wing style” stores. This Publix received a few remodels throughout its time in operation, including a major remodel in 1986 that brought it to its current look. Publix closed this store in 2002 when they opened a replacement store, Publix #757, a mile to the west of here at 125 E. Merritt Island Cswy. For more details on the history of this mall, please click here!
In addition to all of my Merritt Square content hosted on flickr, for today's My Florida Retail post we’ll head around to the back of the mall for what is arguably the most interesting portion of this place: the long-abandoned Publix store and nearly abandoned plaza attached to it. The former Publix and strip of stores next to it is very well hidden behind the mall, and has no visibility from the main road (Route 520). The lack of visibility is what probably caused Publix to relocate this store in 2002, and is probably much of the reason why the mall is having such a difficult time getting a new tenant into this space. The Publix building hasn’t had a permanent tenant in 16 years, and the strip of stores off to the side has slowly lost tenants over the years, leaving the plaza at only one tenant, a rather strange little restaurant at the far right corner of the strip. However, after a lengthy 16 year search, it was announced in late 2018 that U-Haul would be opening one of their truck rental and storage centers in this old Publix building. As of January 2019, signs have gone up announcing U-Haul's arrival, although construction has yet to begin on the conversion.
Moving our attention away from the Publix building for just a moment, we’ll now take a look at the nearly abandoned strip center next to it. It appears at least one of the two businesses back here, Paws in Motion (a pet store), has since closed, although Europe Crew Corner (a restaurant) may still be open. This strip once contained a Jungle Jim’s restaurant, a rather unusual but popular restaurant with a crazy jungle theme. This Orlando Sentinel article from 1987 does a good job explaining what Jungle Jim’s was all about. It certainly seemed like a fun place back in the day! Jungle Jim’s appears to have closed sometime in the late 1990’s.
Panning to the right just a bit more, we can see an empty lot at the far right end of this plaza. That’s the lot where the AMC 6 Annex once stood. The AMC Annex building was demolished in 2006, and nothing has been put in its place since.
Back to our main subject, the former Merritt Square Publix is just about as 80’s as you can get for a Publix. This building came into its current look during a major remodel in 1986, the same year that the AMC Annex and the strip with Jungle Jim’s was constructed off to the right side of the Publix building. Until that point, the Publix building was isolated back here behind the mall. As duckman66 commented, "This was a typical remodeled look for Publix's wing stores in the 1980s. Midway (former #4/#517) in Largo and Southgate (#115, now #1020) in New Port Richey are other examples."
Upon first being built, this Publix was one of the last of the “Wing Store” buildings constructed. From what I read, unlike a typical Wing Store, the Merritt Square Publix had its wings shifted to the left side of the building, rather than in the center over to the entrance. I want to say I’ve seen a picture of a similarly designed Publix before, but I can’t find any photos of one right now. Regardless, the original design of this store was a rarer one.
Yet another view of the front of the Publix building. As you’ll in this post, I went a bit overboard with photos (again) of this old Publix. But I feel it was worth it though, as this place gets more interesting as we go along! As YonWooRetail2 commented, "I like it! I wish Publix still built stores that looked like this (although they'd be considered outdated now). The diagonally installed wood panels make this one unique!"
Here’s a close-up shot of the left side of this former Publix store, which is looking a bit rough and worn after all these years of abandonment.
In this photo, you can see much better how time has not been so kind to this building, as some of the wood looks to have rotted away. However, wood rot aside, the classic Publix tile mural is still looking good under that awning!
And as you would expect, I took a bunch of pictures of this mural. These tile murals are becoming increasingly rarer as Publix tears down and replaces many of their older stores, but a good many still cling on for dear life out there. These murals were one of the most interesting design features from any supermarket chain in Florida in my opinion, and they were all completely hand painted. This particular shot is an overview of the entire mural, whose design features the cornucopia/wine bottle theme (which was the most common theme for these murals, although some Publix stores got custom murals to reflect a local trait).
Here’s a close-up shot of the left side of the mural, focusing on the cornucopia. As you can see, there is a lot of detail in these murals.
Here’s another overview of the mural, this time angled from the right side near the wine bottles.
And now that we’re standing by this side of the mural, here’s a close-up of the wine bottles. If you zoom in on the labels of the wine bottles, you’ll see the word ‘JADE’ (and other transpositions of those letters). The word ‘JADE’ pops up in a lot of these Publix tile murals as a tribute to artist Pati Mills’ four children, as the letters in the word ‘JADE’ are the first initials of each child’s first name. As Retail Retell commented, "That's a neat fun fact!" It is! Pati Mills was actually the one to share that with me. (She's on flickr, and she left a comment on one of my photos with that fact. It was pretty neat to hear from her directly!)
And here is one last photo of the mural itself. You have to admit, these murals are really neat, and they’re certainly a piece of classic Publix. I miss the days when 70’s and 80’s era Publix stores like this one were more common. There are still a few out there, but they’re getting much rarer as every year passes and Publix gets the opportunity to replace more stores.
Here we have a look down the front walkway from the tile mural to the left side doors. This photo has kind of a creepy feel to it, which was certainly reinforced by the stormy weather this particular day.
There really wasn’t much to see here looking down the left side of the building. However, in my three or so visits to Merritt Square over the last few years, I always forgot to take a walk around to the back of this place to get a photo of the glaringly obvious Publix labelscar (two links there) on the back of this building! Oh well, at least some others remembered to get a photo of it!
Yet another front walkway view, however this photo was taken looking from the left side doors back toward the tile mural. As YonWooRetail2 commented, "One other thing interesting about this Publix are those grooved exterior walls. They look similar to what was on Jupiter's [Publix #401, which is former Albertsons #4365]."
Behind those dark and dusty doors do the secrets of Publix past lie…
…and behind those dark and dusty doors, the secrets of Publix past shall remain (or will they?). Dark and stormy weather does not make for the ideal conditions to try to photograph the interior of an abandoned supermarket, although the accidental after effects of trying to take photos inside a dark building during a thunderstorm can produce interesting results (and some fine creative writing too!). As YonWooRetail2 commented about the scene above, "Spooky!" Actually, this photo was taken the same day as that linked one, which was one of my gloomiest retail trips to date.
I was rather disappointed that my photos inside this old Publix didn’t turn out well, in addition to some other photos I had taken on that stormy day. About a week later I decided to return to this store for some better pictures when the sun was shining, and these were the result. Here’s a much clearer view looking into the vestibule from the left side door, where we can see at the time this building was being used to store someone’s junk. My photos of this Publix building were taken nearly three years ago now (I know, I tend to hold onto photos for a while before posting them). In those three years, all this junk has since been removed from inside of the Publix. For comparison, you can somewhat see the cleaned out vestibule in this photo taken back in July 2018.
Next to the left side doors were these windows, which look into the left side of the building near the former bakery.
Peeking in the windows, we can see through the dust the former produce department (far left side of the photo), the former deli (far right of the photo), and the former location of the meat coolers between the two. It’s hard to tell in this photo, but the drop ceiling over the center of the salesfloor has since been ripped out, and the walls have been painted blue. Both of those modifications had to have been done since Publix left, as I certainly don’t recall Publix ever having a blue period.
Looking inside the vestibule, a missing window panel gives us a look into the main sales floor. When I was here, much of the salesfloor was being used to store 55 gallon blue plastic drums, which have since been removed (as of July 2018).
Moving further to the right in the vestibule, the glare from the interior row of windows made it difficult to see any more into the salesfloor. The windows inside the vestibule were originally exterior windows prior to the 1986 remodel, and the cutout into the main store (not visible here, but just out of frame to the right) was the home to the original entry and exit doors.
Here is a look along the front of the building, with the vestibule windows visible to my left. Unfortunately, the remaining windows along the front of the building were covered with blankets, so we’ll have to pause the interior photos until we make it to the right side entry doors. However, since my visit here, those blankets look to have either been removed or fallen down, as Cape Kennedy Retail (pokemonprime on flickr) was able to get a nice clear interior photo through the opening into the sales floor, which you can view here. In Cape Kennedy’s photo, you can clearly see the old deli space in the background, as well as some weird little walls that someone added to the middle of the sales floor.
Here’s a reverse shot taken in front of the vestibule, looking back toward the high rise condominium buildings and the river.
The right side of the building is rather similar to the left, just minus a matching tile mural. Here we can see the details of the diagonal wood grain pattern, as well as more wood rot.
The hole in the front wall with a piece of plywood over it was the former home of the Publix Presto! ATM machine, part of Publix’s private electronic banking network.
Looking toward the right side doors from where the ATM machine used to be.
The right side doors, which are a mirror image of what we saw on the other side of the building.
More spooky effects as we peek inside the right side doors during my dark and stormy afternoon visit. Next we’ll see some views taken through these doors with the lights on, where we can see more of the old Publix interior traits, and not ghostly shadows or eerie lighting!
Now for a much better and clearer look through the right side doors, where we can see more junk as well as the cutaway into the main store, where the main entrance and exit doors were located prior to 1986.
Turning to the right just a bit, we can see more of the main sales floor. The bakery and produce departments can be seen in the background, behind all of that junk.
Turning even more to the right, we can see just a bit more of the old sales floor. At some point someone laid (what appear to be) ceramic tiles across the sales floor, covering the old green striped terrazzo. Those tiles had to appear after Publix left the building, as I’ve never seen a Publix with ceramic tile floors. Somewhat hidden behind the barstools and the car seats are some short walls that were built on the sales floor. I’m not sure why those are there, but those also had to appear after Publix left. As Retail Regents commented, "It appears there have been attempts to transform the space, possibly something with a bar?!" It sure looks like a bar is what they were going for there! I haven't been able to find any record of anything permanent opening in this building since Publix left in 2002 and U-Haul's announcement in 2018, so I don't know what has been going on in here between then with the weird modifications.
Here is a terrible photo taken through a vestibule window looking straight into the sales floor, as I tried to reach over a blanket that was covering much of the window. Behind the haze you can see the old deli, which juts out a bit from the back wall.
Taking a picture through one of the side windows, I had expected to see more sales floor, however I instead found this little room. I’m not sure if this room was some kind of office from the Publix days, or if this room was added after Publix left.
Moving away from the building’s interior, here’s a close-up shot of the vestibule and entrance area of this old Publix store.
I believe I was going for a close-up of the wood rot with this one. With all of the heat and humidity in Florida, seeing wood rot like this at a building abandoned for so long should be expected.
The vestibule again, as viewed from the parking lot. As Retail Retell commented, "I like this façade! Bet it looked even better as a wing store, though." Nothing can really match those old wing stores in design, that's for sure! However, this design was pretty nice too. I miss the days of these classic Publix stores.
If you look closely above the windows, you can see the holes from the old Publix sign. The logo up here would have been almost identical to this logo, comprised of the rectangular ‘P’ sign with the word “Publix” next to it.
Here we are looking from the edge of the Publix toward the strip of stores. At the time these photos were taken, Paws in Motion was still in business, and they appeared to be the only thing open at the time in this plaza (as the end of the plaza by the restaurant looks dead).
This is a short video clip I took during my stormy day visit, where you can hear the crazy winds blowing around as I pan across the front of the abandoned Publix store. Had I kept the video going just a bit longer, you would have been able to see some lightning bolts in the background of the Publix building. If you ever want to experience something creepy though, visit an abandoned supermarket during the middle of a storm!
Lastly, we will conclude our tour of the former Merritt Square Publix with this overview shot of the exterior. As mentioned before, if you wish to view coverage of the rest of the Merritt Square Mall complex, you can do so on my flickr page here. Merritt Square is a pretty interesting place itself, with how some of the mall still looks like something from the 1970's inside. In addition to my previous coverage of this mall on flickr and this post on the outparcel Publix, we'll be coming back to Merritt Square before too long. Fellow My Florida Retail contributor Cape Kennedy Retail has some posts on this mall to share, and I also have coverage of the mall's new Ollie's store to post before too long. There's certainly a lot of history wrapped up in this place!
So until the next post,