Wednesday, June 17, 2020

In Between The Lines There's A Lot Of Obscurity -- Kroger "Welcome" Stores


"Welcome" to my long-overdue second feature post here on the My Florida Retail Blog!

That pun will become way funnier as we get deeper into this post. But before we can get there, there's a little bit of history we need to go through first. Longtime readers of the Albertsons Florida Blog may already be familiar with some or all of what I'm about to say, but a refresher never hurts.

While its supermarket scene is almost wholly dominated by Publix (and Winn-Dixie is also a chain that exists), the state of Florida has been home to numerous infiltration attempts by other grocery store chains. Kroger, the world's largest supermarket chain, of course is just one of the many suitors that has attempted to get a piece of the Floridian pie over the years. According to the Orlando Sentinel, "Kroger opened its first Florida supermarket in 1980 in the south Brevard city of Indian Harbor Beach," and expanded from there. The stores were named SupeRx Food & Drug, after Kroger's subsidiary pharmacy chain at the time, SupeRx. (SupeRx had actually begun as a drugstore operation way back in 1960. You can read more about SupeRx's history at this post from Pleasant Family Shopping.)

In July 1986, Kroger began a major restructuring effort, announcing that it was "entertaining bids for the SupeRx and Hook chains," its pharmacy operations. "We wanted to sell off the retail drug business to concentrate our resources on the retail food business, which we think can be a better performer on its own," a spokesman said. As reported at the time, "The sale of Kroger's over 830 stand-alone drugstores was accomplished in four separate deals." One of these deals took place just days before Christmas 1986, when Rite Aid agreed to acquire all 106 SupeRx drugstores in Florida, in addition to a few others in separate states.

However, "not included in the sale are Kroger's 28 food and drug stores in Florida," the December 1986 article reported (emphasis mine). These stores were to remain open, and change their names from SupeRx Food & Drug to a newly created banner, Florida Choice. Florida Choice would go on to expand further, in particular thanks to the acquisition of A&P-owned Family Mart stores throughout the state.

Florida Choice magazine ad from early 1988. Courtesy William S. via Albertsons Florida Blog

We'll come back to Florida Choice a little later; right now is where the new stuff comes in. That four-part sale of Kroger's SupeRx and Hook drugstore chains was "expected to bring Kroger $450 million to $500 million," according to The Cincinnati Post. A portion of those proceeds, it was decided, would be used to fund a new Kroger venture: Welcome. As The Washington Post reported in January 1987:

Kroger Co., a national supermarket chain that is based in Ohio, has been preparing quietly to build its biggest stores ever and plans to put two of the "superwarehouse" facilities in Richmond. 
But the first step in its effort to build the stores will come in Greenville, SC, where Kroger is constructing a pilot "Welcome" store that will dwarf the size of a typical Kroger supermarket. 
The first Welcome store will have an area of 90,000 square feet. Most Kroger superstores are about 60,000 square feet with combined food and drug stores. 
"This will be our hybrid superwarehouse," said Paul Bernish, Kroger spokesman. "It will be independent of the Kroger food store operations." 
Welcome Inc., a Kroger subsidiary, will operate the new stores. The no-frills operation involves stores where customers buy basic food products, such as canned goods, at steep discounts. 
In recent years, warehouse stores were upgraded with huge produce sections and large service areas, such as seafood bars and delicatessens. 
"The superwarehouse store has gone full circle in that they started out with no frills and few employees," said Ryan Mathews, senior editor of Grocery Marketing in Detroit, a trade publication. "Now, because of their expanded service departments, they are often labor intensive," he said. 
Superwarehouses are different from membership warehouses, which have been described as looking like airplane hangars loaded with wholesale food products, tires, and other products.

Retailers were experimenting with many new store concepts in the late 1980s and early 1990s; just this week I shared the story of American Fare, Kmart's ill-fated hypermarket attempt, over on my site, The Mid-South Retail Blog. Kroger, it would seem, was no exception. All in all, Welcome would go on to be a six-store chain, beginning, as the above article noted, with its first location in Greenville, SC, in 1987.

Welcome store exterior, Greenville, SC. Courtesy The Dead Mall Files

Welcome store interior, Greenville, SC. The floral department is pictured. Courtesy The Dead Mall Files

Welcome store interior, Greenville, SC. The front end is pictured. Courtesy The Dead Mall Files

The Dead Mall Files, a Greenville-area resident, was the first to bring this short-lived Kroger concept to my attention; she also shared the above, very rare colorized photos of the Greenville Welcome store to "The Retail Union" chat room on Discord, so we can all get an idea of what the concept looked like (thanks again!). As you can see, the stores were quite large, and had somewhat of a minimalist design, between the large, simple department name signs on the walls, and the exterior entry and exit points marked not by words but rather by symbols. The stores also were clearly quite large; bigger was better in this time of store format experimentation.

The Dead Mall Files also shared several resources with me that helped in compiling information for this post, including the two newspaper excerpts you'll see reprinted below. I encourage you to enlarge the screenshots and read each article in full to get the whole story. (Additionally, The Dead Mall Files just started her own blog, so be sure to follow her there for more content!)

April 1987 article from a Greenville, SC, newspaper. Courtesy newspapers.com

April 1988 article from a Cincinnati, OH, newspaper. Courtesy newspapers.com

The first article above, printed in early April 1987, shares details of Welcome's arrival a couple of weeks prior in Greenville, SC. Below that, the second article, from April 1988, has a bit more detail on Kroger's warehouse store operations, sharing that the chain had actually been experimenting with the format for over a decade, beginning with a handful of Barney's Food & Drug Warehouse stores in its native state of Ohio, as well as Bi-Lo stores in the same area (not to be confused with the BI-LO chain of the Carolinas). Those stores closed in 1985, but now, three years later, "Kroger is trying its hand at warehousing again," The Cincinnati Enquirer reported. "It introduced the Welcome concept in Greenville, SC, just 13 months ago with a 92,000-square-foot store. Three months later, in June of last year [1987], it bought four former Pak-N-Save stores from Safeway Stores Inc. and began opening those. Those stores, three of which are in Jacksonville, Fla., and one of which is in Mobile, Ala., range in size from 80,000 to 90,000 square feet."

While the name is a bit of a fuzzy matter -- the newspaper called them Pak-N-Save, while he called them Save and Pack -- Albertsons Florida Blog previously covered this chain of warehouse stores, Safeway's first foray into Florida long before their short-lived 2016 conversion of the state's final three Albertsons stores, in this post. And indeed, the aforementioned locations' brief stints as Kroger "Welcome" stores were duly noted in AFB's table. (This, of course, would be the Florida connection allowing me to share this story with you on this blog today!)

Site plan for Regency Park in Jacksonville, FL. Note the large store on the left is marked as "Kroger Welcome Store." (Also, that looks a lot like the Facebook logo at the bottom left!) Courtesy AFB

The April 1988 Enquirer article continued, "Next month, Kroger will open its sixth Welcome, this one in Richmond, VA. A seventh store, also in Richmond, will follow early next year." The pop-out article goes on to share better details of what the stores themselves were like: "Floors are tiled, not cement. Most merchandise is stocked on regular grocery shelving instead of warehouse-style racking. Lights are bright, signs are dominant, aisles are wide. And the stores include all of the specialty departments that Kroger has made regulars in its combination food and drug stores.

"The stores even include Pineapple Parks -- named for the pineapple logo in the Welcome logo -- where shoppers can sit on benches, drink free coffee, and wait for prescriptions or photos. And what of the pineapple? [A Kroger spokesperson] says the fruit, once considered an exotic delicacy, is an early American symbol of hospitality -- welcome."


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Later in 1988, Kroger successfully warded off multiple buyout proposals from both the Haft family and KKR, hostile takeover attempts which would have involved taking the company private. But it became clear to Kroger that another major restructuring effort would be needed if it was to get its affairs in order. Thus, just two years after it began soliciting buyers for its SupeRx business, Kroger again put one of its divisions up for sale. This is where the tale of Florida Choice comes back into the picture. Referring back to the July 1988 Orlando Sentinel article mentioned at the top of this post:

All 43 Florida Choice supermarkets in the state have been put up for sale, the chain's parent said Wednesday, because it cannot afford to invest the money needed to compete in the rapidly growing market. 
Florida Choice, with 5,000 employees in the state, will continue to operate all its stores until they are sold, [Kroger Co.] said. In addition to the supermarkets, the company will sell 39 liquor stores and three supermarkets now under construction. 
[Two of those] -- one in the Wekiva section of south Seminole County and one in Melbourne -- will open soon as Florida Choice outlets and operate until they are sold, [VP for Florida operations Bill] Parker said. He said the fate of a store under construction in Rockledge has not been decided. 
"Our Florida Choice operations have been unprofitable for some time, and our own projections indicate that too much time and additional investment would be required to make them profitable," Kroger president Joseph Pichler said in a statement.

Interestingly, the article ends with this key bit of information: "The decision does not affect three Kroger-owned warehouse stores, known as Welcome Stores, in Jacksonville." So, technically speaking, Welcome outlasted Florida Choice. But not for long.

I suspect that, like several other Kroger ventures in 1988, Welcome was prematurely killed as a result of the restructuring efforts and Kroger's response to the takeover attempts. For example, in April 1988, BI-LO (the Carolinas one, the one not operated by Kroger) announced it was exiting the Charlotte, NC, market, and sold its stores to Kroger. Kroger converted and operated the stores... until a mere six months later, October 1988, when Kroger announced it, too, would be exiting the Charlotte market -- and selling those stores straight back to BI-LO. (BI-LO, by the way, summarily closed most of those locations, as I understand it.)

The two newspaper article screenshots below go into a little more detail concerning the sale. In addition to Charlotte, Kroger exited the Charleston, SC, market; those stores were also included in the sale to BI-LO, as was the Greenville, SC, Welcome store, making for a total of 21 locations sold. "Other holdings Kroger has put up for sale include four Kroger stores in Fayetteville and Southern Pines, NC; five other Welcome stores in Virginia, Alabama, and Florida; 26 Fry's supermarkets in California; and 16 Price Savers Wholesale Warehouse units [in the Cincinnati area].

"Kroger spokesman Paul Bernish said the sale of the 21 stores was not a particular priority for the chain, nor was it necessary to meet a $40 per share dividend the company is scheduled to pay its shareholders Friday. 'We will be paying that from bank borrowings,' Bernish said. 'The proceeds, as we get them from the sale of these assets, will be used to helped [sic] draw down the debt.'"

In other words, the fate of the six Welcome stores seems to have been sealed mostly because they were simply expendable.

October 1988 article from a Greenville, SC, newspaper. Courtesy newspapers.com

December 1988 article from a Greenville, SC, newspaper. Courtesy newspapers.com

The second of the two articles above, from December 1988, mentions that the Greenville Welcome store would close permanently on Saturday night, the 31st, the very last day of the year. BI-LO optimistically wanted to open a new store in at least a portion of the 92,000 square foot space, but wound up never doing so. (Likewise, that proposed second Richmond Welcome store? Never built or opened.) This article also confirms that the Welcome stores "were part of a package of stores Kroger put up for sale as part of a $4.6 billion restructuring plan it began in September to fend off two takeover attempts," and states that "Kroger has since sold two other Welcome stores in Jacksonville, Fla.," leaving the remaining two Welcome stores -- one in Jacksonville, and the other in Mobile, AL -- still available for purchase headed into 1989.

(The Richmond, VA, Welcome store reportedly closed in September 1988, according to a topic on Groceteria. Also of note from that forum, people who remember Welcome share that "The connection with Kroger was played down -- some Kroger merchandise, but the idea was that you weren't supposed to notice any Kroger connection (though the connection was well publicized in the newspaper)." Additionally, all six stores "seemed to be in markets on the periphery of established Kroger markets," but never in markets where Kroger operated one of their namesake stores.)

The Wikipedia article for Mobile Festival Centre, the shopping center in which the Mobile, AL, Welcome store was located, suggests that that store closed in the mid-1990s, which is possible... but I think it's much more likely that the chain was gone entirely by some point in early 1989. As I said, AFB has previously shared the fates of the four Welcome locations that started their lives as Safeway-owned Save and Pack stores, but for the sake of completeness I've compiled the addresses and current statuses of all six Welcome stores in the table below.


Store AddressCity, StateLongevityBuilding HistoryCurrent Status
20 Haywood RdGreenville, SCMarch 1987 -- December 1988built as Welcomesubdivided between Burlington and Surplus Warehouse
9400 Atlantic BlvdJacksonville, FLJune 1987 -- December 1988*purchased from Safewaysubdivided between Celebration Church (former Hobby Lobby) and a vacant space (which was most recently home to Books-A-Million). The entire building was home to a Publix for a short period after Welcome closed.
8102 Blanding BlvdJacksonville, FLJune 1987 -- December 1988*purchased from Safewayoperating as Floor and D├ęcor
5201 Norwood AveJacksonville, FLJune 1987 -- December 1988*purchased from Safewayoperating as Norwood Flea Market
3725 Airport BlvdMobile, ALJune 1987 -- ?? (likely sometime in 1989)purchased from Safewayoperating as Academy Sports
10400 Midlothian TurnpikeRichmond, VAJune 1988 -- September 1988built as Welcomeoperating as Burlington
SW corner of Pemberton Rd and W Broad StRichmond, VAN/A -- land was purchased, but a store was never constructedN/A (never opened)opened 1989 as Ukrop's; later became Martin's; currently being rebuilt as Publix
* -- one of the Jacksonville stores closed later than the others, but it's not clear which

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Exterior of the Greenville, SC, Welcome store, pictured shortly before its closure in December 1988. Courtesy newspapers.com via The Dead Mall Files

I'll conclude this post with the above black-and-white image of the Greenville, SC, Welcome store, a close-up of the same photo shared in one of the newspaper excerpts earlier. So now we know that Kroger had at least one more venture in Florida besides its SupeRx/Florida Choice chain, although in the end, the Welcome experiment was no less short-lived. In modern times, Kroger has once again executed -- in a roundabout way -- yet another entrance and retreat from Florida, given their involvement with the expansion and demise of the Lucky's Market chain.

Now, it sounds like they're plotting something else, based on the news that Kroger will soon be constructing one of its new, large e-commerce fulfillment centers, a joint venture with Ocado, in Groveland, FL. Will this warehouse lead to a future store expansion attempt? Or, perhaps, could Kroger instead sneak into Florida via its current, growing store-within-a-store partnership with Walgreens? All good questions for which the answers remain to be seen... but the most important thing Kroger should monitor is whether, in the eyes of Florida residents, they will be welcome.

That's all for now. If you have any questions, comments, or -- best of all -- information or photos of Welcome to share, please drop us a line below and/or email me at midsouthretailblog [at] gmail [dot] com. Until next time, then, and as always... have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!

Retail Retell

16 comments:

  1. "...and Winn-Dixie is also a chain that exists..."

    Perhaps that should be Winn-Dixie's new slogan! "Winn-Dixie...we're also a chain that exists!" Lol.

    It's interesting to read those old newspaper articles about Welcome, and also that one from the early 1990s about Builders Square II that we were recently talking about on the Mid-South Retail blog, and see that tiled floors were considered an upscale touch over concrete floors. It's also interesting to see warehouse stores being compared to airplane hangars in seemingly a derisive fashion. By the 2010s, it seems the 'hangars' with concrete floors were considered luxurious and white tile floors were the sign of something that is outdated or a discount-type store. That's not my take on things though. I still like grocers with drop ceilings (preferably ones that are pretty high) and vinyl tile floors. Maybe I just like antiques though, I don't know.

    The pineapple logo kind of reminds me of the Lowe's Market (a grocer mostly in west/south Texas and New Mexico) logo with fruit on it or the No Frills line of grocery stores from Loblaw's in Canada with the bananas in their logo. Loblaw's also had some big supermarkets/supercenter type stores called The Real Superstore in Louisiana and maybe some other places. They also had their name painted on the front of the store in big letters kind of like the Welcome. I wonder if there was some copying going on between those chains. Loblaw still has the Real Canadian Superstore format in Canada, but I'm not sure if it's almost the same as those old US The Real Superstore locations because I never went to one. Perhaps je over at the Louisiana & Texas Retail blog would know. Here is a brief blogpost about The Real Superstore: http://triptothemall.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-un-real-superstore.html

    I know we also discussed the Kroger Family Centers recently. I wonder if Kroger used their experience with those when designing the Welcome stores. The product mix was probably different, but perhaps some ideas about filling a large space were copied. I'm not sure. I also just found a blog post Pseudo3D made about the Kroger Family Center in the Bryan/College Station area not too far outside of the Houston area. You might find that to be an interesting read. A Kroger store with a second floor for clothing! Link: http://csroadsandretail.blogspot.com/2012/12/kroger-all-in-family-center.html

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    Replies
    1. Haha, I'm glad someone caught that! XD

      Yes, it's very interesting to see how perspectives have done a total 180 degree shift on "hangar" type stores and tile floors. American Fare also utilized tile in its Jackson store, claiming that the concrete of the first two locations wasn't being received as well. Wild how that has worked out. I'm with you, I like high drop ceilings (not low ones, though), and tile floors. But I'm not opposed to open ceilings and concrete floors; I just prefer when work is put into them, such as when the concrete is stained rather than left just a lifeless shade of gray. Similarly, for really old stores that get rid of their tile and expose the (often ugly) concrete underneath: I would much prefer if the tile were simply kept intact! That concrete was never meant to be exposed, and as such has lots of scars and other unsightly blemishes...

      Interesting comparisons -- I'd heard of Loblaws and No Frills, but not Lowe's Market (although I am familiar with Lowe's Foods of the Carolinas), and never seen either chain's logo. There could have been copying going on; who knows for certain, though.

      Kroger may have used their Family Center experience in formatting Welcome. I'm sure their Barney's and Bi-Lo experiments played roles too, as well as the Price Savers one mentioned later as being part of the sale package. The truth is Kroger had so many different banners and concepts over the years that it seems impossible to ever have a complete list of them! Their locations in different regions only complicates things further.

      Those posts sound interesting; I'll go check them both out here in a moment. Thanks for sharing! Also, just a heads-up, if I take a while to reply here in the future it's because I don't get comment alerts from this blog, as I don't have any administrator privileges.

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    2. Yes, I completely agree with you about the flooring and ceilings. My best guess is that consumers grew to accept it since it was common in places like Sam's Club and Home Depot. At places like that, the hangar style design works okay. Even if consumers still weren't too hot about the hangar style, the retailers probably tried to force it on consumers anyway. Concrete floors are probably less maintenance and probably don't need to be replaced ever. Cost probably won out over good taste, unfortunately.

      Open ceilings bother me less than concrete floors. I also agree that some stores are using what I call decorator concrete at some locations, or at least stained concrete, which looks a little better than plain concrete. Some retailers (Kmart comes to mind) are pretty bad about not replacing leak soaked ceiling tiles and those stained ceiling tiles probably look worse than an open ceiling. Still, a good, high drop ceiling adds a lot of brightness to the store without feeling constraining.

      I cannot believe that some retailers have dropped their standards so far to allow for those tile scarred, patchy concrete floors in older locations where the concrete slab was, as you say, never meant to be exposed to the public. We have an older Kroger Greenhouse store that had the tile ripped out and it simply looked terrible. The worst I've seen is at the local HEB which is in an old Randall's. The Randall's had very nice flooring with vinyl tiles and proper tiles as well. When HEB opened up a few years ago, all of that was ripped out. It left behind tile scar, big cracks in the concrete, and huge, ugly patchy areas. It's horrible! It looks like a city street that a city forgot to maintain! There could even be some potholes! Here are some pictures of this eyesore HEB:

      https://goo.gl/maps/UhUJFe2rF9PmvYTM9
      https://goo.gl/maps/mtHDo5KGW2g8YMFT7
      https://goo.gl/maps/wSqUHZ7AgXhBDPkP7
      https://goo.gl/maps/yWQxsUaEQZw6dYau8
      https://goo.gl/maps/2jW2A1FfLxrgTEbWA
      https://goo.gl/maps/Mj9gNiXDCcyiRBdT8
      https://goo.gl/maps/3wj4LpfzzkfYiwhA8
      https://goo.gl/maps/5qsm2mraN883DuqBA
      https://goo.gl/maps/EhU8CTrbgLvfkMZX6
      https://goo.gl/maps/RjYVBMR55kg5jxQm7
      https://goo.gl/maps/UKxnwfWVHgEq6MZp7

      I could share even more horrible photos of the floor at this HEB, but you get the idea. It's terrible!

      Lowe's Market in Texas/New Mexico is a totally separate chain from Lowe's Foods in the Carolinas. There are so many different regional grocery chains with similar names that it is very confusing. Perhaps the most confusing is in East Texas where they have two completely different chains, Brookshire's (Brookshire Grocery Company) and Brookshire Brothers. The Brookshires who started Brookshire's were originally part of Brookshire Brothers, but they then broke off and started their own chain. According to Brookshire's Wikipedia page, they had a handful of locations in Mississippi in old Albertsons locations in the early 2000s, but these were sold off in early 2010 due to intense competition from Walmart and Kroger. Maybe you or AFB have heard of these stores.

      On the topic of odd flooring, I looked up some Lowe's Market locations on Google and some have black flooring which might be carpet, but I'm not quite sure. While wall-to-wall carpeting in grocery stores is not unheard of, it is still rather unusual.

      Here is a Lowe's Signature Market in Alamogordo, NM. This upscale Lowe's Market does not use the traditional Lowe's Market logo with the fruit, but it has the flooring which might be carpet: https://g.page/lowesignaturemarket?share

      Here's a regular Lowe's Market with the traditional logo in Odessa, TX: https://goo.gl/maps/4R82cGHss944Mo1A8

      Here's a Lowe's Market Fiesta Foods concept in Las Cruces, NM. There's some very interesting interior decor here which I very much like. It also has the carpet or carpet-like floor. https://goo.gl/maps/omHHzwtYdPZLs4X38

      I hope the MFR readers have enjoyed this tour of floors and more, lol.

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    3. You're exactly right -- from what I've heard, concrete involves much less maintenance than tile, and also shouldn't need replacing. So that's exactly why stores use that these days, even those older locations that remove their tile in favor of the ugly concrete underneath. Between an ugly floor and the drawbacks of tile, the former is the lesser of two evils!

      When I speak of stores that have removed their tile in favor of the concrete beneath, Kroger greenhouses I've been to that have done this are the worst offenders that come immediately to my mind. That HEB looks pretty bad as well.

      That Brookshire's/Brookshire Brothers situation definitely does sound confusing! And yep, AFB and I have both heard of Brookshire's and are familiar with their role in the Albertsons saga in Mississippi. I have a post on my blog (as well as an album on flickr) investigating the ten Mississippi Albertsons stores. All are still standing, and most are operational.

      Carpeting in grocery stores certainly is unusual. Besides those Lowe's Market stores you've linked to, about the only other example I can think of is the last Gooding's store, which AFB has a post on.

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    4. Interestingly enough, the only two Houston area HEBs I know of which don't have concrete floors are both located in former Albertsons. AFB could probably do a dissertation on those HEB-Albertsons locations, but I don't think HEB kept very much of the old Albertsons except for some exterior details like the cart area to the side of the entrance/exit doors.

      HEB Pantry Foods was a concept almost the complete opposite of these grocery warehouse stores. When HEB came to Houston in around 1992-3, they opened several HEB Pantry Foods stores. These were very small stores with limited services. These stores had very little to offer except for HEB's trademark low prices and respected store brand products. That was enough to make them a hit with the public. Some years later, they started opening normal format HEB stores here and they have been very successful as well obviously. Perhaps Kroger gave Floridians just too much with Welcome. Perhaps HEB's strategy of making the customers want more was the better idea. It's hard to say. Most Pantry Foods stores have closed and been replaced with normal HEBs, but a few were rebadged as just HEBs while maintaining the small size in outer areas in the metro area with smaller populations and in urban areas where HEB has not yet been able to build a bigger store.

      I wonder if concrete floors help communicate a hidden message about low prices. Perhaps when a customer sees concrete floors, they think (subconsciously I suppose) that the retailer is trying their hardest to keep prices low. Since the concrete floors need less maintenance and replacement, perhaps it's not just a false illusion. Still, there's has to be some benefit to having a nice looking store as well.

      When the aforementioned local Greenhouse Kroger had it's tiles removed a few years ago in favor of a concrete floor, the first thing I noticed when entering the store is that there is a giant crack in the concrete right where the entrance is. I couldn't believe that Kroger would be okay with that being the first thing a customer sees, but I guess they must be okay with it because they have not done anything about it. Also, they did at least stain the concrete, but that didn't hide the cracks and tile scar. It also made the floor extremely slick in the first few months. Since then, perhaps the stain or the wax they put on top of it has worn off a bit and it's not so bad.

      Yes, I remember AFB's post about the Gooding's store now. There was some buzz about it just recently.

      After I made the above reply about the Lowe's Markets, I took a closer look at all of the many photos of the Alamogardo, NM Lowe's Signature Market. I must say, that might be the finest modern supermarket I've seen (seen online at least). What a wonderful looking store! The colors are nice, the signage is nice (check out the checkout number lamps!), and that Wine/Spirits department looks wonderful. The store also seems to have a very nice pub attached with several upscale beers on tap. Some people may not like the black carpet, but I like it. I also wonder if the carpet helps reduce noise in the store. I think it would. Of course, if the store isn't busy, the reduced noise might give the store a tomb-like sound, but I have a hard time believing that nice store wouldn't be busy. The pub if nothing else looks busy in the photos of it and it looks like a lot of young people hang out there. That's impressive given that Alamogordo isn't really a university town.

      The White Sands Mall in Alamogardo looks like a 1970s/1980s time capsule. It looks like yellow is the main color the mall uses, but it's probably used more as an earthtone here instead of trying to attract Hispanic shoppers. That color scheme/decor probably hasn't changed since the mall opened. Link: https://goo.gl/maps/eXW5KeQ81gdU1gU66

      Here's a nice Flickr photo which sums up the mall: https://flic.kr/p/8EW68M

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    5. That's an interesting theory concerning giving too much vs. too little. I agree that it's hard to say, but in regards to HEB Pantry Foods, Kroger has a similar concept called Ruler Foods. I think it's basically their discount grocery arm, with no service departments at all. I don't know if there are any of these in Texas. There are none in the Mid-South that I know of.

      You might be right about the concrete perception as well. Like I said earlier, concrete can look really great if done properly. So those stores get both the nice look and the cheap maintenance. Unfortunately, others only get the latter.

      I'll take slick over dull any day. The Stateline Road greenhouse Kroger in Southaven -- most famous on flickr for its Bauhaus decor package, which survived until 2014 -- has just remodeled again, and finally (sadly) removed its tile floor in favor of the concrete beneath. It doesn't look horrible in regards to scars or anything, but they did keep it just flat and dull for weeks on end. You don't think about how bad that is until you actually encounter it! It gave me a new respect even for the ugly floors. It reminded me of a construction site. I think it's finally been shined since then.

      That pub sounds like an interesting concept to have attached to a grocery store. Glad to hear it's busy. I wonder how many stores have something like that. Noise-wise, I would think the carpet does indeed stifle sound. Carpet isn't unheard of in retailers, as places like CVS and Books-a-Million typically utilize it, but it does seem unusual for both a grocery store and just such a large space in general.

      Yeah, that mall definitely looks like a trip back in time! I like it. The old Bealls logo is cool, too.

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    6. I have heard of Kroger's ownership of Ruler Foods, but I really don't know much about the concept. It appears that we do not have that concept here in Texas. Does Kroger promote Ruler Foods stores as being Kroger stores? I think that's what made HEB Pantry Foods work. HEB didn't hide that they were behind the Pantry Foods concept and I think that gave them great brand recognition. A lot of people here would have known about HEB from friends, family, and trips to San Antonio, Austin, and places like that. HEB Pantry Foods gave Houstonians a little taste of HEB locally and it turns out that Houstonians wanted more.

      Aside from the fact that HEB Pantry Foods stores were small and had limited services, they didn't really operate like a discount grocery store the way HEB's Joe V Smart Shop discount concept operates now. If I remember correctly, they still had dedicated sackers and employees who would take groceries out to customer's cars (back when that was a thing). They weren't putting merchandise out on the sales floor in boxes or anything like that. It was kind of like a smaller, slightly stripped-down version of a regular HEB.

      One neat thing HEB Pantry Foods did when they first opened was to take the plastic employee name badges they wore at the time (which were quite big back then), put fridge magnets on them, and wrote the phone number of the store in the blank space where the employees otherwise would have written their names. Almost 30 years later, I still have that on my fridge even though HEB Pantry Foods is long gone. It's an eye-catching magnet, that's for sure. That was great subtle marketing by HEB at the time.

      Ah, yes, I remember that famous Bauhaus Kroger in Southaven. I believe it was you, l_dawg2000, and Bradley Memphis who provided nearly daily updates about that place before the renovations. I was shocked that a Bauhaus store like that still existed and was checking in with the updates as quickly as you guys were posting them to Flickr. Sadly, the Bauhaus was gone one day just as expected.

      I must say that I just made a very, very shocking discovery! I figure this is the best place for it because this post combines your Kroger expertise and AFB's Albertsons expertise. It's not a secret that we have some Food Towns in Houston in former Albertsons and that Food Town has done a great job preserving Albertsons' decor. I discovered a new Albertsons-turned-Food Town in the Pearland suburb of Houston. I think Food Town did an even better job than they normally do at this location of preserving Albertsons' decor (AFB refers to this as the Blue & Green Awnings decor). As awesome as that is, check out the Bakery. Is that Kroger 2012 decor?! It has to be, right? How did that get there? I think even the "Fresh Baked Bolillos" display in front of the bakery is a Kroger recycle.

      I'm shocked about this. Food Towns don't normally have bakeries, but some locations do have a third party bakery operating within the store and that appears to be the case here. I wonder if it was Food Town or the bakery who secured the Kroger signage. Anyway, this store is a total gem and I'm sure you'll enjoy it. You may need to inform AFB about this if he doesn't see it because I'm sure he'll love it too. It's the marriage of Kroger and Albertsons in a store that is neither! Link: https://goo.gl/maps/b1VQL8Tmp4gJcMcp6

      I also found this Houston Albertsons which turned into an Indo-Pak supermarket. The Blue & Gray Market design is anything but Blue & Gray here! Also, if you look in a couple of photos, it looks like this store may have a few Albertsons carts as well. I'm not sure if AFB will like this conversion or if the colors will give him a headache, lol. Link: https://g.page/worldfoodhouston?share

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    7. I think they now say "Ruler Foods by Kroger," but they didn't used to. Kinda like Welcome, I guess.

      That fridge magnet sounds cool! And effective as a promotional tool, to boot.

      Unfortunately, I wasn't part of that crowd; I only got five lone photos of the place before that decor was wiped away. You're likely thinking of kingskip1 in addition to l_dawg and Brad. They did a great job documenting that place. In fact, its sudden remodel is what finally spurred me to join flickr at the end of December 2014.

      Wow, that is pretty cool! Yep, definitely a Kroger bakery sign. I bet you're right that the bakery is independent and that's why its signage is different; they must have had to source it themselves. That fits in perfectly with the theme of AFB's blog post from Sunday, on the Perrine's with the decor elements from so many former Florida grocery stores. I've seen several other similar examples on Google Maps, ranging from a Fred's franchisee (now operating under a different name) whose store has an entire selection of signage from a Project Impact-era Walmart, to an independent grocer in a former Walmart Neighborhood Market that reuses that chain's checkouts and built brand-new decor... that clearly was inspired by Kroger's bountiful package. It's always fun to see that sort of thing in the wild.

      That other former Albertsons looks cool, too. Definitely more colorful than just blue and gray, haha!

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  2. Great post, and I really like the "Lost Histories of Floridian Retail" logo (and the Winn-Dixie "slogan")!

    I guess you could call these warehouse stores the "hypermarkets of the grocery industry", where grocery stores were trying to create a new larger format for themselves, like the discounters were doing with the hypermarkets at the time. And like the hypermarkets, the grocery warehouses were mostly a flop too. It's crazy to see how the longest-lived Welcome store came short of its 2 year anniversary, and the Richmond store only lasted 3 months! It's amazing The Dead Mall Files was able to find those few color photos of Welcome, considering how it came and went so fast. Now if only photos of Florida Choice would show up - if there are photos of Welcome out there, Florida Choice photos have to exist somewhere!

    The Save and Pack info from the table hasn't changed much, but I went in and updated the current status of the 9400 Atlantic Blvd. store (whose current tenants changed since I published the original table in 2015).

    It seems like no matter what Kroger does, they just can't figure out Florida, yet still really want to figure out how. I feel Lucky's was Kroger's best shot at making something out of Florida, but then that plan took the sudden downward spiral. I don't think Kroger will do well in Florida with that new warehouse (if it is to operate solely for online fulfillment). The fact that Kroger is a mostly unknown brand here, lacks any physical stores, and has the misfortune of being tangled up in the Lucky's mess are really going against them. Even though grocery delivery has spiked in popularity due to the pandemic, it's still a very minimal component of the overall grocery market (and of that slice of the market, the majority of grocery delivery is tied to programs offered by stores that operate locally, or Amazon). Whatever comes of that warehouse, I don't think it will meet the popularity Kroger got with Lucky's, and certainly won't do anything to frighten Publix! However, if that warehouse were to spawn physical Kroger stores, or even act as a way to expand the Walgreens partnership to Florida (the more likely case if anything), then Kroger may be onto something. I actually like the Kroger/Walgreens partnership idea. Walgreens has nearly 800 stores in Florida, one of their highest store concentrations of any state, so Kroger has plenty of opportunity there. The grocery space in the Walgreens stores wouldn't be big, but it would be something to get Kroger's name out there, and potentially boost sales out of the new warehouse.

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    1. The whole online grocery delivery thing is quite a strange thing. I know Kroger is heavily invested in that being the future and maybe they feel they need to be a national player in that to compete with Amazon. Maybe they feel Florida is a market that will be very open to online grocery shopping with the driverless delivery vans and maybe they feel Publix cannot compete with them in that manner. It still may be difficult for Kroger to market their online service when shoppers aren't used to their supermarkets as you say.

      I kind of wonder what the future of grocery stores are if online or even curbside pickup take up any decent percentage of sales. Will grocers turn supermarkets into a hybrid traditional supermarket and online warehouse/fulfillment center or will we see separate facilities for online sales and for traditional 'walk-in' customers?

      I don't know how well Kroger stores here in Houston are doing with online orders during the virus situation because I have not noticed anything in the stores that would indicate that a lot of people are shopping Kroger online, but supposedly online/curbside pickup orders are quite popular at HEB. I was at a HEB store a few weeks ago and I saw many employees pushing around large trolleys that they were using to gather items people had ordered online. The employees were in a rush to fill those it seemed and were even ignoring social distancing to grab items off the shelf/bins while traditional customers were using the same shelves/bins. It was almost like trying to shop traditionally at an Amazon warehouse or something. It was a strange experience and probably not one I'd like to experience again especially if online shopping becomes more popular and there are even more rushed employees pushing around those large trolleys of online orders. Plus, you figure grocers may not spend as much on store decor and such if the store is partially being used as a warehouse. Of course, so many grocery stores today look like a warehouse that perhaps the warehouse grocery store concept never really died completely, but rather it was pushed/integrated slowly into regular grocery stores.

      Of course, if online grocery shopping really takes off, you'd figure that the grocers would want a more automated warehouse/fulfillment center like Amazon uses so they do not have to employ as many people.

      So, yeah, we'll see what happens. I just hope grocers take the in-store experience for traditional shoppers seriously in the future.

      On another note, I'm pretty sure I wrote a reply a few days ago to Retail Retell's above reply on June 19th. Maybe I didn't and I just imagined it? Maybe I wrote it and forgot to hit the 'Publish' button? Lol, I don't know what I did. AFB, if you don't mind, can you check to see if it went to a Spam folder because I did have a lot of URLs in that reply? Perhaps that caused it to get flagged, I don't know. It's no biggie if you can't find it because I'm not even sure if I actually sent the reply. Thanks.

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    2. @AFB:

      Thank you (x3)! All of the MFR authors can feel free to use that "Lost Histories" graphic, if you wish :)

      Yep, "hypermarkets of the grocery industry" seems like a great way to term this and other similar concepts! Amazing how similar the superwarehouses and the hypermarkets were, as well as how both were largely flops (even if supercenters grew out of hypermarkets, and Kroger these days has regular stores that are larger than even these Welcome buildings!). I agree, it's always crazy to see how short-lived some concepts can be, with certain locations having even shorter lifespans. I know there's a record shortest time open out there, but the Richmond Welcome can't be too far off from that title...

      Anyway, I'm very happy The Dead Mall Files turned up these photos as well, and 100 percent agree concerning Florida Choice photos -- they've gotta be out there somewhere; now if only they could appear in your inbox!! Thanks for checking on and editing the current status of the 9400 Atlantic store, too.

      Yeah, it's definitely strange how Kroger keeps trying and failing in Florida. It seems most chains learn their lesson and give up, but Kroger seems quite determined! That said, it's gotta be tricky for sure for them to figure out how to enter Florida, because I'm sure even if SEG went out of business entirely, Kroger wouldn't pick up the Winn-Dixie stores as a way to enter the state -- I think those would just require too much work to convert and bring up to Kroger standards, in most cases. So they have to come up with some other tactic instead, and so far, nothing seems to lead to a clear path for building new stores and finding immediate success. The grocery delivery thing could be an innovative, kinda out-of-the-box way for them to gain traction in the market, but like you said, they've got a lot going against them, especially the whole Lucky's debacle most recently. The Walgreens thing might indeed be the best way for them to sneak in through the back door, as it were, and actually physically sell groceries in Florida. That Walgreens has 800 stores in Florida certainly does seem to enhance that theory! As always though, I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens...

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      @Anonymous:

      That HEB experience you describe is basically what shopping is like regularly around here, ever since Kroger debuted ClickList (now Kroger Pickup) and Walmart debuted their own online grocery pickup program. Of course, it's even worse during the pandemic currently, but even normally the employees fulfilling those orders don't seem to pay any attention to where they park their giant, bulky baskets or whether they're blocking customers who are actually in the building. If this is indeed to be the future of retail, I wish they would at least widen the aisles to better accommodate those things! (And in fact, a lot of the extra square footage in more modern Krogers does indeed seem to be dedicated simply to wider aisles...)

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  3. Those Welcome stores were very colorful. A&P had a future store concept and so did Schweggmanns that both remind me a little about this welcome store.

    I was really young when these concepts came out so I didn't see any major differences that have stuck with me.

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    1. I agree, the color images of the Greenville location show a great deal of variety from the normal color palette seen in grocery stores these days. It also has a bit of an 80s vibe to it, which of course fits with the time period.

      That's cool to hear of the similar concepts carried out by other grocers. I wasn't around at all during that era, so I don't have much to add myself!

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  4. The site plan of Regency Park has Kroger Welcome, a Service Merchandise, a Phar-Mor (which I heard of), but do you know what Branden's is?

    Is the whole Celebration Church the shopping center?

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    1. I hadn't heard of it before (or even really noticed it in that site plan), but per this article, it sounds like Branden's was a very short-lived, failed Dayton Hudson division: https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-xpm-1989-02-03-8901060924-story.html Pretty cool, thanks for asking that question!

      Per AFB's edit to my table it sounds like Celebration Church is only in the former Hobby Lobby space, but I honestly wouldn't know, myself.

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  5. The Mobile, Alabama location of "Welcome" lasted until 1995. Kroger ended up holding on to the store until 1994, when it sold it and most of their Mississippi Gulf Coast locations to the Mobile-based Delchamps. Delchamps ran it for a mere 8 months before pulling the plug when the lease was up.
    https://infoweb.newsbank.com/apps/news/openurl?ctx_ver=z39.88-2004&rft_id=info%3Asid/infoweb.newsbank.com&svc_dat=WORLDNEWS&req_dat=10877394EBD5665D&rft_val_format=info%3Aofi/fmt%3Akev%3Amtx%3Actx&rft_dat=document_id%3Anews%252F0FB3329A1F8BEE0B

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