Thursday, February 6, 2020

When Retail Comes Full Circle: An MFR Posting Series

     As you guys already know, Lucky's Market announced in late January 2020 that the company would be closing 32 of its 39 stores across the country, all part of an aftershock from Kroger pulling out on its investment in the company in December 2019. Of those 32 stores Lucky's earmarked for closure, 20 of the effected locations were in Florida (and that's not counting the cancellation of 14 other planned Floridian locations, most of which were in some phase of construction). In the wake of all this, Lucky's still wanted to cling onto one small piece of their once mighty climb to be Florida's largest organic grocery chain: a lone store in West Melbourne. While West Melbourne seems like one of the most random places Lucky's could have kept a lone Floridian outpost, I wasn't going to complain, as that "lucky" Lucky's happened to be my local store. This was always a busy location for Lucky's, and going here on a Saturday afternoon you'd be hard pressed to find a place to park. While West Melbourne may just be a lowly little town on Florida's Space Coast, an hour out from the next largest metropolitan area, the people in the area loved their Lucky's. While things looked a bit shaky in the days after Lucky's announced they would be closing most of their stores, West Melbourne was going to press on through it all. Even after a bankruptcy filing and wild rumors going around that the store was going to close anyway, it seemed like Lucky's was going to be here to stay. The longevity of the West Melbourne store began to shine brighter when Lucky's Market founders Bo and Trish Sharon agreed to buy the company out of bankruptcy, a buyout package that included the seven stores to remain open. Great news, right?! WRONG! Only one day after Bo and Trish agreed to keep seven Lucky's stores afloat, news broke that the cash-strapped, bankrupt company sold 5 more stores to Southeastern Grocers, parent company of Winn-Dixie. This sale came in the wake of Lucky's selling 11 stores to Aldi and Publix, as well as a location each to Seabra Foods and Hitchcock's Market. Included in the sale of stores to SEG was none other than the West Melbourne Lucky's, the lone Florida location that was to remain open. With news of the sale announced, Bo and Trish amended their purchase agreement for Lucky's remaining assets, which was to include only 6 stores now, none of which are in Florida. With the West Melbourne Lucky's now sold to SEG for conversion to a Winn-Dixie, Lucky's once triumphant climb in Florida has come to a sad and dismal end. However, the purpose of this post isn't to go into the details of Lucky's recent problems as a whole (that will come in my next AFB post), but to look into the sad and dismal, yet fascinating and ironic future for this location. Yes, it was sold to Winn-Dixie. Yes, Winn-Dixie doesn't open very many new stores these days. That alone is enough to make this store's future interesting. However, for what really makes this store interesting, we have to look at what was in this building prior to Lucky's arrival in 2017: it was none other than Winn-Dixie! Before I go any further with this, here's a brief recap:

Winn-Dixie #2268
3170 West New Haven Avenue, West Melbourne, FL - Plaza West

     Winn-Dixie originally opened its West Melbourne store in 1980, and as you can tell by the exterior of the place, they didn't do too much since then. Besides a remodel to the Purple/Maroon interior in the early 2000's, this place looked rather old and tired all the way to the very end. While old and dumpy, this store must have had a following, as Winn-Dixie was extremely unhappy when their landlord decided to not renew the store's lease in late 2015. Even though Winn-Dixie tried to negotiate a renewal, the landlord wouldn't budge - he already got Lucky's Market to sign on as the new tenant for the building. Essentially, Winn-Dixie got kicked out of their home of 35 years in West Melbourne, with the landlord signing on a tenant he felt would be better (and pay more rent than) Winn-Dixie. With all that happening, Winn-Dixie was forced to close this location, with Winn-Dixie's last day in operation occurring on November 24, 2015.

     When the news first broke of the Winn-Dixie's closure, I was right on the scene! (Quite literally, actually, as someone sent me an e-mail informing me of the news that very day. As soon as I saw the e-mail, out the door I was to investigate!). I covered this store's closure quite extensively, visiting the place at least twice during the liquidation (in addition to a previous visit prior to the liquidation beginning). If you want a refresher on the closing of this store, or you're new to MFR and have never seen these photos before, I still have the entire documentation of this store's closure on my old flickr page, viewable here). It's an interesting set, as this was a very dated Winn-Dixie store.

     After a complete gut-and-rebuild of the interior, Lucky's Market opened its West Melbourne location on January 11, 2017. The grand opening of this store attracted nearly 2,000 people, one of the largest turnouts for the opening of any store in Brevard County! Lucky's West Melbourne store was a hit from the start, and I couldn't even find a place to park here during this store's first two months in operation. It wasn't until late March 2017 that I made my first official visit to Lucky's, photos of which can be seen at the end of my Winn-Dixie closure album on flickr. While we've seen this store once before in full over on flickr, I'll be covering the closure of this store for you guys on MFR (in some way over a not-yet-determined span of time). In addition to today's post (which features some semi-normal operation photos of Lucky's), I'll try to get back here for photos once or twice before the end, and for sure after it reopens as a Winn-Dixie (as I'm sure you guys are very curious as to how that conversion will turn out). For now though, let's jump back to the present for a quick look around the West Melbourne Lucky's Market:

     Much like this store's first few months of operation, the first day of its closure sale (February 5, 2020) was also hectic. I almost didn't go in for photos because I couldn't find a place to park, even on a weekday afternoon! However, as I was about to give up, a parking space freed up, so I guess I "lucked" out! (Oh no, the reader of this post is thinking, the name of this store is going to give AFB too many ideas for cheesy puns...)

     Even with all the modifications Lucky's made, the shape of the building's exterior still looks very much like it did as a Winn-Dixie. On the inside though, Lucky's stripped out just about everything they could. That was a good move on their part, as the Winn-Dixie was really run-down.

     Like I said at the beginning of the post, this MFR series is only going to focus on the story of this particular Lucky's location and its conversion back to a Winn-Dixie. With that being said, I won't ramble on and on in this post about Kroger or Lucky's expansion efforts or anything like that. All that will be a story for another day.

     Anyway, stepping into the store, we find ourselves in the produce department. Depending on the weather, Lucky's main entrance usually consisted of two large garage doors that opened up into the produce department, creating a farmer's market like effect. When those doors aren't open, customers have to enter through the door by the cafe or through the side door located off to the side of the produce department. Featured predominantly over the produce department is Lucky's "Food Glorious Food" sign, promoting the company's focus on local and organic products.

     Produce is located in the front left corner of the building, where Winn-Dixie's deli and bakery counters once were. The produce department here is rather large, which is typical of a store like this. Even though this was only the first day of the closing sale, the produce department was looking a bit spotty in places, some displays (like the one immediately to my right) being completely empty. Besides a few other random parts in the store, it was still mostly stocked in here. However, that is going to change dramatically as every day goes by...

     Seen behind the display of pasta are the two garage doors that serve as the building's main entrance. Only one door was open during my visit, which was common for this store throughout its three year run.

     Between produce and the bulk foods was a ramen bar. The ramen bar was one of Lucky's newer features, added when "gourmet ramen" (could that be considered an oxymoron?) began to grow in popularity. When this store opened, it didn't have one of these, but instead a fresh-squeezed juice counter located here. About six months ago the juice counter was converted into this, with the fresh-squeezed juices being relocated to a cooler nearby. The ramen bar was really popular from what I'd seen during my shopping trips here. That being said, I never tried the "gourmet ramen" myself, as I find it a bit crazy to pay $9.99 for a single portion of ramen (compared to the 39 cents Target charges for a classic broke-college-student cup of the stuff). Maybe I'm really cheap, or maybe college students have much fancier taste than they used to have!

     Behind the pallets of Kroger brand water shoved off to the side of produce, we can see the mob of people waiting in line to checkout. Like I said, this place was nuts when I was here, and these lines formed with 7 of the store's 8 registers open! We'll see more of the crowd toward the end of this post too...

     Instead of me trying to push through that mob, let's cut through produce and head toward the still-chaotic-but-not-quite-as-bad grocery aisles in the back of the store...

     Frozen foods line the store's left side wall, with plenty of shoppers (or vultures, choose whatever term you want here 😁) skimming over the deals to be had in the coolers. Like the other 32 Lucky's stores closing right now, West Melbourne also began its liquidation sale with a flat 25% off discount throughout the store. That discount will eventually increase to 75% off as the sale nears the end. Besides two or three signs like the one seen at the very beginning of this post, those were all the closing signs Lucky's had here. No banners, no gaudy Kmart-esque red and yellow liquidations signs or any of that - just a few gentile reminders near the front of the store of the impending closure. Lucky's appears to be handling these closings internally, at least from what I can tell.

     The back left corner of the store is home to dairy, with the meat and seafood counter located under that white wall jutting out from the back.

     Like I said before, the selection was still decent here. The Orlando area Lucky's liquidations I went to (which were two days in at the time of my visits), looked mostly wiped out in the dry grocery aisles (even that soon after the closing process began).

     Aisle 1 is located in the middle of the store (a bit of an odd place to find an aisle 1). Aisle 1 is only a half aisle, consisting of the oils and condiments to my right. To my left were some meat coolers.

     After the dry grocery aisles, the center store becomes home to the wine department as well as bulk foods.

     Like most of these organic specialty stores, alcohol takes up a significant portion of the sales floor space. Wine took up two aisles in this part of the store, featuring some common brands of "the cheap stuff" (like the boxes of Franzia to my left), in addition to a variety of local wines and some other, fancier stuff. As part of Lucky's goal to make organic foods more accessible to the masses and less snooty feeling, one thing they did was carry some popular major brands in addition to all the organics (hence the boxes of Franzia here - I'm pretty sure Whole Foods doesn't sell that stuff!). It was one of Lucky's ways to broaden their appeal to people who would never consider shopping at a place that was strictly organic-focused, letting shoppers know that some of their favorite brands could still be found here too.

     The service meat and seafood counter is located along the back wall, where customers were stockpiling 2-year supplies of Lucky's famous smoked bacon strips. OK, I don't think that lady purchasing meat was bringing home that much bacon (or any bacon at all), but Lucky's bacon was really popular. It was one of their signature items, to the point that when Lucky's opened a new store, they'd have a bacon-cutting ceremony instead of a ribbon cutting! I've had Lucky's bacon twice - once on a sandwich, and once as a pizza topping. It was tasty, but unfortunately, I'm not much of a bacon eater (gasp!), so I can't say much more than that on how it compares to other bacon in this world.

     While Lucky's had a streamlined layout for their stores (for the most part, as some older, pre-Kroger locations had a few quirks), West Melbourne followed the typical layout almost exactly. The one exception to the layout was this alcove in the back right corner, home to the store's beer department. Typically, Lucky's groups the beer with the wine on the main sales floor, but for some reason West Melbourne got this.

     Turning around from the beer alcove, we find Lucky's deli counter, referred to as "The Kitchen" (the same title Winn-Dixie gives to this department these days - how appropriate!) In the kitchen you could find the deli counter and the prepared foods items, as well as a small bakery department. In this photo the deli counter is located immediately to my left, with the prepared foods located further up the counter.

     The kitchen is the department I will miss the most about Lucky's. From Lucky's kitchen came some of the best pizza I've ever had, and have had many times over these last three years. There's something about the sauce and cheese blend Lucky's used that was absolute perfection, and I'm really going to miss it. I should probably stop writing about Lucky's pizza now before I begin to have a craving for it, however, I think it's a bit too late on that end...

     Pizza cravings aside, I'll have to suppress that as we turn our attention to the hot food bars in front of The Kitchen. These hot food bars were another recent addition to the store from the last year or so, complimenting the already existing salad bar. Every day the hot bars had a different theme (such as Asian, Italian, comfort foods, etc.), and it always looked pretty good.

     Leaving The Kitchen, the next department we find is the "Apothecary", which is just a fancy name for a place that sells pharmaceuticals. Lots of vitamins, natural remedies, soaps, and smelly things in here.

     Here's a quick look across the width of the store, as seen from the kitchen. After Lucky's took over this building from Winn-Dixie, they cut off the rightmost 5,000 square feet of the space. Essentially, Lucky's is only using 80% of the space Winn-Dixie once occupied. It's going to take some remodeling to get this place to be in-line with what a normal Winn-Dixie would offer, so it's going to be interesting to see just how much effort Winn-Dixie puts into these conversions. I wonder if Winn-Dixie will recapture that 5,000 square feet they originally had, or leave the place as is. I'm leaning more toward leaving the place as-is, as Winn-Dixie is essentially inheriting a free gut-and-rebuild remodel of their old store from Lucky's. I don't know how much more money Winn-Dixie is willing to put into this place outside of some minor modifications (and, of course, the cost of a few hundred gallons of red paint 😁). That's what will make the new Winn-Dixie so interesting, seeing what Winn-Dixie does and doesn't do with this place upon reopening.

     The last grocery department we've yet to see in this return visit to the West Melbourne Lucky's is the bulk department. Since the bulk department is located behind the check lanes, this department was serving as overflow standing room for the long lines that were building at the registers. All the people you see here weren't perusing the bins of granola and gummy worms, they were waiting in line!

     The long lines are more apparent in this photo, showing all the people stocking up on the deals throughout the store.

     Before heading out, we have to read the (really big) fine print, as well as take a quick look at the cafe:

     There were a lot of people hanging out at the Lucky's cafe on the afternoon of my visit, enjoying a final cup of coffee or a final slice of the best pizza in Brevard (even though that's just the opinion of some random guy who writes about grocery stores on the internet).

     Be sure to keep checking back on MFR for more updates and coverage of the closure and conversion of the West Melbourne Lucky's Market! Again, there will be no set schedule, but I'm going to try to be more on top of this closure than the other stores closure series I have collecting virtual dust in my photo archives. Anyway, leave it to Florida retail for a situation like this one: a grocery store gets kicked out of its building for an up-and-coming trendy organic grocery, which out of nowhere decides to close most of its stores three years later, just to have its final random location in Florida bought back by the grocery chain that was originally kicked out for it in the very beginning. I couldn't make this stuff up even if I tried, and just goes to prove how crazy Floridian retail is when everything goes full circle!

     While it's sad to see Lucky's leave Florida, especially in the way all of this played out, it's going to be interesting watching this store as it begins is new life (new old life?) as a Winn-Dixie. According to one article I read, Winn-Dixie wants to reopen these stores later in 2020, so hopefully we'll see some results sooner rather than later!

So until the next post,



  1. I've shared my thoughts on this situation with you already, but I suppose a "formal" comment here can't hurt. Like you said, it's rare enough to see a new Winn-Dixie open, but the fact that that chain will be getting the last laugh by reopening in this West Melbourne building that they were kicked out of is just wild! A sad day for Lucky's, of course, whose Florida push is winding up just another one for the history books (or Publix's trophy wall, as has been mentioned in the retail crowd before, although surprisingly it doesn't seem they had anything to do with this particular grocery chain's downfall, unlike normal!). Hopefully the employees at all these closing Lucky's will be able to find new jobs, ideally with the new stores coming in to take over the spaces. And hopefully all the stuff Lucky's did to build out these short-lived stores of theirs won't go to waste, either...

    All that said, I didn't realize Kroger's involvement went so far as to include Kroger-branded products. It's a shame all this has resulted from their divestment. And lol, can't say I've seen a gourmet ramen bar before either! I don't eat ramen (or bacon!) that often, but those things as well as everything else about how Lucky's tried to make organic food more accessible and fun made this chain really cool. Hopefully the surviving six locations under the founders/new owners will continue to uphold the things that made Lucky's unique, even if none of them will be in Florida. And for those to-be-former Lucky's that are in the state: looking forward to everyone's future coverage of their conversions, including yours of this store's saga!

    1. Certainly - it's a crazy situation all around! I wonder if Winn-Dixie made an offer for the West Melbourne store purely to see if Lucky's would budge and give it up, just to get this place back. Never would I have thought I'd be covering the closure of Lucky's, let alone seeing it convert back to the store that was here previously! Publix's trophy wall has added both Lucky's and Earth Fare to it now, before they were even able to grow Greenwise large enough to make it much of a threat (see - that's how good Publix is at chasing grocery stores out of Florida! :) ) While Publix has chased many chains out of Florida, I can't blame them for Lucky's or Earth Fare's demise in Florida either. Kroger yanking the rug out from Lucky's did them in, although I still can't explain Earth Fare's out-of-nowhere liquidation. It's a shame to see all this happen, as these stores were all so new, and people were jumping over to these stores for employment as they seemed like strong chains that would be around for a while. Hopefully things work out for those employees in the end, and they're able to find employment elsewhere after this huge shock.

      Kroger branded stuff only started appearing at Lucky's in the last 9 months or so. For the most part Lucky's only sold Private Selection and Simple Truth branded items from Kroger, and I had begun to see Simple Truth ads airing on local TV at one point. The actual Kroger branded stuff was limited to the bottled water and some prepackaged fruits and vegetables (like bags of carrots), but I still found it weird seeing the Kroger name in Florida! After this mess, I can't see Kroger's name coming back to Florida either, at least for a good long while. People here are really mad at Kroger for what they did to Lucky's. Prior to Lucky's I never saw myself shopping at an organic-focused grocery store. While I'm not into the whole organic thing, Lucky's did open my mind to visiting a store like that more often. I liked the store's laid back feel, which made it feel more welcoming than other organic places out there. I guess the format had some merit to it though, as Publix essentially copied Lucky's concept for their Greenwise 2.0 stores. Who knows, if Bo and Trish can stabilize the original 6 stores, maybe Lucky's could start expanding again. It certainly wouldn't be to the extent we saw under Kroger, but it would be cool to see. While Kroger may have tainted themselves in Florida from this whole debacle, Lucky's would be allowed back into Florida with open arms. I'm sure that scenario would be a long shot, but as we're seeing with this posting series, crazy things can happen. Now if Winn-Dixie gets thrown out again for Lucky's to return to Florida - then I will be able to say that I really have seen everything! :)

    2. Don’t forget Kroger is still coming to Florida next year with there automated warehouse where groceries can be delivered. The warehouse is under construction in Lake County north of Clermont. Although people are mad at Kroger for pulling out of Luckys you can’t blame them if you look at how much money they were losing on it. At some point you have to stop the cash bleeding otherwise you end up like Kmart, Sears, Toys R Us, Sports Authority, or so many other stores that have liquidated.

  2. It's sad to see Lucky's go! They looked very high end. Funny how Winn-Dixie is taking back this store.

    1. It certainly is! I'm going to miss shopping at this store. While Lucky's wasn't trying to be high-end, it did have that type of appeal.

  3. Wow! I just now realized that the Lucky's in Ormond Beach was housed in the former Florida Choice/ Food Lion store! It's an especial shame for those Lucky's locations that were only open for 4-6 months, like this one.

    The Lucky's Florida failure makes Albertsons' shortest-lived locations seem not as bad. I'm sure most of the Lucky's shoppers will not be excited over Winn-Dixie as a replacement! Maybe this is an opportunity for Winn-Dixie to step up their game and offer something different in what will be "Flex-Dixies".

    1. Ormond Beach was really happy to get a grocery store into that building after so long, as it sat empty since Food Lion pulled out of Florida in 2012. While the inside was gutted, you can still see the old SupeRx Food and Drug design clearly on the exterior. It's sad to see any store close, but it's even worse when most of the stores closing barely made it a year. That's just crazy. I've mentioned Winn-Dixie's return to West Melbourne to a few people at work, and they were all upset about how the store was closing, and how they didn't want Winn-Dixie back. While this is an interesting opportunity for Winn-Dixie's future, I can't say that Winn-Dixie has the same following Lucky's had. It will be interesting to see if these new Winn-Dixies take off, and if more may pop up in the future.