Friday, September 18, 2020

Fred's Closing, Hernando, MS (BONUS: former Big Star/Minor Bros. Hardware)

Today's post highlights DeSoto County, MS, retail.

For this month's Fred's post, we're returning our attention to one which we've seen here on the blog before, and also one that is very close to me personally. That's because this is -- was -- my hometown Fred's, located in Hernando, MS. You can access my previous post, from 2017, at this link.

At that time, Fred's had just been announced to take over the stores that were to be divested as a result of the Walgreens/Rite Aid merger, and I wanted to show y'all what a Fred's store was like, especially for those of you who were unfamiliar with the chain. By now, you've likely gotten a much better understanding of Fred's from my many subsequent blog posts, although said understanding is likely tinged by the unfortunate fate of Fred's that has driven the publication of said posts: as you know, the Walgreens/Rite Aid merger did not go through, and Fred's was left to falter from that point on. New hedge fund ownership ultimately destroyed the entire chain, with multiple successive closure rounds throughout 2019 punctuated by a final bankruptcy filing and liquidation sale commencing on September 9, 2019, just over one year ago.

If I'm not mistaken, the building neighboring the Hernando Fred's -- which we'll discuss later in this post -- was constructed in 1968, and I believe the Fred's itself was built and opened that year, too. At that time, the store may still have been known as Baddour's Bargain Center, the original name for the company, after its founder; that's the name I encountered in the county records I was sifting through, anyway. However, the Fred's banner debuted in 1954, and the Hernando store was likely rebranded under that nameplate soon after opening, if in fact it wasn't already a Fred's from the start. (EDIT: I have found a property record that suggests this Fred's was built in 1977.)

The Hernando Fred's was selected for closure in the second closure round of 2019, issued on May 16; it began its liquidation sale immediately, and closed on June 27, 2019. My friend l_dawg2000 visited the store early on in its liquidation sale, and has been sharing photos from his visit in this flickr album. I, meanwhile, waited to visit until the final week, since unlike other Fred's stores that I traveled to at various times throughout 2019, I could control when my visit here would wind up being. I wanted to be sure I left myself a chance to experience at least one Fred's in its final days. (As we'll see, however, this would actually be far from the only one!)

The store's exterior design was a common one for Fred's, featuring a stone facade and a sloping mansard roofline. The stone would have originally been natural, and the roof (I believe) shingled, but over the years both were altered significantly in appearance. In its final iteration, as you can see above, the stones had all been painted a light gray color, while the roof had become metal and light blue in color.

Entering the store, we find posted on its information board that the day of my visit -- June 21, 2019 -- marked the commencement of its last week in business. Additionally, all fixtures were heavily discounted... and as for the merchandise itself?

Well, we can see from the hanging signs overhead that everything else in the store, too, was marked down, with discounts ranging from 40 to 90 percent off. (In all honesty, this actually seemed rather noncommittal still, in that discounts normally get much higher in liquidation sales, especially as the final days approach. For whatever reason, though, Fred's never went extremely high with its discounts. In fact, I don't think the discounts ever exceeded 90 percent off, and that was only on a select few items. Compare this to other going-out-of-business sales that go as high as 95 percent off everything in the store on the final day.)

In this shot, we're looking from a spot just inside the front entrance -- which is located along the right-hand side of the store -- over toward the right-side wall. You'll note that, interestingly, there's a little alcove of sorts that extends past what would otherwise be the right-side wall. We will discuss that area in detail in this post.

This wooden-floor area just inside the entrance and to the right seems to have been reserved, at one point, for seasonal or sale merchandise; but at the time of this visit, it was mostly empty instead. I got a close-up of this 10 for $10 bin in particular because it featured the new Fred's logo and marketing design.

Cutting down the middle of a portion of the wood-floor area is the actionway section that led up to the alcove I mentioned. Yes, you read that right -- led "up." As you can see in the top photo of the duo above, there was a ramp separating that area -- home to the grocery department -- from the rest of the store. The ramp can also be seen in better detail in the images below.

I was excited to explore this separate grocery alcove area further, but unfortunately, my plan to hold off from visiting until late in the liquidation sale backfired on me: the alcove had already been closed off, its product consolidated forward into the remaining accessible areas of the salesfloor. :(

I didn't let that totally stop me, as I could still manage to get some peeks over the half-height shelving lining the slight increase in elevation between the two sections of the store. It's not the same, but I guess it will have to do.

Here's an overview of the entire salesfloor -- minus the grocery alcove -- as viewed from within the little seasonal area in the front right corner. You can see that the store closing signs were all lined up in a row along the front of the store, instead of scattered throughout the whole place as is more commonly seen. The second shot looks into the next portion of wood-floor area. Here, these floors would once have designated the apparel departments.

Some more glances up into the closed-off grocery alcove. It looks like a small number of liquidation signs had been hung in this area, too. The gondolas remain intact, but with the shelves removed, for the most part. Even though the alcove ends, Fred's still occupied the portion extending behind it (to our left, from this vantage point) all the way to the rear of the building. That space served as their stockroom.

Glances to our right, straight ahead, and to our left clearly show the consolidation of merchandise closer toward the front of the building. However, in this area, there was a mix of both merchandise and fixtures for sale. The ladder and the hand truck are two clear examples of the latter.

I saw this sign on one of the bins in the fixture sale area. Given the verbiage and the "Fred's Discount Store Proprietary Information" text at the top right, I don't quite think this was ever supposed to be visible on the salesfloor. However, it does appear that employees at least halfway followed the directions, and placed this sign in front of the similar "25% off marked price" sign which this 40% version was intended to replace. 

A look back towards the front entrance -- also showing us the small, open-air manager's office space (to the right of the entry doors) -- followed by a view down the right-side actionway. Plenty of leftover Christmas wrapping paper for sale.

As I said, besides the remaining selection of apparel, this area was also being used to house the fixture sale, as indicated on the sign in the top image above. I actually kinda like that orange chair, and probably should have looked into buying it. Oh well. I think they may have been asking more than I would have wanted to pay for it, anyway.

Here, we see a view down the middle actionway -- which cuts through the store's main sets of aisles -- as well as another piece of internal store communications which probably shouldn't have made its way out to public view on the salesfloor. My plan once again backfired here: a lot more of the salesfloor was closed off to customers than I expected.

I photographed the base of this support pole specifically because the red paneling on it seemed very old, and therefore likely original to the store. I can confirm that that is indeed the case. And you'll want to keep this pole in mind for our next Fred's post, which will show you how I'm able to confirm that. :)

A glance back towards the front of the store (again), followed by another cut-through actionway view. This appears to be the same actionway cut-through we saw just a second ago, simply from a different angle. The area with the half-height shelves evidently was home to the "Super Discount Pet Supplies" department, as evidenced by the overhead sign.

Speaking of overhead signs: while we explore the back right corner of the salesfloor in the above images, I should also mention this store's decor package. It is the one that (largely) preceded* the final decor package, which is the one we saw at the Getwell Road headquarters store. That final package first appears on the cover of Fred's annual report in 2015, while the package seen here in Hernando was on the cover in both 2010 and 2011 (2010 also being the first year the annual report bore the lowercase Fred's logo, which is featured heavily in this package).

* -- The cover of the 2014 annual report shows a rare decor package that evidently must have existed between these two, and which seems clearly to have been inspired by the three-dimensional circular overhead signs of Walmart's Project Impact decor from several years prior. An example can be seen in the Flora, MS, Fred's store. However, because this 2014 package's use was not widespread, and because its wall decor was identical to the Hernando package (only the overhead signs changed), I'm comfortable in sticking to my position that the Hernando package was the penultimate decor package for Fred's.

A glance down the rear actionway shows us yet more emptiness; yet as I recall, for whatever reason, this area was not roped off with caution tape, as was so much of the rest of the salesfloor. As a result, I used this actionway to detour down one of the otherwise blocked-off aisles, and got a multitude of aisle shots, which you can see below...

There was a wide degree of variation in the aisles in this store: some were empty, some still had stock; some still had their shelves intact, others had them removed. In the above images, only the aisles in the "empty" category can be seen, but we do see examples of both types insofar as the shelving is concerned. Again, the aisles that still had merchandise in them were exclusively the ones stationed closest to the front of the store -- although, several of the endcaps of these otherwise-vacant aisles did also have merchandise for sale.

A glance over to the right side of the store from within the central cut-through actionway, followed by a similar view in the opposite direction. Again, note the stocked endcaps, as well as all of the aisle markers, which are also still intact (if obsolete).

I mentioned in my Horn Lake Fred's post that I saw, and photographed, several styles of these local high school sports team yard signs on my various Fred's adventures. The example shown here supports the Hernando Tigers, my K-12 alma mater.

Aha, we finally find one of the aisles still filled with merchandise! Unfortunately, the two images below it show yet more examples of merchandise-free aisles :P  And that last one in particular has been especially dismantled, as compared to the rest that we've seen... no more shelves, endcaps, or aisle bases.

Here's a look back down the center cut-through aisle, this time from the left side of the store over toward the right, followed by a pic looking up towards the (shuttered) pharmacy counter. Health and beauty supplies would have been in this area along the perimeter wall at one point. Interestingly enough, we also see greeting cards occupying this space. And as usual, there are plenty remaining, even at 5 for $1.00!

Fred's: Everything you need to make you smile! Not anymore...

We can see that this area along the left-side wall was the most empty-looking of the whole store. Not only was all the merchandise gone, all the shelves were removed, too; and the extra width of the actionway (presumably once used to house pallet drops) only adds to its empty feeling. The dismantled shelves themselves, meanwhile, had been piled up for sale along the perimeter wall itself.

Here we take one more look down the left-side wall -- nearly devoid of all merchandise (and customers, for that matter!) except for greeting cards and sports balls -- before turning our attention to the former pharmacy counter in the front left corner of the interior. There were actually a few people milling about this area, plus most angles of the pharmacy were in open view of the front end, so this is the best pic I got of it. You can see it while operational in my 2016 photo here. The pharmacy counter closed -- in advance of the liquidation -- with the sale of about 200 Fred's Pharmacy prescription records to Walgreens in November 2018; I explained that in a series of four photos on flickr, beginning here and scrolling to the right. (That event could arguably be viewed as the precursor to Fred's 2019 woes, culminating in the company's bankruptcy and dissolution...)

Unlike other former Fred's pharmacies that, in the months between that November 2018 selloff and the 2019 store closures, had begun to sell appliances and mattresses out of the former pharmacy spaces (again, see the flagship store in Memphis for an example), Hernando's pharmacy was left completely intact and untouched, simply with the window drawn down, as can be seen in the bottom of the above two pics which showcase the store's aisles as viewed from the front actionway in a little more detail.

From the front end, here's another view across to the seasonal area and the grocery alcove, before we divert our attention to the store's first aisle. Not only had a collection of mismatched seasonal merch made its way onto the left-hand side of the aisle...

...but we also find that the right-hand side of the aisle had become home to the entire selection of remaining, relocated grocery products. Naturally, all of the examples I've shown you above are Fred's-branded goods, and those bearing the chain's new packaging design, at that. Again, as I discussed earlier this year in our Getwell Drug & Dollar post, I actually quite liked this packaging design, as well as the Fred's rebrand/repositioning in general. It's too bad none of it lasted.

(Oh, and since we were speaking of annual reports earlier, too: it's worth mentioning that the cover of the 2012 document actually features a small image of that Middleton concept store, alongside a much larger image of a parent-brand Fred's building. Pretty cool, and shows how much faith the company had in the concept, at least at one point in time.)

Some final views of the right-hand side of the store, before we get ready to head outdoors. In the top image you can see the separation between the (open-to-customers) grocery alcove in the front and the (closed-to-customers) employee stockroom in the back much better than in any of my other images thus far. Note that the customer restrooms were actually located within the stockroom, too. I did not go in there to explore, but l_dawg2000 did, and in this very cool image you can see that the stockroom entrance had a similar ramp upward to account for the change in elevation.

A shot across the front end shows us the store's registers, before we take one final view at the front doors -- plastered as they were with liquidation signs -- and exit the building. (Actually, technically speaking, the exit doors were on the other side of the checkouts, which was the typical arrangement in many Fred's stores. But I thought this shot made more sense to end on, even if it is the wrong set of doors for our narrative :P )


I returned to the store on June 25, 2019 -- now entering its last three days -- just to briefly get a few wrap-up pics, but in actuality, I stumbled across something far more interesting than I was expecting. And surprisingly, it doesn't actually concern the Fred's building, at least not primarily...

Meet Fred's neighbor: Complete Home Center. This is the building that I mentioned earlier in this post was built in 1968, although it certainly wasn't operating as a hardware store back then. Rather, this place opened as Pretti's Big Star #97. I'm not sure if it had any competition at the time of its opening or not, but later on, it would become one of two grocery store options serving Hernando residents, the other being a Piggly Wiggly store (originally Food Rite) farther east on Commerce Street, closer to I-55. (This building, on the other hand, is closer to the town square and Highway 51.)

By 1999, however, Kroger had announced its intention to build a large (at the time) new supermarket, complete with adjoining gas station and shopping center, in the heart of Hernando, directly behind the Piggly Wiggly no less. This development was touted as "the largest single commercial development ever to come to the city," and the 45,900-square-foot store opened with fanfare on the morning of June 13, 2001. (It would go on to be demolished in 2016, replaced with an even larger, 123,000-square-foot Kroger Marketplace store. Go figure.)

Courtesy hickmanjack on flickr

Ironically, despite its closer proximity to the new Kroger, Piggly Wiggly wasn't the first of Hernando's other two longstanding grocery stores to bow out from the pressure. Instead, Big Star chose to close its doors for the final time just a mere month later. As the Memphis Commercial Appeal reported on July 26, 2001:

More than 20 years after it opened, the Big Star grocery store in Hernando will close July 31. 
The 45,900-square-foot Kroger grocery that opened in Hernando in June almost doubled the city's grocery space. 
"It's just not enough business for three stores right now," said Big Star manager Samuel Wilbanks. 
He said he thinks most Big Star customers will take their business to the Piggly Wiggly store located just down the [street].

To be sure, Piggly Wiggly, too, would later give up the ghost, first ceding its space to Save-a-Lot, which was short-lived and vacant by 2007. (The further opening of a Wal-Mart Supercenter in 2005 surely didn't help matters for them.) But as for Big Star, the space found new life as Minor Bros. Hardware, which opened in 2002. This was the Minor brothers' third area hardware store; its roadside sign can be seen in the image above. The building itself had solid red letters spelling out "MINOR BROS. HARDWARE" across the top, with "Minor" and "Bros." stacked on top of each other, making "Hardware" the focus.

You can read more about the local Minor Bros. Hardware chain at this 2005 article from the DeSoto Times-Tribune. That writing claims that the store opened at 10,000-square-feet in Hernando, but I believe the space is much larger than that; whether the article was misinformed or the store simply expanded in size over the years, I don't know. Unfortunately, after (or possibly before) the passing of Bill Minor in 2010, the Hernando Minor Bros. store closed; but thankfully, it was quickly replaced by another locally-owned hardware store. The store now goes by the name of Complete Home Center.

I've been inside a handful of times, but have never gotten pictures besides the lone 2015 image of the flooring you see above. I'm pretty certain that a lot of the interior is original to Big Star, but that's not the point of my post today. Rather, we'll be focusing on something else that was likely original to Big Star.

Compare my 2015 image of the store's exterior, on top, to my June 25, 2019, image below it. Is there anything you notice that's different between the two images? Pay particular attention to the left-hand side. The fact that the color of the asphalt in the Fred's portion of the parking lot is different from the hardware store portion in the 2015 pic might help focus your attention as well.

If any of you noticed that some windows that had been boarded up in the 2015 pic had now been uncovered in 2019... you're spot-on! Remarkably, I'd never really paid attention to them before, but with them no longer boarded up it became clear that this was formerly a doorway, flanked by windows on either side. And as we get closer...

...we see exactly why they had been covered over for so many years. Despite being in the Big Star/hardware store building, what else do we find behind this mysterious onetime doorway besides the Fred's grocery alcove?! Now it all makes sense!

Undoubtedly, this helps explain why the grocery alcove (and stockroom) had those ramps upward. This space originally did not belong to Fred's, and thus was built at a different elevation -- the same elevation as the rest of the Big Star building. My assumption is that, upon Big Star's closure in 2001, Fred's expanded its own salesfloor into a portion of the former Big Star space, creating this grocery alcove as well as their enlarged stockroom. On this June 25 visit, I was excited to discover that not only had the windows been uncovered on the outside, but also sections of the perimeter-wall gondola shelving had been cleared away on the interior of the Fred's as well, finally revealing after all these years the original, telling wall treatment that lurked behind the shelves, including the exact point where the red brick construction of the hardware store building gives way to the concrete block construction of the Fred's.

I only grabbed one more interior picture of the Fred's before heading outside once again. As you can see, merchandise had thinned out even more than my visit just four days prior. As I was taking the bottom image above, some guy in the parking lot decided to strike up some sort of conversation about a drink -- Mountain Dew, maybe, or Five Hour Energy? I can't exactly remember, and I did little more than nod in response. I'm not quite sure what inspired that conversation topic :P

Here are a couple more views of the newly-revealed Fred's expansion area, followed by one last view of the Fred's building itself. Below, you can see the Fred's monument sign, facing Commerce Street (and with "Pharmacy" covered over with green tape, just like the blacked-out sign above the erstwhile pharmacy drive-thru on the building itself).


As usual, here are some pics of the liquidation flyer I picked up as well as my receipt, joined by what I believe may be my first new-logo Fred's shopping bag to feature on the blog. I sure was glad to obtain one of those, but even better, I was happy to walk away from this store with a Fred's basket of my very own. Unlike other chains that seem to have trouble letting go of anything with intellectual property marks on it, these handbaskets were very much included as part of the Fred's fixture sale, and at a fairly cheap price of $5, too. With the 50% fixture discount, that became $2.50, a deal I couldn't turn down.


Fast-forwarding to July 9, 2019, we find (1) myself in possession of a new cell phone camera, and (2) the Hernando Fred's now vacant and with a blacked-out roadside sign, as you can see above. This held true for the building signage, too, as you can see both above and below.

Courtesy LoopNet

Courtesy LoopNet

Courtesy LoopNet

The above three images come from a LoopNet listing seeking new tenants for this building. As you can see, the interior was fairly well gutted of all remaining fixtures following Fred's departure, and rather trashed in the process as well. However, some vintage wood paneling has been revealed. And even more notably, look at the right-hand edge of the bottom image: we can see into the former grocery alcove. It looks as if the ceiling has been ripped out in a portion of that space! As it turns out, work was indeed taking place within that area...

On February 5, 2020, Complete Home Center celebrated the grand opening of its 7,000-square-foot lumber addition, occupying the former Fred's grocery alcove and stockroom. You can view their Facebook post here (a few images are reprinted below). This new expansion in effect reclaims space that originally belonged to the Big Star building, meaning it has come full circle; and it is marked with a new, separate "Lumber Entrance" sign above the (reinstalled) left-hand doorway, separating it from the existing "Hardware Entrance" on the right.

Courtesy Facebook

Courtesy Facebook

Courtesy Facebook

In these latter two images of the lumber addition in particular, you can see what I believe to be the transition between what was Fred's grocery alcove ceiling and its stockroom ceiling, as well as floor tile scars on the ground below.


Courtesy l_dawg2000 on flickr

Courtesy l_dawg2000 on flickr

At first, I wasn't sure how long to expect the Hernando Fred's to be vacant; it's in a pretty prominent spot in town, though, so you would think that would attract interest to the building. Excitingly on that front, the building didn't even have to wait a full year before construction began on an unidentified new tenant. l_dawg2000 documented this progress in his same flickr album linked earlier in this post; as you can see in the selected two images above, the new tenant really went all-out, completely removing the existing Fred's facade and extending the height of the existing pharmacy drive-thru jut-out to make it look like a brand new tower element.

Courtesy Facebook

Courtesy Facebook

This construction began in late June 2020, and by mid-August, we had our answer on who was moving in: Jenkins Floors & More, a locally-owned business relocating from elsewhere in town. Good for them! I hope they succeed in this new location. In the above two images, sourced from Facebook, you can see their new, classy-looking signage being installed on the freshly-completed tower element.

The finished result involves a nice, modern look, with a wooden element (appropriate for a flooring store!) affixed above the newly-expanded bay of windows and centralized entryway, and a white paint scheme on the rest of the exterior. Interestingly enough, you'll notice that a tiny, triangular portion of the new design flows over onto that brick column belonging to Complete Home Center on the right: that is due to the scars left behind from the old Fred's mansard roof, which needed to be covered up.

Jenkins has made improvements out in the parking lot, too: not only has it been totally repaved, but a new landscaping island has also been installed bordering Commerce Street. There was never one there before, and as a result, traffic was unrestricted in the plethora of different ways it could enter and exit this property, which often led to confusion among drivers. In theory, this new landscaping island should be able to better control the traffic flow, but in practice so far I've heard reports that it may actually have made things worse. Hopefully, though, that's just a case of things having to get worse before they get better...

Courtesy l_dawg2000

Courtesy l_dawg2000

I'll conclude this post with two final pictures from l_dawg2000, showcasing once again the renovation that Jenkins Floors & More has given to this former Fred's, as well as the freshly-reused Fred's road sign at the front of the property. (Note that the roadside sign no longer is blocked off by those white stripes, meaning it's in the line of traffic -- hopefully that is fixed soon, too!)

Jenkins Floors & More is celebrating their grand opening in their new location this very month -- September 2020 -- and has posted a video showing a portion of their interior, which you can view here. I'm surprised to see some Fred's relics in that footage! You can also see the new dividing wall that has been installed over the former grocery alcove. Glad to know Fred's will live on, at least a little bit, in their former Hernando home :)


I still have one more location from this second closure round to take y'all to in the future... but we're going to skip forward a little bit with our next Fred's post, publishing this December. We're also going to skip more than a little bit south for that destination, but I promise, it will be worth it! Please be sure to stay tuned for that, and also for a couple more posts going up in-between now and then. Until next time, and as always, thanks for reading and have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!

Retail Retell