Friday, November 27, 2020

Contributor Post: Memphis Area 7-Eleven Stores, Part 2 (The Mapco Takeover)

    Today's post highlights Shelby County, TN, retail.

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving holiday yesterday! As you unwind this weekend, MSRB contributor Mike B. has kindly supplied us with some good reading for you to catch up on. Specifically, this is the follow-up to his January 2019 post, Memphis Area 7-Eleven Stores. In case you need a refresher, I encourage you to review his earlier post at that link. I've reprinted the final paragraph of his Part 1 post below, and then we'll dive into Part 2 after the jump...

Finally, in 1990, after a long day of visiting extended Memphis family and hanging out in Overton Park, my dad agreed to indulge my curiosity and stop at one of the 7-Elevens for the first of what would be hundreds of Slurpee’s in my lifetime. The final stop that evening was 7-Eleven #29103, located at 795 Highway 72 West in Collierville. Coincidentally, this was the newest and shiniest of the Memphis area stores, with a new store design that another 7-Eleven fan has called “twin towers” due to the symmetrical brick walls on either side of the store entrance. As we pulled into the parking lot the store looked all lit up and great. However, there was something wrong: On all the gas pumps, where the Citgo symbol should have been, there were new stickers, saying “Mapco Express”... 

(To be continued – hopefully soon)


(Continued from Previous).. The store employees confirmed that the store was no longer 7-Eleven, and they had been indeed bought by Mapco. I was still able to get a Cherry Slurpee in a red, white, and blue genuine Slurpee cup with the straw that had the spoon at the end.  

During the subsequent year, 1991, my family went to Memphis several times for various reasons. On each trip, the final stop was at the former 7-Eleven located in Bartlett at Highway 70 at Stage Road for another Slurpee, but each time in a Mapco cup. I developed a fondness for Banana flavor, long before Mountain Dew flavor was introduced.  

On each trip to Memphis, I would watch as the 7-Eleven stores gradually changed over to Mapco. At first, it was just the Citgo gasoline signs covered up and employee uniforms changed, but with all signage and décor intact. One evening, coming back from Raleigh, I spotted the former 7-eleven at the corner of Covington Pike and Yale Road with the familiar green and orange sign blazing. As we reached the corner, I noticed that all lights in the store were on, but there was absolutely nothing in the store. The only thing that was inside were bare walls and the beverage cooler. There were no cars in the parking lot, only a rollaway dumpster by the front door, with whatever was formerly the interior of the store getting soaked in the pouring rain. 

Who was the invader who took over Memphis 7-elevens? It turns out it was Tulsa Oklahoma based MAPCO which stood for Mid-American Pipeline Company. They were an energy company that owned at least part of the Alaskan Pipeline. In 1981 Mapco had formed a gasoline holding company that consolidated the regional gasoline brands of Delta, Red-Ace, and Western. They also operated gasoline refineries in Memphis and Alaska. Throughout the 80’s Mapco had been building large gas stations with full size convenience stores in four designs in the Mid-South markets of Memphis, Nashville, Little Rock, and Jackson, Mississippi. These new stores, called Delta Express were very high-volume stations for the time.  

With the purchase of the 7-Eleven stores in Memphis, Mapco had become a major player in the Memphis market. The 1987 Memphis Yellow Pages lists 29 Delta gas stations plus an additional 1 in Collierville. And undoubtedly there were others in nearby communities. They added 54 7-eleven stores in the Memphis Metro area. Mapco immediately sold 14 locations that were either low volume or locations that did not sell gasoline. After operations were integrated, Mapco had 78 locations in the Memphis area – 54 which sold Shell Gasoline and 24 which sold gas under their name. From the National Petroleum News article of the time, it seems that the 7-Elevens in Memphis were originally sold to the operator of Sprint 24 Shell gas stations. I’m not certain if this company made an agreement with Mapco to take over the stores – but it would make sense considering that most of the stores were converted to Shell brand gasoline. 

Mapco spent $5.6 million to convert the stores from 7-Eleven and Delta Express to their new Mapco Express name and image. In the previous year, 1990, they had made a similar change to all Delta Express stations and former Stop N’Go stores in my hometown of Nashville TN. In my opinion, while they had gone upscale in Nashville in converting the Stop N’Go stores, they REALLY went upscale in Memphis.  

The $5.6 million was spent as follows: $1.3 million to change to the Shell brand, and $4.3 million upgrading both the store and the gasoline facilities. Again, in my opinion, and in retrospect, Mapco gave Memphis stores that were more urbane and contemporary than 7-Eleven had been. The stores were completely gutted and remodeled in a new, fresh image. The interiors were replaced with red and hunter green tiles with light wood accents. All counters and fountain areas had been replaced with new ones. Outside, most of the stores had a new splashy backlit awning with “Mapco Express” graphics. The stores in Bartlett and Collierville still kept their understated and tasteful brown exteriors and small “low profile” signage.  

Mapco would stay a major gasoline operator in Memphis throughout the 1990’s. As a college student, I worked from Spring of 1995 to June of 1996 at a Mapco store in Nashville, choosing that company because they operated the cleanest, most modern, and safest appearing stores in the area. I thoroughly enjoyed the job and the friends I made with regular customers who lived near that store. After a year, though, I had my fill of the gas station business and left to go to an office job and better schedule. 

In March 1998, the parent company of Mapco merged with the Williams Company in a $3.1 billion transaction. Although it was announced that the Mapco stores would change names to Williams Express, I only saw a halfhearted effort. The only changes I can recall was some signage on the gas pumps and some Williams branded coffee mugs. 

In December 2000, Williams announced the sale of its Mapco stores to Durham, NC based Convenience USA. Williams would retain 46 travel centers and 28 Mapco locations in Alaska. This transaction must have fallen through, because in 2001 the Delek Group of Israel acquired the stores from Williams. In 2002 Williams sold their travel centers to Pilot Corporation – based in Knoxville TN. In August of 2016, Delek sold the Mapco Stores to Copec – a Chilean company. Ironically, after selling the Mapco stores, Delek took over a company in West Texas that was the largest licensee of 7-Eleven stores. I understand that those stores have been rebranded and freshened as “DK Express”. 

Mapco today still operates approximately 350 stores in 7 southern states. The majority of these stores are in an arc that stretches from Memphis to Nashville to Chattanooga and northern Georgia. Almost, but not quite, to the northernmost Atlanta suburbs. Through four owners Mapco appears to be committed to serving the entire Memphis Community – operating stores not just in the ‘best’ neighborhoods, but throughout the city and suburbs. 


To accompany this post, as with last time, Mike B. has pulled some photos from his personal collection, complete with comments about the subject of each image. These are shared verbatim below:

Bartlett TN Store (Former 7-Eleven # 25677) – Highway 70 at Stage Road (Picture of this store with 7-Eleven signage was in previous blog entry)

Winchester Rd Store (Formerly 7-Eleven #23331) – 6977 Winchester Rd at Riverdale Road

Bolivar TN Store – Delta Express – look in the background for sign for another blog favorite. (Old-school Fred's sign – awesome!! –Ed.) Located on Market Street at Tennessee Street – Bolivar TN 

Collierville TN store – (Formerly 7-Eleven # 29103) – 795 Highway 72 W. Collierville – Possibly the last 7-Eleven built in the state of Tennessee. Located at corner of Highway 72 (Poplar Ave) and Byhalia Road. 

Central Ave Store – (Formerly 7-Eleven # 22532) – Located at 2142 Central Ave at Young St. This store is showing Mapco’s newest corporate look. Fieldstone exterior and lime green.

Williams Express Travel Center – 1100 Martin Luther King Blvd, West Memphis AR. In transition from Williams Express to Pilot. 

Scan is from a Mapco Free Map of Memphis – showing some pictures of the décor that replaced the 7-Eleven interiors.  Unsure of location but believed to be in Memphis. 

Second scan is from Mapco Travel Center Brochure – This interior was used almost exclusively in Memphis stores and Travel Centers. 


This sequel to Mike B.'s earlier post on the lost history of 7-Eleven's operations in the Memphis area was certainly worth the wait! I've thoroughly enjoyed learning about this facet of local retail, one which I readily admit I don't have much expertise in. I think it's great that Mike has done all of this research for us, and to that end, I also encourage any of you reading this who might have some similar Mid-South retail stories to share to contact us at midsouthretailblog [at] gmail [dot] com. I will gladly publish any contributions you are willing to send along!

Since this post focused on the Mapco conversions of the former Memphis-area 7-Eleven locations, I thought I'd quickly squeeze in a photo or two of my own. While I definitely recognize the Mapco Express logo featured in Mike's images, I don't personally recall ever seeing a Mapco location in DeSoto County until circa 2014, after which two new locations were built here – one in Southaven (at the edge of the Church Road border with Horn Lake), and another in Olive Branch (which opened a couple of years later, in early 2016). 

The Olive Branch Mapco in particular is quite interesting because it features a unique curved canopy above the gas pumps. I thought I had a more recent image of it, but despite some intense scouring I simply cannot seem to find it, so I'll instead repost my 2016 image, which has already been shared on the blog before. Mike told me last month that he drove past this same Mapco station on a recent trip that brought him to the area, and he was impressed seeing the design in person!

A quick Google search reveals that there is actually one additional Mapco location in DeSoto County besides those other two, this one within Horn Lake city limits proper (at the intersection of Goodman and Hurt) and also open as far back as 2008, the earliest street view imagery available. It's likely that I'd passed this one once or twice over the years as well, but if so, it was before I paid attention to such things. In any case, it's definitely an exciting find, as it certainly appears to be a former-7-Eleven-turned-Mapco itself! Take a look at the unmistakable exterior in the two images below, from two different Mapco branding eras...

Courtesy Yellow Pages

Courtesy Google Maps

While Mike B. will hopefully be able to confirm this as a former 7-Eleven for sure, to me the building definitely appears to match that of several of the other 7-Eleven/Mapco conversions shown in the images he contributed earlier in this post. And best of all, thanks to another image I found, we can also get a glimpse of this store's interior from back in 2010. Compare it to both the narrative description and the scanned images of Mapco interiors that Mike provided above, and I think you'll agree that it's a match!

Courtesy flickr

EDIT: Yep, according to Mike, this was indeed 7-Eleven Store #22211, 2515 Goodman Road West!


Pretty cool stuff, huh? Well, on that note, I think it's time to wrap up this post. Before you go, here's the rundown of sources Mike used in writing his contribution:

  • Guide to Gasoline Logos – Wayne Henderson and Scott Benjamin – 1997 – PCM Publishing 
  • Riding the Mapco Express – Convenience Store News – January 11, 1999 – John Lofstock 
  • Mapco Express sells 198 Sites – Tennessean – December 29, 2000 – Michael Davis
  • Mapco stores changing owners – The Commercial Appeal – December 29, 2000 – Christopher Barton
  • Travel Centers Fetch Williams $190 million – Tennessean – October 31, 2002 – Bush Bernard
  • How Mapco’s Image Upgrade Challenges the Majors – National Petroleum News – January 1989 – Peggy Smedley 
  • Majors Reshape Memphis in their own Image – National Petroleum News – July 1991 – Angel Abcede 

As always, thanks goes out to Mike B. for sharing all of this great content with the blog, and to you readers for visiting the site; I hope you enjoyed the post. We'll be back next month with at least one, but hopefully two, additions to some long-running series, so please stay tuned for that! Until next time, then – have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are :)

Retail Retell

Saturday, November 14, 2020

Contributor Post: North Alabama Kroger Stores (BONUS: Additional Alabama Kroger Details)

As promised, this month's post is a three-in-one feature. We'll be taking a look at the lost history of Kroger in North Alabama, an area that is beyond the Mid-South, thanks to Michael M., a new contributor to the blog. This is going to be a fun one for sure!

Several months ago, I was poking around some Clarion-Ledger archives on, and came across a November 1994 article covering the grand opening of the new Madison, MS, Kroger on Hwy 51. (You'll recall we saw photos of this store, which has since been demolished and replaced, on the blog back in July, courtesy of contributor publisher73.) Separately from its main subject, the article also noted that Kroger's "Delta Marketing area, with regional offices in Memphis, operates stores in six states: West Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Southern Missouri, Southwest Kentucky, and Western Alabama."

Five of those six states are familiar to me, and that ought to be the case also for readers of this blog who have seen my full listing of present-day Kroger Delta Division store locations. But none of my research had ever turned up any Kroger Delta Division stores in Alabama prior to my discovery of this article. Naturally, I was intrigued. Further investigation revealed an article as late as 1996 which continued to claim portions of Alabama as belonging to Kroger's Delta Division, while an article covering the rollout of the Kroger Plus Card in April 1999 excluded Alabama from the list of states comprising the Delta marketing area. (Note also that that 1999 article mentioned Kroger's southernmost stores in the state of Mississippi were in Laurel, Natchez, and McComb. I'll revisit that information later in the post, for separate reasons.)

Unfortunately, my further attempts to figure out where exactly Kroger was located in Western Alabama, as well as why they departed the region, came up empty in most respects. However, in the process I did happen to stumble across a new can of worms: Kroger's departure from Northern Alabama. I found a few interesting articles from 1986, took that as at least a partial win, and called it a night.

Fortuitously, a new email popped up in my inbox less than a month later. This is where I get to introduce Michael M. to you all. Michael is from the same North Alabama region that Kroger departed in 1986, and entirely coincidental to my prior research on the situation, he sent along this relevant information:

Kroger built four large supermarkets in our area of north Alabama known as the Shoals (Muscle Shoals, Florence, Sheffield, and Tuscumbia): two in the 1970s with the arches and crenellations entrance ways and then two even larger ones in 1981 in the greenhouse design.  Then to everyone's surprise, Kroger quickly closed all four of those active stores about 1985.  Because the buildings were in such good condition and in good locations, McCarty-Holman out of Jackson, Mississippi, quickly bought the stores and converted them into first-rate stores known as Jitney (or Jitney Jungle).

I worked for a few years at the Jitney in Muscle Shoals, Alabama which was, as you can see in the photo I took in 1990, a Kroger dual greenhouse.

This fine, attractive building still exists, but sadly it's been highly altered to feature four smaller businesses. 

Dual-greenhouse Krogers are a breed that I don't believe ever existed here in the Mid-South, with the exception of one store in Corinth; so that was certainly a cool sight to see. More exciting, though, was Michael's mention of those same North Alabama Kroger stores.

For more context on the situation before we go any further, it's worth noting that Kroger's presence in the state of Alabama today is pretty much limited exclusively to the Huntsville/Decatur area, as part of the Nashville Division. There are a few other stores along the eastern side of the state that belong to the Atlanta Division. But for the most part, Kroger is absent from most of the state. 

However, this was not always the case. As we've learned, apparently there were some stores in western Alabama that belonged to the Delta Division. Wikipedia notes that Kroger exited Birmingham as long ago as the early 1970s, "as a result of intense competition from Winn-Dixie and local chains Bruno's Supermarkets and Western Supermarkets." And of course, we also have our four standalone stores in the Shoals.

On June 6, 1986, under the headline It's a jungle out there: Jitney may be making out-of-state expansion, the Clarion-Ledger reported the following:

"The Jitneys are coming." At least that's what Jitney-Jungle is telling people in northwest Alabama. Indications are that the Jackson-based company soon will make official its first major move out of state with the purchase of as many as four Kroger stores in northwest Alabama. 

The purchase could include two stores in Florence, one in Muscle Shoals and the lease on a fourth store in Sheffield. Kroger closed the Florence and Muscle Shoals stores May 31 after failing to negotiate wage cuts with 300 of its employees, who were members of a union. The Sheffield grocery was shut down in late March. 

W.H. Holman Jr., Jitney's chairman, said earlier this week that the company had not purchased the stores. "We have negotiations with quite a few stores, but we have not concluded any acquisitions at this time," he said Wednesday. But in recent days, the company has been running advertisements in the Florence Times Daily which said, "The Jitneys are coming." 

Kroger Co. told 300 employees at its stores in Florence and Muscle Shoals that it had sold the stores to an undisclosed buyer, said Ed Collins, president of Retail Clerks Local 1577, the union which represents the workers at the stores. "They (Kroger) informed us they could not afford to operate those stores without wage and benefit cuts and would have to close them or sell them," he said. "We heard the new employer is Jitney-Jungle and they are going to hire 400 employees."

Less than a week later, on June 12, 1986, Jitney confirmed the purchase:

Jitney Jungle Stores of America Inc. confirmed Wednesday its purchase of four Kroger Co. supermarkets in northwest Alabama, which marks the chain's first major out-of-state move. "We believe the Shoals area of Alabama offers great potential for future economic growth," said Tony Reape, Jitney Jungle's chief operating officer. "We have been extremely pleased with the outstanding reception we have received from the area's business community and the people." 

Jitney Jungle purchased at an undisclosed price two stores in Florence, one in Muscle Shoals and one in Sheffield. Reape said the Florence and Muscle Shoals stores will open in the near future. The Sheffield store, after undergoing some modernization, will open later. 

The Clarion-Ledger reported last week that the purchase was probable, but store officials would not confirm the acquisition until Wednesday. The purchase brings the total number of stores in the Jitney Jungle chain to 60, including one store in Florida. 

Kroger closed the Florence and Muscle Shoals stores May 31 after it could not negotiate wage concessions from union employees of the Retail Clerks Local 1577. Kroger, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, shut its Sheffield operations because the store wasn't profitable.

This tactic of closing stores in areas where the company faced union pressures was, unfortunately, a common one for Kroger in the 1980s. For example, Kroger abruptly exited the entire Western Pennsylvania market as a result of a protracted labor strike in the region in 1983 and 1984, according to Wikipedia. Fellow retail photographers such as Random Retail, Nicholas Eckhart, and Andrew Turnbull have documented several recognizable former Kroger stores in the area; given that many were greenhouse stores, a style which only had begun appearing in the 1980s, it is likely that a large number of these stores had only been open for a very short time before Kroger's exit. We find that the same is true in North Alabama, where two of the four stores, as Michael noted, had opened a mere five years prior. However, at least in this situation Kroger's loss was Jitney's gain.

The second June 1986 Clarion-Ledger article continued, "the Alabama stores average 42,000 square feet and are larger than most Jitney Jungle stores in the Jackson area. ... With the Alabama acquisition complete, the chain has further plans for out-of-state expansion. 'We're looking anywhere from a range of 250 to 300 miles outside of Jackson for expansion possibilities,' Reape said." 

Indeed, Jitney would go on to make significant inroads into Alabama, as well as Tennessee, Florida, and Arkansas, with their purchase of the Foodway chain of stores in 1990. Michael M. sent along some images of an internal memo and pamphlet discussing the purchase and other significant events on Jitney's timeline, which are all shown below. Notice the references made to certain Memphis-area Jitney stores, as were discussed in this post from March 2020.

Courtesy Michael M.

Courtesy Michael M.

Courtesy Michael M.

Courtesy Michael M.

In addition to the exterior photo shared above (which is also reprinted below), Michael also sent along several additional pictures of the Muscle Shoals Kroger/Jitney at which he worked for a short time. Details follow below each of the images.

Courtesy Michael M.

Here we can once again see the dual greenhouse Kroger build at this location. The red and white striped awnings were likely added by Jitney. Note also that these stores were strictly called "Jitney Food Store," and not "Jitney Jungle." Jitney appears to have paid close attention to detail with the four Shoals Kroger stores they bought; as you'll see in the below images, the interiors were completely remodeled, and even the old Bauhaus-font pill-shaped signs on the exterior, which were left intact, nonetheless received a new coat of red paint to cover over Kroger's blue.

Courtesy Michael M.

This shot provides our best overview of the interior. We're standing near the middle of the store, looking from the front straight ahead to the back wall. Take note of Jitney's new aisle markers and wall décor. Upon opening, it is likely that this Kroger featured the Bauhaus décor package.

About this picture, Michael writes, The beach & palm tree display is one I helped to build in an open area where Kroger had a perfume & cologne counter. Jitney removed those unprofitable elements.

Courtesy Michael M.

Courtesy Michael M.

These other two images showcase dairy, my department when I had it fronted at the end of a shift. Looks nice!

As Michael noted, this store, located at 1418 Woodward Avenue in Muscle Shoals, is presently subdivided between four separate businesses. Prior to Jitney's own departure from the region, In 1992, McCarty Holman changed this store to their Sack and Save format which I did not like. Jitney had kept the deli restaurants providing a great place for us employees to spend our break. With Sack and Save, the deli restaurant was removed and we had no place to eat lunch or take a break. It was a rude kick in the ass from upper management.

Following Jitney's departure, another of the former Shoals Kroger stores, this one in nearby Florence, was subdivided between Hibbett Sports Super Store and Books-A-Million. As a matter of fact, Books-A-Million's predecessor was founded in Florence in 1917, but the first true Books-A-Million branded store didn't open until 1988, in Huntsville. As a result, it's quite possible that this former greenhouse Kroger was the very first Books-A-Million store to open in the chain's hometown of Florence. How cool is that?!

Courtesy flickr

In 2011, that former Kroger/Jitney was torn down, in order to make way -- ironically -- for a brand new Publix. The site was also redeveloped to build some new digs for BAM and Hibbett. (This album on flickr has some fantastic images of the property both before and during construction. See the end result here and here, courtesy of l_dawg2000.)

That tackles two of the four Shoals-area Kroger/Jitney stores. I'm not exactly confident on the third one, but if my research is correct, then it, too, was demolished, replaced with a nice new Veterans Memorial Park. That leaves just one final store of our quartet, and thankfully, not only is it intact, but it also still appears mostly as it did 35+ years ago, as Michael M. writes. That's the store near the University of North Alabama in the 7-points community (address: 1421 N Wood Ave, Florence, AL 35630). It's now called Hometown Market. It's old and somewhat run-down, having been built by Kroger sometime in the 1970s, but still functioning as a decent smaller supermarket.

Following our initial conversation, Michael set out to photograph the Kroger-turned-Jitney-turned-Hometown Market. His photos are shown below. And as you can see, this store is a wonderfully intact superstore-build Kroger!

Courtesy Michael M.

Courtesy Michael M.

On the exterior, we find a completely unaltered Kroger superstore design from the 1970s. This one actually had its arches on the corner of the building, meaning the feature gets to span two sides of the structure. The old pole that used to support Kroger's cube sign still sits in-between the two sets of overhangs, directly on the corner. Hometown Market's logo now rests atop the pole.

Courtesy Michael M.

Entering the store, we catch a brief glimpse at the bottom left of this photo of the brick inlay stripes or sections on the floor that Kroger used in the 70s. Jitney never bothered to remove them, and Hometown Market hasn't either, so they continue to serve as a nice remnant of Kroger's short time in the Shoals! And speaking of Jitney...

Courtesy Michael M.

Courtesy Michael M. might also be able to recognize these department signs as being identical to those that we saw in the background in Michael's earlier pics of the Muscle Shoals store that he worked at in the 1990s. That means that Hometown Market has also never remodeled the interior décor of this store, meaning it's both a Kroger and a Jitney time-warp. It's always awesome to see some lost history surviving like this, hiding in plain sight right beneath everyone's noses! 

Thanks very much to Michael M. for sharing his information and photos; I hope you all have enjoyed viewing and reading his contributions as much as I did.


So now we've learned about Kroger's brief escapades in North Alabama, but that's only one piece of the puzzle. In news that shouldn't come as a surprise to any of you, once I heard of Kroger's presence and departure from multiple other portions of the state, I did some further digging to see what all I could find out. As it turns out, Kroger seems to have been quite eager to exit many of its Alabama markets during the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1994, for example, Kroger sold seven of its stores to Alabama-based Delchamps. Two of these were in Tuscaloosa, one in Mobile, and four in the Biloxi-Gulfport area of neighboring Mississippi. A Cincinnati Enquirer report wrote of the deal, "The switch is designed to save costs by unloading stores too far from Kroger's distribution centers in Memphis, Tenn., and Jackson, Miss. ... 'Those stores (being sold) were at the outer rim of our geographic proximity to those warehouses,' [Kroger's spokseperson] said."

More importantly, Delchamps noted in its annual report for fiscal year 1995 that this purchase allowed them to strategically "[eliminate] a competitor along the Gulf Coast of Mississippi and in central and southern Alabama." Knowing that the Mississippi stores would have been located under the Delta Division umbrella, it's likely that the other stores included in the Delchamps purchase were part of the Delta Division, too. And while this transaction might not have completely removed Alabama stores from that division (recall that an article from 1996 claimed that Kroger Delta still encompassed some western Alabama stores), central and southern Alabama nonetheless represents yet another Alabama market that Kroger completely departed from in one fell swoop. 

While this post is intended to focus on Alabama, I can't help but briefly spend some time on the Gulf Coast Kroger stores mentioned here. For as long as I've known, Kroger has not had a presence in the southern part of Mississippi, when in my mind there is a clear opportunity there. The only major supermarket chain in the Gulf Coast region is Winn-Dixie, and while they are actively trying to revitalize their operations in their home state of Florida (see here), their Mississippi stores clearly stand out as outliers that could easily be dropped in an instant if Winn-Dixie so desired. Other portions of southern Mississippi that aren't along the coast, such as the Natchez area, have no chain supermarkets at all. These days, Kroger's southernmost presence in the state is in McComb, a tiny superstore-era store that hasn't been remodeled in decades (making one wonder just how much longer Kroger will hang onto that one, too...).

Again, like I've done in the past, I can't help but wonder why Kroger doesn't have more of a presence in those parts of Mississippi that are clearly underserved from a supermarket standpoint. But then again, as I mentioned earlier in this post, Kroger did in fact have a store in Natchez at one point. Unfortunately, they wound up closing it sometime most likely in the early 2000s (recall the 1999 article that noted the Natchez store was still operational at the time). So, the conclusion here must be that, despite what you might expect given the absence of other supermarket chains, Kroger simply must not have been successful in that market. Likewise, the information from this Delchamps transaction reveals that Kroger indeed had a presence along the Gulf Coast at one time; the fact that they sold out ultimately suggests, however, that it simply was not profitable for them.

The former Natchez Kroger today operates as Sports Center. The 70s superstore façade is very impressively disguised, but the old cube sign mercifully remains fully recognizable (and reused!). Courtesy Google Maps Street View

Looking at this situation makes me sad, because it's basically a lose-lose. The residents are left behind with fewer options, but I also can't fully blame Kroger for leaving, because it absolutely is not a reasonable business decision to continue operating an unprofitable store. You'll notice that I'm also speaking as if the stores weren't sold to Delchamps; that's because, of course, Delchamps later became part of Jitney -- so, in a roundabout way, this purchase actually furthered Jitney's presence in Alabama! -- and then the combined Delchamps/Jitney entity met its demise shortly thereafter, going out of business entirely (and creating even more vacant supermarkets). Such a shame.

Finally, it should be mentioned that the 1994 Kroger/Delchamps transaction also resulted in two Delchamps stores being sold to Kroger (rather than the seven that went the other way around). These were the stores in Greenville and Columbus, MS, both of which I have previously documented over on flickr (follow the links to see my albums). Jason P. commented on one of my flickr uploads from those stores, sharing that the rationale behind the deal was that "Kroger acquired several stores in areas where they held a stronger footprint, such as the Mississippi Delta, and traded off stores in Alabama where Delchamps was stronger." Since Delchamps ultimately wound up going down alongside the failed Jitney Jungle, it's quite possible that the Columbus and Greenville stores are among (or just flat-out are) the only former Delchamps stores still operating as active supermarkets within the state of Mississippi today.

The Greenville, MS, Delchamps-turned-Kroger, as viewed in 2018. The façade as shown here is original to Delchamps, but Kroger renovated it in 2019 to a more modern look; now neither of the two Mississippi Delchamps sold to Kroger retain their original exterior (or indeed, interior) designs.


Returning our attention to Alabama, various Groceteria forum discussions reveal the stories of yet more Kroger stores sold off in the 1980s. As one poster writes, "Four greenhouse stores in Guntersville, Scottsboro, Sylacauga, and Talladega become Food World in the 80's." It was subsequently noted that the cube sign remained intact for sure at the Scottsboro store, but Food World ultimately wound up relocating "into the former Red Food/BiLo store next door after Ahold acquired Bruno's." (Food World was apparently a Bruno's nameplate.) "The 4 Kroger stores in the Florence/Muscle Shoals area became Jitney Jungle during the same timeframe and are probably empty," an author commented in 2005.

Groceteria users further reference the Delchamps-purchased stores: "The Tuscaloosa superstore became Delchamps as did the greenhouse in suburban Northport, and are empty since Jitney/Delchamps demise. I don't think Winn-Dixie nor Bruno's took any of the locations in those two cities." (Clearly, the Mississippi Gulf Coast isn't the only area facing supermarket avoidance problems...)

Tantalizingly, these conversations reveal intriguing details on the stores' interiors, but sadly have no corresponding photographs. Three of the four greenhouse Kroger-turned-Food World stores, for example, were remodeled, but at Guntersville, "The interior was a total blast from the past--with pink, orange, and green wall graphics and interior--all left over from the old Kroger." Sadly, that store has since changed hands to a new operator, and any former Kroger remnants have long since been wiped out.

More broadly speaking, these 1980s greenhouse Kroger stores are very easily recognizable not only because of their distinctive architecture, but also simply because they are in abundance. Even after the buildings change hands and begin their post-Kroger lives, one user noted, their greenhouses most often remain untouched, "as the greenhouse façade is evidently expensive to replace." Even at greenhouses that do remain operational as Kroger, many "retain the greenhouse on an otherwise post-greenhouse remodel/expansion." We've seen this happen in many places across the country, including here locally in the Mid-South, so none of this information is new. Nor, likewise, is the user's corollary comment, "Very few have intact interiors."

I bring this up, however, because the same user notes that the Kroger in Lanett, AL, did have an intact original interior, at least as of the time of his/her comment. The Lanett Kroger is an interesting store even ignoring its interior décor, though, if other discussions from Groceteria are to be believed. For instance, one user writes, "It's a greenhouse, and it has the cube sign, but they have completely de-emphasized the fact that it's a Kroger. They pretty much just call it 'Lannett Food and Drug.' However, on the cube sign, you can just make out a tiny Kroger logo at the top. And there appears to be a tiny Kroger logo on the far left of the building." Another user provided further details in response:

The Lanett, AL Kroger is a non-union Kroger surrounded by unionized Kroger locations in LaGrange, GA and Auburn and Opelika, AL. Kroger had previously closed its store in Lanett probably about 5 years earlier due to labor disputes and only returned as a non-union operation. At the same time non-union stores opened using the towns name on the cube in Brunswick and Warner Robins, GA and Talladega and Sylacauga, AL. The Brunswick and Warner Robins stores were eventually covered by a collective bargaining agreement with the other Georgia Kroger locations while Talladega and Sylacauga were sold to Bruno's and only Lanett continues as a non-union location.

So if I'm following the timeline correctly, the above information took place prior to the four stores mentioned earlier being sold to Food World (aka Bruno's)... but more interesting out of all of that, of course, is the repeat example of Kroger responding negatively to union activity. (It closed, only to subsequently reopen explicitly as non-union?!) Not the best part of their history...

Kroger must have finally decided they had hidden behind the "Lanett Food and Drug" moniker long enough, because these days, the store once again operates as a regular ol' Kroger. And what's better is, even despite the many apparent signage changes on the exterior, inside it looks as if practically nothing has changed since day one. Check out the images below to see what I'm talking about...

Courtesy Google Maps

It's wannabe neon décor, inside a greenhouse! This isn't anything unheard of, but it also isn't something that I've seen much evidence of or that I thought still existed. That's why I wanted to be sure and share all of these great Google Maps user images with you guys in this post.

Courtesy Google Maps

This décor certainly would not have been installed following the conversion back to Kroger after the stint as generic "Lanett Food and Drug," so it's pretty obvious that this store was still clearly Kroger-branded on the inside for the duration of that name swap, given that a number of these department signs include the word "Kroger" in them!

Courtesy Google Maps

Looking from produce -- which is in the front right corner, as usual -- across to the front end. Note the classic, original checklane lights are joined by newer self-checkout signage (hailing from script décor) and aisle markers (hailing from 2012/bountiful décor).

Courtesy Google Maps

In fact, not only were the aisle markers replaced at some point, but I'd imagine the store had tile flooring to begin with, so clearly the floors were redone somewhere along the way as well. It's pretty unusual for a store to replace its flooring prior to its wall décor, but hey, I'm not going to complain!

Courtesy Google Maps

Heading along the back wall takes us to the "Meat Shoppe," which is also our first good close-up of one of the department signs in this store. Generally speaking, the greenhouse version of wannabe neon was more or less identical to the version seen in the other stores that received the package, just stretched taller to accommodate the higher ceilings. However, in this particular version, you'll notice that the font used is a bit different as well; it's more rigid, and skinnier. Compare to the typical wannabe neon décor font as seen in this image (among others in that album). It's also possible that later greenhouse wannabe neon remodels got the normal font, and this store simply has an earlier version. We'll see further evidence of that before this post concludes.

This and all images below courtesy Google Maps

A look underneath the high soffit ceiling, before looking over towards the dairy department and the back right corner. We see two signs that read "Kroger Dairy," although neither of them are all that clear from these vantage points.

One last view of the rear actionway, preceding several repetitive aisle shots looking up toward the pharmacy. The deli and bakery are going to be beyond the pharmacy, just out of view to the right in the above images. There sadly aren't any pictures of those departments online.

Courtesy Google Maps

An absolutely awesome shot of the pharmacy décor rounds out our Google Maps-provided interior images of this store (and this décor package). Again note the font difference between this and the more common version of wannabe neon. (Ignoring that the example in that linked photo is all capital letters as opposed to sentence-case! Note also the glossier shade of red, too...) 

Of course, it probably goes without saying that wannabe neon is anything but common these days. However, it's still out there in several stores, and might actually be more prevalent than certain even newer packages that have been all but wiped out entirely. I attribute this to the fact that wannabe neon is most frequently found in tiny superstore-era stores that Kroger evidently doesn't want to spend the money remodeling, as opposed to its larger, newer-build locations.

Note also in this image one more newer-décor element: the "Rx Pick-up" sign, which hails from the Food4Less décor package. (I haven't featured that one on the blog, but you can see it here, scrolling left.)

Courtesy Google Maps

No more cube sign outside. It has been replaced with a newer, more modern road sign, also featuring fuel center prices. Presumably, this was done when the name switched back to Kroger.

Image source unknown

Finally, a shot of the storefront itself. Still rocking the greenhouse, of course, and we also find the same "Kroger Food & Pharmacy" logo that is typical of stores in the Atlanta Division. I would absolutely love to get the chance to visit and photograph this store, but in researching it in preparation for this post, I came across some evidence that it may well finally be remodeling this year. If true, that's very sad news :(  EDIT: Indeed, this store has since remodeled. It now has the fresh and local décor package. But on the flip side, it's still cool that the old décor got to survive untouched for as long as it did...

While it was somewhat outside of the purview of this post, I thoroughly enjoyed those images of the greenhouse version of wannabe neon in the Lanett Kroger, and hopefully you did as well. I'll close this post with just a couple more pics relating to the differing fonts of certain versions of wannabe neon décor.

Courtesy The News Courier

Courtesy The News Courier

These first two show the former Athens, AL, Kroger. (Unlike all the rest we've covered in today's post, this one seems never to have sold to another operator -- instead, it ultimately became the town's library, of all things!) Inside, we find the same rigid-font version of wannabe neon, but note that this store was a superstore-era build. That helps reinforce the notion that this font was used in an earlier version of this package (as the Athens store likely would have completed a relatively early remodel to the new design).

Courtesy Issuu

In contrast, this image, from the Vicksburg Post in 2011, shows the interior of the former greenhouse Kroger in Vicksburg, MS, as interior demolition work began in advance of subdividing the building for new tenants. Here we can see the fatter, rounder font more commonly associated with wannabe neon, as well as the little three-dots element surrounding the department signs (something else that we didn't see in Lanett or Athens).


Again, there was a lot of information in this post, but I found it all very interesting, and it is my hope that you did also. It's not often we get the chance to cover basically an entire state's worth of stores in one entry, haha! (And we still didn't cover them all -- don't forget the Kroger-owned "Welcome" superwarehouse store that was in Mobile, as I wrote about on My Florida Retail this June!) Thanks again goes out to Michael M. for all of his contributions (as well as his patience with me in getting this post ready to publish!).

If you have any history or images to share concerning Kroger's past (or present) operations in Alabama, please feel free to drop a comment below, or email me directly at midsouthretailblog [at] gmail [dot] com. Otherwise, I hope you'll stick around for next month, when our ongoing Fred's series resumes. We'll be heading to one of the places mentioned in this post -- can anyone guess which one?!

Until then, hope you all have a Happy Thanksgiving, and as always -- thanks for reading, and have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!

Retail Retell