Zayre #624 / Ames #2624 / Big Lots #509
308 State Route 312, St. Augustine, FL - Riverside Center
Continuing the theme from last weekend on AFB, our St. "August"-ine series continues only a few steps away from the store that was the subject my last AFB post. I touched on today's store briefly in that post about the former St. Augustine Albertsons, but we'll spend today looking at the plaza's former Zayre in much more detail. For the most part, of the 80 or so locations Zayre had in Florida prior to the chain's sale to Ames in 1988, the vast majority of these buildings have either been demolished or remodeled beyond recognition. There are a handful of buildings still floating around the state that are quite recognizable as a former Zayre (like this one), but beyond some exterior details, that's usually the extent of what you'll find from the remains of Zayre in Florida. At least, so I thought. I was pleasantly surprised when I decided to check out this former Zayre in more detail, having a little extra time after documenting the next-door Albertsons, getting just a little more than I bargained for...
But before we get into the fun part of this post, let me recap the history of this particular store. Zayre opened this location in St. Augustine in 1987, only a year before the chain would be sold to rival Ames. With its 1987 opening date, this was not only one of the last new-build Zayre stores to open in Florida, but probably one of the last new Zayre stores to open anywhere in the country. While Zayre's Florida stores were fairly isolated from the rest of the chain (with Zayre's main operating area being the Northeast and Midwest, although Zayre did have some Southeastern US outposts in North Carolina and Atlanta), Florida became a very successful market for Zayre, and remained successful all the way until the chain's demise. Zayre entered Florida early on in the 1960's, and by the time of the chain's demise, the company operated 83 Florida locations in every corner of the state, from Key West all the way to Pensacola - nearly one quarter of Zayre's entire store base. Unlike many of the Northeastern chains that jumped down to Florida to die a bitter, painful death, Zayre was quite successful, blanketing Florida with stores and even a distribution center. After the Ames buyout in 1988, most of the remaining Zayre stores were to be converted to Ames. Ames was a newcomer to Florida after the sale, Ames' closest stores to Florida at the time of the Zayre purchase being located in Virginia. While Zayre had a solid Floridian presence, Ames wouldn't be able to make anything of it. Ames' purchase of Zayre was an act of zeal, with Ames wanting nothing more than to be one of the largest discount chains in the nation. Ames wasn't in the financial position to buy a chain as large as Zayre, and because of the amount of debt Ames assumed from the purchase, within a year, Ames was bankrupt. With the bankruptcy, Ames announced the closure of 221 stores in early 1990, including all of the newly acquired Zayre stores in Florida. Florida was a bit far-flung from Ames' core Northeastern store base, so geographically, it had to go in the bankruptcy. Since Ames was only in Florida for a little over a year, they never had the time to properly convert all of the Zayre stores they bought to the new nameplate (although according to Ames' early plans, they were going to keep the Zayre name alive in some markets). Even though some stores were converted to Ames, from the description in that linked article, the conversions were nothing more than a new sign on the front of the building (which makes sense considering Ames' financial position post-sale). While Ames would eventually survive their bankruptcy from the purchase of Zayre (emerging as a much smaller chain), Ames' zeal would eventually kill the chain in 2002, when a late 90's purchase of the troubled discounter Hills propelled Ames to become the nation's 4th largest discounter, a title Ames held until their Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing a few short years later.
After Ames left Florida in 1990, their former store in St. Augustine was split between Big Lots, Dockside Imports, and Bealls Outlet. Big Lots and Bealls Outlet still operate from the building today, although Dockside Imports has since been replaced by Harbor Freight Tools. Harbor Freight heavily remodeled their portion of the building upon moving in, and Bealls Outlet also conducted a major remodel of their store in recent years. So that leaves us with Big Lots, whose sliver of the old Zayre will be the subject of this post. While the building has received exterior upgrades in the years since Zayre left, the basic shape of the building is still the same, with Big Lots using Zayre's original entryway (unmodified in design too, that design recognizable in the image above).
Stepping into Zayre's original entryway, the doors into Big Lots are the ones furthest to the left, with an unused (presumably original to Zayre) set of doors to the right of that.
At the far end of the vestibule is this covered window, complete with another unused door. The space behind the covered window seen here is not a part of Big Lots - either part of Harbor Freight is behind that window, or behind there is an unused sliver of the building between Big Lots and Harbor Freight. I didn't go into Harbor Freight, so I can't confirm what the situation is here. Regardless, this window is probably original to Zayre.
Stepping into Big Lots, it's easy to tell you're entering a chopped up building. Big Lots has a very narrow entryway space, most of which is blocked by the service desk. You have to walk through a narrow passage on the side of the service desk to get into the store itself, leading us to this view down Big Lots' right side wall (the partition between it and Harbor Freight).
Stepping inside, I noticed Big Lots floors were rather old looking. Since Big Lots was never keen on ripping up and replacing the floors of buildings they took over many years ago (specifically in the chain's early days - this Big Lots opened in the early/mid-90's, and is one of the oldest Big Lots stores remaining in Florida), I had a hunch these floors may have been original to Zayre...
...and while I know absolutely nothing about what the interior of a Zayre looked like, when I turned and saw the orange striped actionway borders spanning Big Lots' portion of the building, that confirmed it for me - that's a Zayre relic! While I can't provide specifics on the layout of a Zayre or what exactly their decor looked like (although this commercial gives us a small glimpse of the inside of a Zayre in the late 80's), I do know they had an orange and brown color scheme in their stores, and that's exactly the color pattern of the floor here. Considering almost every former Zayre building in Florida has been remodeled beyond recognition or demolished in the 30+ years since the chain went defunct, I thought this floor pattern was a cool find.
Flooring aside, the above photo looks across the front of Big Lots space, from the front registers into the front left corner of the store. I never got a very good photo depicting awkward entrance setup into this store (although there is a photo toward the end of this post that will hopefully show it a little better), but immediately to my left was the narrow corridor that took shoppers around the service desk and into the store.
Going off the layouts of other discounters, I want to say Big Lots takes up the slice of building where Zayre would have had its clothing departments, but I have nothing to back that up besides my own guesstimating. The St. Augustine Big Lots still has a very strong 80's discount store vibe to it, although I think the old floors really help with that feeling.
Here's a look down the store's left side wall, home to Big Lots' assortment of hardlines departments (toys, hardware, seasonal, pets, electronics, etc.). Housewares were located on the other side of the store, with grocery/health and beauty aisles in the middle.
Some more Zayre striping making its appearance in this photo, under the display of patio furniture in the back left corner of the store. That striping marks the dead end of the back actionway in the corner.
More Zayre tile striping, this time in close-up form.
Leaving the patio furniture department, here's a look across the back of the store. The furniture department takes up a good amount of space in the back of the building, although the department seemed small and cramped compared to furniture departments at other Big Lots stores.
As if the original floors weren't enough for our 80's vibe, how about a giant round air diffuser on the ceiling to enhance the feel?!
From within the furniture department, here's a different perspective as we look across the back of the store (where yet another giant air diffuser decided to crash the photo!).
And for this photo, I managed to get the orange striping and a giant air diffuser in the same image. Now if only the couches in the photo looked more like this, we could have had a lot of 80's going on in here!
Stepping over one more aisle, here we can see Zayre's back actionway dead end at the partition wall, trying to lead shoppers to departments that no longer exist.
Here's one last photo from the furniture department, looking up the partition wall toward the front of the store.
As we work our way out, here's one final view of Zayre's old flooring from the grocery aisles. Up ahead that orange stripe turns to the left, and will take us out of here.
Heading out, here's my best photo showing the weird entrance into Big Lots. Immediately out of frame to my left is a wall, with the service desk to my right, followed by a register or two. This little aisle is the main path into the store, so if someone ever opens that register at the right side of my image, it becomes very easy for a line of people to block the main path for people to enter the store. When you inherit a space from someone else you sometimes have to work with what you have, but this was just odd (at least to me).
Before heading back outside, here's a look down the small corridor to the side of Big Lots' main entrance. As typical for these late-era Zayre stores, this corridor contained the bathrooms, and is a very recognizable design for identifying old Zayre stores. Those brown tiles on the wall by the bathroom doors are probably original to Zayre too, but I never actually stepped down the corridor to investigate any further for additional relics.
For a building that hasn't housed a Zayre in 30 years, it's quite amazing any of the relics we saw today even exist. Thankfully Big Lots wasn't as thorough with their renovations back in the mid-90's as they are today with their new stores. If Big Lots opened in this space today, they would have totally gutted and rebuilt the space!
To finish out tour, here's a parting shot of the former St. Augustine Zayre, as seen from the walkway of the attached shopping center. I didn't think I was going to find much of anything from Zayre when I first pulled into this place, but I like it when my low expectations are surpassed in the end!
Since we're in a Zayre state of mind, I feel this is a good time to dig into my bag collection to feature this nice piece of Zayre memorabilia I own. Found at an estate sale, this late 80's Zayre bag is one of my personal favorites, and a bag I was hoping to find for years. On the bag is Zayre's final logo, (which would have been where Big Lots' logo is now on the building), and the company's final tagline, "We'd like to make Zayre your store!" This bag fits in nicely with everything we saw today, and is a great note to end this post on!
While that's all I have for now, be sure to return to AFB next Sunday for the final installment of my St. "August"-ine series. Like this post, there are plenty of relics from the 80's at our next destination, so be sure to stop by to see those!
So until the next post,