Wednesday, November 27, 2019

I Can Still Remember When The Closeouts Used To Make Me Smile

Publix #108 (Original) / Gooding's of North DeLand / Big Lots #569
911 North Woodland Boulevard, DeLand, FL - College Plaza

     A long, long, time ago, Big Lots can still remember when the closeouts used to make them smile. As a lot of you are probably aware, Big Lots has been shifting their buying strategy in recent years to move away from closeouts and buyouts to becoming a "community discount store". This seems like quite the bold move for the company that essentially made closeout shopping a popular concept, especially at the national level. Today's post will be the first in a two-part series focusing on these changes Big Lots is making, although the changes will become most apparent in part two of this series. For today's post, we'll be taking a look around the original DeLand Big Lots store and seek out some of the traces of this building's past still hiding within. While Big Lots has slowly begun phasing in the new corporate changes to all stores, eliminating certain products and merchandise categories completely, Big Lots' new "Store of the Future" prototype is where the changes will really hit you right in the face. Like I said though, the "Store of the Future" changes will primarily be the topic of the next post, as today I want to focus on how Big Lots was, prior to the day the closeouts died...

     We've toured Big Lots stores before on My Florida Retail and AFB, ranging from stores that were sleek and modern to older ones seeping with the remains of long-dead retailers. A lot of the fun of going to Big Lots (especially for the retail fans) was that many older Big Lots stores did practically nothing to the buildings they took over, leaving little bits and pieces behind of the tenants that once called these places home. The original DeLand Big Lots is certainly the latter case described above. While the goal of this posting series is to demonstrate Big Lots' recent changes, most of that will happen next time when we tour the new store that replaced the one we'll be seeing today. So for now, just sit back, relax, and let me explain the history of this store:

     The building that would eventually house DeLand's first Big Lots store was originally home to Publix #108, DeLand's first Publix. Publix #108 opened on October 22, 1964 as part of the new College Plaza, named as such due to the plaza's close proximity to the campus of Stetson University. In addition to Publix, College Plaza also featured a W.T. Grant store as an anchor, located adjacent to the Publix building. Originally opening as a wing store, Publix redid the facade of store #108 in the 1970's to match that era's boxy, rectangular facade design. Publix would remain in this location until 1993, when it was replaced by a new store about a mile to the north of here on International Speedway Boulevard (store #444, later store #1444 - the reason that location changed numbers is a long, odd story for another day). About a year after Publix's departure for the modern store on the northern side of town, it was announced that Gooding's had signed on to take Publix's place as the grocery anchor to the struggling College Plaza. At the time, Gooding's already had one store in DeLand, on the south side of town in the West Volusia Regional Shopping Center. Seeing promise with the South DeLand store, Gooding's felt the time was right to expand further in Western Volusia County. At the same time the plans for the new North DeLand store were announced, Gooding's also acquired property in Deltona for another new store. While Gooding's plans for opening the new North DeLand store went as planned, with that store opening in November 1994, its opening sealed the deal for Gooding's fate in Volusia County. The North DeLand Gooding's was a crash and burn store, lasting only three years before closing in 1997 alongside its South DeLand counterpart. The poor performance of the North DeLand store upon its 1994 opening seems to have swayed Gooding's to cancel their plans for the Deltona store, with Gooding's selling that site to Albertsons in late 1995. With Gooding's gone, the College Plaza was down an anchor yet again. It wasn't long after Gooding's closed that Big Lots came along to fill its void, opening somewhere in the 1998-1999 timeframe. Neither Big Lots nor Gooding's did much to change the feel of this building from Publix's tenure here, which makes for an interesting little tour. So really, today's post is a 2 for 1 - we get to see the Big Lots of the past in the shell of an old Publix. What more could you ask for? Well, probably a lot, but I can only do so much here! 😊

     With all of AFB's rambling about the history of this building behind us, we can jump right into our tour of the original DeLand Big Lots store. Stepping onto the front walkway, lots of classic Publix features begin to greet us, namely the black marble facade and the tile mural. Unfortunately, someone decided to cover the tile mural with wood paneling, leaving odd blank panels on each side of Big Lots' entryway. However, Publix's tile murals have seen much worse treatment by Big Lots than wood paneling, such as being painted over in black.

     The tile mural on the other side of the building can be seen here, also paneled over. Beyond the mural is the old W.T. Grant building, which has since been subdivided into a few tenants (the most notable of which is Save-A-Lot currently).

     Here's a better overview of Big Lots' front walkway. The main entrance into the store is where those two columns stick out from the front of the building. Now that we've had a short overview of the exterior, let's head inside and see what it's like in there...

     Stepping inside, here's a look across the front of the building. The paneling on the ceiling above the windows is an old Publix remnant, as is the placement of the restrooms in the front right corner (which can be seen in the background of this image).

     Stepping a bit further into the salesfloor, here's a better view across the front end. The raised ceiling over the center salesfloor is a Publix remnant, although as usual, Big Lots replaced the lighting upon moving in with their generic track lighting.

     As with most Big Lots stores before the "Store of the Future" came out, one side of the store was home to housewares with the other side home to all the other departments, with food and health and beauty located in the center of the building and seasonal and furniture in the back. While Big Lots' store layouts weren't really standardized until the "Store of the Future" days, the layout I just described was probably the most common one used by Big Lots in the early 2010's (with the usual tweaks and modifications based on the size and shape of the building).

     In the previous photo, you probably noticed the curving wall covered in painted-over paneling sticking out behind the shelves. The above photo was my attempt at getting a closer view of that corner, but the placement of the shelves wasn't helping with getting a good, clear overview of that part of the store! The paneling and curved wall stood out as some kind of remnant from this building's days as a supermarket. I want to say this remnant was from some kind of modification Gooding's made, as I can't picture anything like this at any older Publix I've ever seen. 

     Stepping back a few more aisles, here's another attempt at an overview of the front right corner from within the housewares department. Housewares took up the right side of this store, leading into the furniture department in the back right corner.

     Looking out from one of the aisles in the housewares department, the ceiling height transition left behind from Publix is featured very prominently in this image. Since the new Big Lots store up the street is where we'll begin to see all the major changes the "Store of the Future" will bring, we're going to use most of our time today to appreciate all of the Publix and Gooding's remnants in this place. We'll appreciate the remnants now, as one thing the newly opened "Store of the Future" stores do a good job of is stripping a place of every last trace of what was in there prior! 

     My eyes could have been playing tricks on me with this one, but those diagonal brown lines on the floor tiles seemed to match up with the lines denoting the transitions of the old striped terrazzo Publix would have used. Whether those brown lines were from the terrazzo or not, Publix's old terrazzo is still here under these tiles, as terrazzo isn't something you can rip out easily!

     Looking down the right side wall, we see more housewares. In the distance you can see the beginning of the furniture department.

     Stepping out to the main aisle, the transition to the furniture department becomes much more apparent, mostly because of that giant light-up sign.

     The giant "FURNITURE" sign is rather old, and I'm pretty sure it's original to the store's opening in the late 1990's. Considering that the furniture sign is hardwired to the wall, and Big Lots has never put much effort into remodeling anything until the last two years, these signs were allowed to stay even as the department signs throughout the store were switched out through the years. 

     At the time I took these pictures, this store was in the middle of a furniture department expansion. A few aisles of merchandise were removed in order to make more room for furniture sales space. I took these photos long before the "Store of the Future" debuted, or Big Lots ever thought about moving this store up the street. At the time I took these pictures, Big Lots was just beginning its transition from closeouts to whatever they're trying to be now.

     While a small portion of the furniture department spills out into the main salesfloor, the majority of the furniture department was located in this alcove in the back right corner of the building. This alcove was carved out of the space that would have originally been home to Publix's deli, expanding Big Lots' floor space through the old deli counter and into a part of Publix's backroom space.

     These next few photos are some more random shots from within the furniture alcove:

     Looking beyond the mattresses, we can see out into the main salesfloor. Let's head back out there to see the other half of the store...

     A small amount of plastics and housewares occupied the aisles in the back of the store, which transitions in this area into seasonal. 

     More paneling remnants are visible along the back wall above the storage tubs. That's also a remnant from Publix (or possibly Gooding's, although I'm not very familiar with what Gooding's stores would have looked like back in the company's prime. Publix for sure used paneling like that back in the 80's though).

     Here's a look from seasonal out into the center of the store, home to the grocery aisles.

     Speaking of those grocery aisles, here's a look down one of them.

     Returning to the seasonal corner, here's a look down the left side of the building, which is home to toys, hardware, electronics, and office supplies, as well as some overflow from seasonal.

     Returning to the front of the building, here's another look across the front windows (even if most of those windows are blocked by the shelving).

     "Thank you, come again!", reads that sign above the door. We will return to this Big Lots shortly, but to its new location up the street. If you've never been to a "Store of the Future" Big Lots yet, it's quite the different experience from the older Big Lots store you're probably more familiar with. Big Lots' stores of the future aren't bad, but they're certainly a big change from the company that for years prided itself as being "The Closeout Store". Anyway, more on that in my next post...

     As we wrap up this tour, here's one final look at the exterior of the store. While the shape of the exterior is very much Publix, I believe Gooding's was the one to add that black detailing to the exterior, as I can clearly picture their logo where Big Lots has had their sign for the last 20 years.

     Shifting our attention away from from Big Lots for just a moment, here's a look at the former W.T. Grant building next door. This W.T. Grant store closed with the chain in 1976, although I really don't know much about what occupied this place between then and now (besides a Bealls Outlet having been in Save-A-Lot's spot in the early 2000's).

     In front of Big Lots was this CVS store, which began its life as an Eckerd. The Eckerd was built on a strip of smaller stores that once stood at this corner, converting to CVS in 2004. I was actually able to track down a photo of this store from 2004, shortly before it converted from Eckerd to CVS, visible here. The Big Lots plaza is also visible in the background, but that still looked essentially the same in 2004 as it did when I took these photos many years later!

     Speaking of the day I visited this store, I have an interesting story from that day. While I've been to DeLand twice to cover the retail up that way, the day I visited this store was part of a different trip. We were actually in town to attend an event at Stetson University. Since the event didn't directly involve me (I just tagged along for the ride), I decided to leave the campus and take a little walk around town. My walk took me to the Big Lots first for a little retail photography before I headed elsewhere in town. As I was walking up Woodland from Stetson to Big Lots, a pickup truck drove by me. Sitting in the bed of the truck were a few college guys, drinking. How did I know they were drinking, you ask? As the truck drove by me, one guy sitting against the truck's cab took a sip of his beer, then decided to take the beer bottle and throw it out the back of the truck right at me. Thankfully, the bottle ended up hitting the sidewalk a few feet up from where I was walking, shattering into a million little pieces. As the truck drove away, AFB then proceeded to yell some not-very-G-rated things at the idiots in the back of the truck who thought it would be funny to throw beer bottles at random people on the sidewalk. Flying beer bottles, nosy shoppers, the cops - the things I've gone through to get pictures for you guys!

     To wrap up this post, here's a map showing the location of the original Big Lots in relation to the new store a little over a mile up the road. Interestingly, Big Lots would move to the same plaza Publix moved to 26 years prior, but more on that next time, when we experience what life is like after the day the closeouts died...

So until the next post,


(And P.S. - Happy Thanksgiving too!)


  1. Yikes! Glad the bottle didn't hit you. And Happy Thanksgiving to you as well!

    1. Most people worry about getting caught while taking pictures, while all the other weird things that can happen when out getting pictures happen to me!

      And thanks! Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving!