6666 S. US Highway 1, Port St. Lucie, FL - St. Lucie Square
After way too long, I'm finally back to write another MFR post! While Cape Kennedy Retail has been keeping you folks entertained with some new posts recently, I was focusing my efforts over on AFB, so I haven't had much of a chance to work on anything over here. However, I finally had the opportunity to throw something together for you guys, so we're going to spend today looking at a funky former Publix store that's fascinated me for years...
Publix #308 opened on November 13, 1986, as part of a classic late 1980's/early 1990's Publix-anchored community center. I've always enjoyed the design of these centers, which would include Publix as an anchor (obviously, as Publix was the one who usually spearheaded the construction and design of these centers) and Walgreens as the drugstore junior anchor, with a sprawling expanse of smaller storefronts connecting the two. In some cases, additional junior anchors like Bealls Department Store or a sit-down restaurant chain would be included in these centers, but that didn't happen here. St. Lucie Square was of the more generic prototype, built on the quieter northern edge of Port St. Lucie along US 1. These shopping centers have rather distinctive architecture, including the use of ribbed concrete blocks, airy walkway canopy designs, and nice detailing along the front of the building. It's a classic 1980's Floridian shopping center design, and it uses a little more character compared to the blah plain stucco designs popular today.
Since this center was built in a quiet little pocket of Port St. Lucie near the edge of town, a bit separated from any other nearby retail, Publix decided it was time for a move come the new millennium. Port St. Lucie's population was booming in the early 2000's, and this store was not built in the best location to take advantage of that boom. Publix eventually found a site to their liking two miles to the south of here, situated at the much busier intersection of US 1 and Prima Vista Boulevard. Prima Vista Boulevard is one of Port St. Lucie's major east-west thoroughfares, and a vital link into the neighborhoods where the population growth was happening, whereas the area around St. Lucie Square was older, quieter, and stagnating. October 4, 2002 would be Publix #308's last day in business, as the new store down the road, Publix #855, would open the next morning on October 5, 2002.
After Publix left St. Lucie Square, the plaza began its downfall into attracting some of the lower-tier tenants of retail, which is where the place remains to this day. Following Publix's departure, their old store was subdivided into multiple spaces for smaller tenants, which originally included a dry cleaning facility, a tile store, offices for the local Realtor's association, and an "arcade" in the years immediately following Publix's departure. However, considering the type of tenants this plaza now attracts, the old Publix space has seen a lot of its new tenants come and go through the years. Currently, the space is divided between a church, two "arcades", and a large empty space that was last home to a Planet Fitness, which recently relocated to a new spot in the Winn-Dixie plaza a few miles up the road in Fort Pierce.
Even though it's been gone for almost 20 years now, I was actually in this Publix store a handful of times when it was open. From what I vaguely remember, it was just a usual 1980's layout store (similar to this inside), closing with the Wavy Pastel decor of the 1990's. Besides that, I can't speak for much more detail about the place when it was open. After Publix left, the space was subdivided pretty quick for the new tenants, however through all of those, the exterior of the building has never been altered since the Publix days. I don't even think the building's been painted since Publix left, actually. The fact the exterior was never touched through the years always intrigued my younger self, especially with how the building was chopped up. The landlord just made the Publix exterior design work for whoever wanted to open up shop in the place!
Stepping onto the front walkway near the left side of the old Publix space, we find yet another obvious Publix relic - the old entry door! I don't think anyone has passed through this door in almost 20 years, ever since Publix left. This door led into the left side of Publix entry vestibule, with an identical door on the opposite end of the vestibule. The blacked out door now leads into part of one of the two "arcades" that occupies the old Publix building. And does anyone else feel that hanging neon signs in an otherwise blacked-out window is a bit of a weird sight? I thought it was, although it just helps add to the otherwise weird ambience this plaza now has.
Turning the corner, here's a look across the front of the old vestibule. A door was carved out of the middle of the vestibule for the tile store that took over this space following Publix's departure, and that same door was reused by Planet Fitness during their time here.
Peeking inside the abandoned Planet Fitness, it was dark inside and hard to see anything, although I don't see anything obvious from Publix jumping out at me (which I figured, after all the crazy subdividing that had been done through the years here). This real estate listing has some better pictures of the interior of Planet Fitness, which shows there was a decent amount of remodeling done before they moved in.
At the other end of the building, here's a look toward Publix's old right side entrance, which was closed in with a window (unlike what we saw on the other side). The "arcade" to my right is also in part of the old Publix space, specifically the area where the dairy department, customer service desk, and first few grocery aisles were.
In case you were wondering why I keep putting quotes around the word "arcade", that's because these places aren't your traditional arcades where you go to play pinball and Pac-Man with your friends after school. "Arcade" is just a pseudonym used by business around here for what's essentially a mini-casino in disguise, these places operating slot machines and other forms of gambling in a gray area of the law. Most of these places were shut down in 2013 when a scandal was discovered that stemmed from a chain of these "arcades", which were being used as a front for a money laundering scheme. The exposure of that scheme caused the state to change its gambling laws to get rid of these places entirely, however in recent years, some new gambling law loopholes have been discovered that made these places pop back up again. These "arcades" love to open in some of the older, cheaper-rent, not-so-high-class shopping centers in these parts, which St. Lucie Square now fits the bill for (and is home to at least three of these places, including the two in the old Publix).
Making our way toward the plaza's former Walgreens store, here's a look back at the old Publix space.
These exterior photos you see as we move toward the old Walgreens were actually taken as I was leaving. When I was here, I actually walked along the front walkway from the old Publix to the old Walgreens, and it was one of the more depressing (and strange) walks I've had in any shopping center. All of the tenants between the old Publix and old Walgreens have blacked-out windows, high-tech security systems and surveillance, and systems in place where you had to be buzzed-in to enter. All that was juxtaposed by some nice shrubbery and some decorative wooden benches placed at even intervals where you could sit and relax, an odd compilation of what this plaza was like 20 years ago with what it's turned into today.
Turning our attention away from Publix for a moment, here's a look at the plaza's former Walgreens space. Opening around the same time as Publix in 1986, Walgreens left this location for a new freestanding store at the intersection of US 1 and Prima Vista Boulevard in 2001 - the same intersection upon which Publix would join them a year later. Following Walgreens departure, this space was home to a few no-name dollar stores and then a night club called The Mojo Room before Dollar Tree moved in during the early 2010's. With Planet Fitness moving up the road in 2020, Dollar Tree is the last chain tenant in St. Lucie Square.
The front of the space still feels much like a Walgreens, although The Mojo Room and Dollar Tree did make some modifications to the space following Walgreens' departure. The Mojo Room combined the main Walgreens space with the attached liquor store next door, and reconfigured the entryway because of that. When Dollar Tree came into the picture, they redid the interior make the space feel more like a store again, wiping away any noticeable traces that could have been left behind from Walgreens inside.
While we're here, we'll do a quick spin around Dollar Tree. Here we're looking toward the main entrance, where two sets of manual doors were installed by The Mojo Room to replace the old automatic doors left behind by Walgreens.
Here I'm standing in the old liquor store space. Those windows in front of me are original to the liquor store, and one of the only original Walgreens artifacts left in here.
Everything to the right of me would have originally been part of the liquor store, with the main drugstore space spanning out to my left.
Here's a look across the back of the store, where the pharmacy counter would have been located. When Dollar Tree takes over these old Walgreens spaces, they're usually pretty good about removing any obvious traces of the old pharmacy counters, and most other original features.
Frozen food coolers take up the approximate location of the old pharmacy counter.
Walgreens' small grocery section would have been located along this wall, on the far side of the drugstore space.
There's not much more to say in here, so let's head back outside...
Stepping outside, this photo looks across the front of the old Walgreens toward the southern end of St. Lucie Square, where an Italian restaurant called DaVinci's is located. DaVinci's has been in that spot for a really long time, going back to the days when Publix was here. I'm not sure if the restaurant has been here since the beginning, but it's certainly one of the plaza's longest lasting tenants.
Before finishing off this post, here's a look at the old Publix one last time. It's crazy to think Publix has been gone for so long, yet the building still looks the same as it did when Publix was last here 20 years ago. I'm not going to complain about that though, as St. Lucie Square, even with how hard it's fallen, is a very well-preserved example of a 1980's Publix shopping center.
Before leaving St. Lucie Square, here's a look at the plaza's northern end, where a few small (mostly office-type) business were located, as well as a restaurant called Chubbie's at the very northern tip.
However, speaking of restaurants, this funky sight caught my attention as I was pulling into the plaza. Pictured here is a Tropical Smoothie Cafe and T-Mobile store, setting up shop in a very obvious former KFC/LJS combo building. It appears the KFC/LJS closed in the mid-2010's, with this odd subdivision happening shortly thereafter. I feel this place compliments all the strangeness in the plaza behind it very well, in terms of odd subdividing without changing a thing on the outside!
Around the side of the building, we see more of how nothing has been changed. The T-Mobile and Tropical Smoothie signs were placed in the same frames where the KFC and LJS ones were, the building repainted entirely brown. After doing that, that the remodeling crew called it a day.
Before leaving St. Lucie Square, here's a look at the plaza's road sign, which is also original to its opening in 1986. I like the design of this sign, with the plaza name wrapping around the sign board the way it does - it just seems very 1980's, fitting in perfectly with everything else in the plaza.
For fun, here's a satellite image showing the entirety of St. Lucie Square, with Publix being the large building in the middle, and Walgreens being the larger space to the right of Publix.
Jumping down the road, here's the plaza Publix moved to in 2002, called Prima Vista Crossings. As you can tell, the area is much busier around here than it is up the road by St. Lucie Square. I feel that Publix wasn't happy with the location of St. Lucie Square, as the plaza always seemed oddly situated and quiet. Having only lasted 14 years as a Publix, I feel that shows how unhappy Publix was with the location, as that's a rather short run for a Publix (as most Publix stores will go 25-30 years or more before a relocation or rebuild is considered, unless the store outgrows the building too quick or the original location had some quirk to it that Publix wasn't happy about).
Even though Publix eventually made the jump down here to Prima Vista Crossings, the reason I bring that plaza up is because of an accidental discovery I made about Prima Vista Crossings while doing some research on the site. Even though Publix would relocate here in the end, the original plan for the plaza (seen above) that I dug up from the St. Lucie County Official Records database shows Winn-Dixie as the plaza's original grocery anchor! (It might be hard to see, but if you zoom into the large building in the middle of the plaza, it says Winn-Dixie). When the plans for Prima Vista Crossing were first drawn in the late 1990's, Winn-Dixie was supposed to be the anchor, building a new Marketplace store here from the looks of the drawing. If you compare the drawing above to what was actually built in the satellite image, you see the two buildings are completely different. Once Publix came into the picture, the plaza was completely redesigned. I don't know why Winn-Dixie backed out on anchoring Prima Vista Crossings, as the plans came out long before Winn-Dixie began to show serious signs of faltering, but we can theorize about that all night. No matter what happened, Publix was plotting to leave St. Lucie Square at some point, and they ended up getting their chance because Winn-Dixie changed their mind.
|Photo from Google Maps|
We'll end this post with a picture of the Publix that carries on the legacy of old #308 up the road, the very busy Publix #855 at Prima Vista Crossings. The Prima Vista Crossings Publix has a stately brick exterior, a rather unusual building material for Publix. The inside is the typical early 2000's Publix design, just with the fancy facade to go along with it.
So that's all I have to say about Publix's presence in Northeastern Port St. Lucie. Hopefully it won't be another 3 month lag time before my next MFR post, as hopefully I'll find some time this summer to work a little more on MFR!
Anyway, until the next post,