Saturday, November 19, 2022

Winn-Dixie #435 - Birmingham, AL


Winn-Dixie #435

Old Springfield Shopping Center

4476 Montevallo Road

Birmingham, AL 35213

The Transformational Store

Welcome back to My Florida Retail Blog!  Today's going to be a special day for us since I'm finally publishing a post I wrote back in the summer but didn't know what to do with at the time.  We'll just say that I stumbled upon the perfect companion post for this store, but we'll have to wait until next Saturday, the 26th, to see what surprises I came across.  In the meantime, we'll prepare for that store by exploring a classic example of Winn-Dixie's Transformational Store prototype that has managed to survive into 2022.

In the years following Winn-Dixie's 2005 bankruptcy, the public began to perceive the chain as a dinosaur who couldn't do anything other than operate terribly-dated supermarkets or close stores all together.  This led the company to the idea that they should try to "transform" themselves from the tired, trouble-ridden company which people had come to expect.  In that effort, they launched a new store concept which they hoped would launch them into a new era.

In the end, I'm not sure how successful this campaign was since it was only rolled out to a handful of stores and still resulted in the company filing for bankruptcy again in 2018; nevertheless, they still made a good attempt.

I had visited this store once prior to my blogging "career" and remember noticing how nice it felt compared to the WDs I was used to.  If only I had known that it was a special store at the time!  Luckily, I was able to make a trip back to Birmingham to see this store before it was remodeled and catch a glimpse of one of the few-remaining fully in-tact stores of this prototype.  Soon after Winn-Dixie began to build these, they decided to change direction again, cheapen the concept, and cease building new stores.  That being said, I believe these stores are becoming fairly rare, so I'm glad I was able to capture one!

Before we explore the current Winn-Dixie, let's roll back the time machine to take a look at this store's origins.  The earliest traces of this store I came across were related to a Colonial Store in the Eastwood Mall.  Eastwood Mall deserves a post of its own, and thankfully I found this informative site I'd highly recommend reading, but the gist of the mall's own origin is well summarized in this paragraph by author Russell Wells:

"Eastwood Mall first opened on Thursday, 25 August 1960. This so-called 'merchandise city of the future' was the first indoor shopping mall in the city of Birmingham, the state of Alabama ... and the entire southeastern U.S. (you read correctly; 'rival' city Atlanta didn't get its first bona fide 'mall' until later in the '60s). Eastwood at the time was the third largest mall in the nation ... and was the fifth ever to be built in the United States!"

The mall was eventually closed and was torn down during the summer of 2006 to make way for a shiny new Walmart Supercenter.  It's a shame that such a historic structure wasn't able to be preserved, but that is case-in-point why I strive to preserve what history I can before it is gone.

Courtesy The Birmingham Post-Herald (Newspapers.com) - August 24, 1960 - Original Map of Eastwood Mall - Kroger is location (1) and Colonial is location (44)

Colonial Stores opened a new location as an original tenant of Eastwood mall on August 25, 1960, along with competitor Kroger who operated a store just across the air-conditioned hallway.  It's crazy to think that two supermarkets would coexist so close together, but that seems to have been a common trend with early malls (like we saw in Atlanta's Ansley Mall).  

Courtesy The Birmingham Post-Herald (Newspapers.com) - August 24, 1960 - Eastwood Colonial Store Grand Opening

Kroger may have lasted in the mall until 1972, when they exited the Birmingham market, but Colonial only lasted until 1964, when Winn-Dixie purchased nine of the chain's Birmingham-area stores.  Winn-Dixie had purchased the Birmingham-based Hill's Food Stores two years prior and decided to rebrand the nine Colonial Stores to the Hill's name.

Courtesy The Birmingham Post-Herald (Newspapers.com) - April 18, 1964 - Winn-Dixie Hill's Food Stores & Colonial Stores Ad

The Beef People would continue to operate under the Hill's name, while phasing out Colonial's branding in the Birmingham market, through the late-1960's.  Some photos of the Hill's and Kroger stores at Eastwood can be found on this page, but that particular location wouldn't remain under Winn-Dixie's control for much longer.

Courtesy The Birmingham Post-Herald (Newspapers.com) - June 13, 1972 - Winn-Dixie Sales Ad

After 12-years in Eastwood Mall, the Colonial-Hill-Dixie would move across Oporto Road (now Oporto-Madrid Boulevard) to a brand-new store in the Village East Shopping Center.  Winn-Dixie #474 held its grand opening on June 14, 1972, with all sorts of specials for Birmingham shoppers to enjoy.

Courtesy The Birmingham Post-Herald (Newspapers.com) - June 14, 1972 - Winn-Dixie at Village East Shopping Center Grand Opening

The new store, managed by Hershel Yates, boasted modern amenities such as an in-store bakery and delicatessen, in addition to a "meat case which assures proper temperature throughout and allows added space for product display."  We also get an oddly rare look at the manila envelope which once housed the bakery photo we see above, thanks to The Alabama Department of Archives & History.

WD wasn't the only store to leave Eastwood for an adjacent shopping center, as Kmart (formerly S. S. Kresge) would build a new store on the site of the former Starlite Drive In. Several tenants would also leave Eastwood for the newly-constructed Century Plaza which was built across Crestwood Boulevard in 1976.  Now that we've explored the history behind Winn-Dixie's former locations in the area, let's take a look at the current building.

Not all Transformational Stores were like this, but I was surprised to learn that the current Winn-Dixie store wasn't built from scratch for the décor; in fact, it was originally a 1990's Marketplace store!  Thanks to Google Street View, we can get a blurry look at the façade before the renovation.  I was hoping that I could find pictures of a similar store in my collection, but unfortunately none of them made the mark.  Regardless, the store we will look at today will look much different, in both layout and décor, from the Marketplace that was built in the 1990's.

The Birmingham Post-Herald (Courtesy Newspapers.com) - September 9, 1999

Winn-Dixie #435 opened its doors to the public on September 9, 1999, at 7:00 AM, presumably as a replacement for store #474 just down the road.  Winn-Dixie probably found this site to be more desirable than their former location after Bruno's built a shiny new store with easy access to Montevallo Road and Montclair Road in the early-1990's (for those who don't know, Montevallo Road is the primary thoroughfare for the prestigious city of Mountain Brook, with two of the city's three "villages" lying along the route).  Winn-Dixie likely wanted to attract more of the affluent shoppers from Mountain Brook, so they soon followed suit.  The former Bruno's would only survive to be converted into a self-storage facility, but Publix decided to build store #1059 directly behind the Winn-Dixie in 2006.

Courtesy Mike Kalasnik (Flickr) - July 19, 2012 - Winn-Dixie #435 Grand Reopening

The Beef People chose to remodel store #435 into one of its Transformational prototypes in 2012, with the grand reopening occurring in July of that year.  According to The Albertsons Florida Blogger, the first Transformational Store he is aware of opened in February 2010 in Covington, LA, as a new-construction store.  The Transformational décor package we'll see today seemingly made its debut in Margate, FL in June 2010.  This location is one of roughly 20-25 Winn-Dixies to have ever received a full-on "Transformation", while fewer than 5 stores were built from the ground-up.  Winn-Dixie halted this rollout in 2012 following their merger with BI-LO but continued to utilize cheap implementations of the package until The Green Interior was rolled out in 2014.

Courtesy Mike Kalasnik (Flickr) - July 19, 2012 - Winn-Dixie #435 Grand Reopening

Flickr user Mike Kalasnik took a number of other photos during this store's grand re-opening, and you can take a look at them here if you care to do so.  In the meantime, let's fast-forward to 2022 to see what this store looks like 10-years later!


Walking up to the front of this store, we see a sight that should look familiar to anybody who has seen Winn-Dixie marketing materials over the last decade.  That is because the Transformational Store design marks the last ground-up prototype the company has used (which is about to change when a new store opens on December 14th).  It has also been over half a decade since the last Winn-Dixie was built, but I believe better times are ahead for the formerly ailing company (who is also now searching for a buyer).  Anyway, these façades do look nice, and are certainly more modern than some other WD stores I have toured!

Walking up to the entrance, we see the appropriate signage in typical Winn-Dixie fashion.

Wow, this produce department looks really nice!  In my opinion, the wall signage for this package is a bit boring, but the overall look of the store is leaps-and-bounds better than a rusty-ole Marketplace!  Who knew that Winn-Dixie had such good store design over a decade ago!

I find it interesting that WD decided to shift the produce department over to the left side of this prototype, as most, if not all, older stores from the chain seem to have it on the right side of the store. Also included in the grand aisle are departments for floral, beer & wine, the deli, the bakery, and several hot food stations.

I struggled to get a good picture of the floral department due to all of the balloons floating around, but it was placed to the left of the entrance door.

Maybe this shot is a bit better?

Looking across the front end of the store, we see the hot food counter to my left, followed by the grocery aisles.  Off in the distance we find frozen and the pharmacy in the front right corner of the store.  The customer service desk is located between the entrance and exit doors.

No "produce patch" here, instead we find some "freshly farmed" strawberries. Although this décor signage is pretty basic, at least they managed to match the font color with the wall paint color!

These Transformational stores had a good amount of space devoted to ready-to-eat foods, but I don't recall if all of these stations were being utilized.  However, I do know the traditional sliced meats section of the deli can be found under the "freshly prepared" sign.

Moving further back in the store, we can begin to catch a glimpse of the beer & wine section, in addition to the bakery to my right.

I do find it interesting how this store had its own signage for the tea and lemonade cooler, but I guess those typically are Southern "Local Favorites". Is it just me, or does this sign make anybody else think of Trader Joe's?

Turning back toward the service island, we can see the bakery counter and a coffin cooler of pre-made cakes.

In the back left corner of the store, just past the "local favorites", we see the beer and wine section. Although we find ourselves in a premium prototype, I guess it wouldn't be Winn-Dixie without having some Styrofoam coolers on top of the beer refrigerators!

Turning a bit to the right, we see more of this store's wine department.

Wow, it seems like the wine section in this store never ends!  I guess people in the Mountain Brook area of Birmingham really like their wine!

And what goes better with wine than a charcuterie department?  Well, this Winn-Dixie has your hookup at the end of the "grand isle" (spelling intentional).  To add to the premium atmosphere, this store even features an antipasti station next to the bakery.  We can also see the seafood counter and meat coolers off in the distance.

But first, we'll take a better look at the olive station and the bakery.   I've got to say, I'm shocked at how well those hanging banners have held up in front of the bakery because they look to be original to this package.  At least they figured out how to use fade-resistant ink!


We'll take one last look down the grand aisle before we move on to the rear actionway.

Abita beer may not be local to Birmingham, or even Alabama, but Abita Springs, LA is only a 30-mile drive from Hammond, LA, which happens to be where this Winn-Dixie has been serviced out of ever since the Montgomery DC closed a few years back. 

Around the corner from the antipasti bar, we find the specialty cheese counter.  Wow, this store keeps getting more-and-more gourmet!  By the looks of it, I don't believe Winn-Dixie still cuts their own cheeses in this department, but at least they have done a decent job of keeping the space stocked.

Sorry for the bad angle, but I remember struggling to photograph the seafood counter because people seemed to never get out of the way.  You know it is a premium store when it uses the frameless glass seafood coolers!

Now we'll take a look down the rear actionway of this store.  I would like to note that the "luncheon meat" sign should look familiar if you have read some of my previous WD posts, because a smaller version of that sign seems to have been installed in every other ancient Winn-Dixie I have been to!   I still wonder why they would bother adding this specific sign to every older store, but who knows what their intents were over 10-years ago.

If we take a look down aisle 5, we see a variety of canned goods.   I do find it strange that these columns are in the middle of the aisle, especially since Winn-Dixie seemed to build this store from scratch; oh well, at least there seems to be plenty of room on either side.

Aisle 6 is where you will find canned fruit, spices, and baking supplies.  I do wonder when Winn-Dixie removed the vinyl flooring on this side of the store, because I only noticed the scarring once I was going back through this photoset.  It makes sense that this store was converted from an earlier Marketplace prototype!

On aisle 7, you'll find health and beauty products while taking a look at the pharmacy off in the distance.

Aisle 8 is home to cleaning supplies . . .

and is where we'll get a clear view of the pharmacy sign.  Is it just me, or does the man on the right in the pharmacy picture look like he really doesn't want to be there?

Turning a bit to the right, we see the last two checkout lines, and a nice sign thanking us for shopping at your Birmingham Winn-Dixie.  Interestingly, this store is located just outside the Mountain Brook city limits but is in the city limits of Birmingham proper.  Judging by the looks of this store though, I think Winn-Dixie planned for it to serve the affluent neighborhoods to the store's west.

Taking a look down aisle 9 from the front of the store, we can find pet foods and more cleaning supplies.  I am always surprised at how stores willingly install "fresh pet" coolers in the middle of their aisles, which seems like it would require a lot of effort.

Taking a look back toward the left side of the store, we can see the meat section and seafood counter off in the distance. One thing which surprised me about this store is how "The Beef People" didn't include a butcher counter!


On the other hand, they did have the large edition of the "luncheon meat" sign I mentioned earlier hanging on the back wall, with the hallway to the restrooms under the right edge.

Dairy can be found in the back right corner of the store, along with its appropriate signage.

Said department continues onto the rightmost aisle of the store and shares the space with some of the frozen foods department.  I believe this is unsigned aisle 11.

Meanwhile, frozen continues into the front right corner of the store.

Taking a look back over the front end, we see a few short health and beauty aisles in front of the pharmacy.

 Frozen also runs along one side of aisle 10, which I find a bit disjointed, but I have seen worse layouts.

As I was about to check out, I noticed something odd when I passed by aisle 2.

I'm not sure I have seen a permanent piece of a store's decor advertise their shopper's card before, but Winn-Dixie must've thought it was a good idea (until they didn't).  This sign was hung on the back wall of the "grand isle" facing aisle 1.  Does it also seem strange that this aisle uses warehouse-style shelving?

If you haven't caught my drift yet, I noticed that this sign was actually advertising Winn-Dixie's old rewards card, the one which predates the Plenti program!  I've lost track of how many loyalty programs Winn-Dixie has offered in recent memory, but a poster of their current card was simply thumb-tacked over the old one!  I love finding inconsistencies like this in stores!

Even better, the "current" card still advertises BI-LO, which was killed off by SEG back in 2020.  It also looks like a rogue bottle of Pepsi may have sprayed the part of the sign on the left side of this picture at some point.  Maybe it wanted the old rewards card back?

We'll take a quick look at the sign for aisle 1 (since I missed it earlier), before we check out.

As I mentioned before, the customer service desk was located between the two doors to the store, which seems like a logical decision.  I do like how open the grand aisle and the front end of this store felt.

Before we leave, we'll get one last look at the "thank you for shopping" sign and the various service machines below it.

For all of you buggy (or shopping cart) fans out there, I found it interesting how the ones at this store featured a "W/D" emblem at the bottom of the basket.  Most larger chains do end up using custom carts in their stores, but this sort of detail seems a bit excessive unless they are trying to deter other stores using the buggies.

Courtesy Google Earth - February 28, 2022 - Former Eastwood Mall and surrounding area

Well, that will complete our tour of the Mountain Brook / Birmingham Winn-Dixie Transformational store!  I wanted to close out with this map featuring all of the stores I have mentioned today which surround the former Eastwood Mall.  I hope y'all enjoyed the post and stay on the lookout for my follow-up to this over on The Sing Oil Blog next Saturday, I think many of y'all will be in for a surprise.  I also plan to be back here and (hopefully) on The Sing Oil Blog on December 6th for a really special treat and some exclusive coverage of a historic store.

Until then,

- The Sing Oil Blogger