Publix #353 / Big Lots #1678
11230 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando, FL – Waterbridge Downs
Welcome to the store where shopping for closeouts is a pleasure! This Publix originally opened in 1988 as this part of South Orlando was first beginning to develop. Publix spent 10 years at this location before moving a mile to the south to a much larger and more modern location, store #654, in 1998. Around 2001, Big Lots took over this former Publix building to replace a store they had about three miles north of here (located at 4659 S. Orange Blossom Trail, which was also a former Publix building). Overall, this was a very large and rather nice looking Big Lots store, and quite interesting with all the relics left behind from this building’s previous life!
Located amongst all of the retail in South Orlando we find this rather nice looking Big Lots store housed in a rather interesting looking former Publix building. About 10 years ago on a family trip to Orlando I first discovered this store, and me being me, was immediately intrigued by it and its obvious supermarket past. However, we came by this shopping center to make a quick pit stop at the Family Dollar at the other end of the plaza, so I wasn’t able to see what the inside of this Big Lots store was all about and how much from Publix remained inside (as no one else wanted to go into Big Lots that day, even after I pleaded – however my pleading did get me a pit stop at the then-Albertsons down the street from here, so not all was lost that day!). About 7 years after I first saw this place, I was finally able to come back here and see what this store was all about. I will say – my judgment from all of those years prior was pretty good, as I was not disappointed by what I found inside!
Brand Names. Closeout Prices. Publix Building. Big Lots did absolutely nothing to change the exterior of this place after they took over the building. If you switch out the Big Lots logo with a Publix one in your mind, that’s exactly how this building would have looked in 1988. I don’t even think the paint color has changed since Publix left the building. As styertowne commented about this building's exterior, "I love that late 80's/early 90's square design they put into the--is that stucco?? Many, many Kmart stores built during Kmart's renewal era had a similar design across the exterior, and I also note that many A&P/Waldbaum's/Superfresh new builds used something similar. It adds, at least, a tiny bit of interest to otherwise bland exterior expanses of these types of stores built during the big-box era." To answer the question, the facade is a combination of decorative block and stucco, from what I recall. This shopping center certainly has a distinct late 1980's/early 1990's vibe to it. Publix used this design quite a bit (with a bit a variation) throughout this period, and it's a classic design for them. The square pattern is certainly a nice little addition of character to what could have been a rather generic big box building.
Go Big or Go Publix! Like most late 80’s/early 90’s Publix stores, the building has two sets of entrances, one on each side of the building. What you see in this photo is Publix’s old left side entrance, which Big Lots does not use. Big Lots actually converted this vestibule into an employee break room/meeting room, which I happened to catch a glimpse of as I was walking around the interior of the store.
Here is a close-up of the closed off left side entrance. The original automatic doors are still in place behind the hurricane shutter, which Big Lots keeps closed to let shoppers know to use the entrance on the other side of the building.
This is the view looking across the store’s front walkway, heading from the closed off left side entrance to the main entrance on the right side of the building. I really like the look of this former Publix, especially when viewed from an angle where this walkway is visible. For some reason I find this tall column and beam look quite visually appealing. As yonWooRetail2 commented, "[This is] probably the coolest looking Big Lots in Orange County!"
Over on the right side of the building is Big Lots’ main entrance, which comprises Publix’s old right side vestibule. Let’s head through those doors and see what the inside of this place is all about…
Stepping inside, here is a look back toward the entry vestibule where the carts were stored. Even though Big Lots did a little bit of work in here, this building still has a very strong Publix feel inside to this day.
Looking across the building’s front end is one of the most obvious traces of this building’s Publix past: the angled ceiling over the registers where this giant light would have been. Big Lots redid the lighting in this building before they moved in, ripping out Publix’s square shaped lights (which are visible in that prior link) in favor of fluorescent tube lighting. And with that project, the giant light over the registers also met its fate. As Ryan busman_49 commented, "Even though they ripped out the awesome-looking giant light, the ceiling in here still looks really neat."
The front right corner of this Big Lots store was home to paper products and office supplies. This area more than likely would have been home to a bank branch when Publix was here, as that was a common feature in late 80’s/early 90’s Publix stores. By the mid-2000’s, Publix closed any remaining bank branches that existed in their stores, converting the former bank spaces into more floor space for product or a new home for the store’s pharmacy. Big Lots also covered over the old Publix terrazzo floors in this store with white tiles, as you can see in this photo.
This is looking down the store’s right side wall. While you see plastic bins here now, this would have originally been the location of Publix’s dairy department.
Here we’re looking into the back right corner of the store, approximately where Publix’s deli counter would have been located.
Another one of the obvious Publix artifacts that Big Lots left behind was the raised ceiling over the center of the store, which you can see in this particular photo quite well. This raised ceiling was a common feature in Publix stores built from the 1970’s through the early 1990’s. This is looking across Big Lots’ back main aisle, from seasonal toward furniture off in the distance.
With the way Big Lots’ seasonal department was set up, I was able to get a decent overview of the center of the store where the ceiling raises higher.
Here is a look across the back wall of the store. Where I was standing would have originally been the deli counter. Going further toward the left side of the building, you would next come across the meat coolers, followed by the seafood counter, and then produce in the back left corner.
Yet another look into the center of the store from the vantage point of the seasonal department.
Along the back wall, the toy department was sandwiched between seasonal and furniture. On a side note (if anyone is interested), the department signage you see in this store was the most recent one that Big Lots used, with its usage spanning from 2013 or so until 2017. In late 2017, Big Lots debuted a new store prototype they call the Store of the Future, which while visually appealing, actually marks a radical change for the chain. With the stores of the future, Big Lots is trying to move away from being known as a “closeout retailer” and becoming a “community discount store” with a heavy emphasis on home goods, seasonal items, furniture, and food products. I’m not so sure if I like this change or not, but it seems like Big Lots is trying to make themselves seem like a classier place to shop with this move. It’s certainly a big change from the rather bare-bones, treasure hunt style shopping experience Big Lots was famous for in the past (that most people associate with the chain). As Retail Retell commented about the changes, "Oh yeah... I remember discussing that repositioning when the news first came out about it. I'd forgotten about it since then, and frankly I'm glad I had, as I don't care much for it XD Also, really, really strange how they're throwing around that fake "Jennifer" name in all those corporate quotes! Something like that is fine to use internally, but it just sounds awkward in news articles... (especially the first one you linked to, which is literally authored by a woman named Jennifer!)" Yes, it's one thing to try to clean up the stores and make them feel more modern, but Big Lots completely shifting away from the market they essentially established at a national level seems like a bad move to me. I am curious to see what one of their new prototype stores is like though, and I believe a few are in the works to come to Florida in the next few months. At the very least, the new stores do look nice! And yes, I agree, the Jennifer thing is pretty weird! From what I've seen in other articles, Big Lots came up with the name "Jennifer" for their customer because it was the most popular first name in their rewards card system. You would think the corporate people would refrain from using "Jennifer" to refer to their customers when making press statements to avoid confusion with the public, but I guess it's something that's been ingrained into their minds! The irony with the author of that article's name was quite strange too!
The back left corner of the store was home to the furniture department. The furniture department took up a good chunk of the back wall here, much of which was space that was once home to Publix’s meat and seafood department as well as produce.
Here I was standing in Publix’s former produce department, looking back into the center store. However, the apples and oranges have since given way to a home for mattresses and sofas.
Another photo of the sea of upholstery that lies before us…
At the far left side of the furniture department was this cash register, presumably where furniture transactions take place. Since it was a rather slow afternoon while I was here, the furniture salesperson was nowhere to be found on this particular day.
Looking once again into the back left corner of the store, where we have a close-up of the sign for the furniture department.
This is a look down the length of the store’s left side wall, from furniture toward housewares. In the Publix days, this would have been looking from produce toward frozen foods, with the bakery in the background.
Moving away from the wall, this is a look down the main aisle that traverses the left side of this Big Lots store.
Here is a quick look at part of Big Lots’ hardware section, which was located in the center of the store near the higher ceiling. I believe I took this photo specifically for the small blue “Tools” sign, which was different than any of the other department signs in the remainder of the store.
Home goods are located in this store’s front left corner, where Publix’s bakery would have been.
Publix’s old left side vestibule was located behind that brown door that says “Private” on it. Like I said earlier in this post, the old vestibule is still completely in-tact, but has since been walled off from the main store and turned into a break room. I found that out because the brown door you see in this photo was propped open until just before I took this picture, and I peeked inside. I was going to try to sneak a quick picture of the old vestibule through the open door until an employee walked out from that room and shut the door behind him. Oh well, at least I was able to see what it looked like in there to describe it to everyone. To the left of the old vestibule is the staircase that leads up to the second floor offices that overlook the front end.
Here is yet another look across this store’s front end, where once again we can see the remains of the giant angled light that was once located over Publix’s front registers.
A close-up of Big Lots’ front registers, as well as the homemade lane number signs.
In front of the registers was the small electronics department, housed in this little alcove at the front of the store. This alcove would have once housed Publix’s customer service desk.
Leaving Big Lots, we’ll finish up this post with a few photos from the remainder of the Waterbridge Downs Shopping Center. Pictured here is the strip of stores located between Big Lots and Family Dollar, which are currently this plaza’s two anchors. The architecture that we saw along the front of the former Publix building was continued through the entire plaza, and certainly has an 80’s vibe to it!
Walgreens #2030 / Family Dollar #6006
11334 S. Orange Blossom Trail, Orlando, FL – Waterbridge Downs
This Walgreens originally opened in 1988 alongside Publix as the pharmacy anchor for the Waterbridge Downs shopping center. Walgreens remained in this location until 1998 (the same year Publix vacated this shopping center), to relocate a few hundred feet south of Waterbridge Downs to a new freestanding location at 11600 South Orange Blossom Trail. Family Dollar now occupies the main portion of the former Walgreens space, while an independent liquor store occupies the former Walgreens liquor store space.
So that's all I have for this post. Until the next time,