Tuesday, March 23, 2021

When Fred's Went Frolicking in Florida

     Hello there readers of the Mid-South Retail Blog! Unfortunately your usual blogger, our good friend Retail Retell, is a bit busy this March, so the MSRB's next installment in the recurring Fred's posting series has been thrown into my hands. For those of you who don't know me, I'm AFB, curator of my namesake Albertsons Florida Blog in addition to My Florida Retail, two blogs where I bring the internet coverage and documentation of stores around Florida. Florida is a bit outside of the usual scope of the Mid-South Retail Blog, but I think this next installment in the Fred's posting series will serve as a way to tie these two regions together. A Memphis-based Mid-South retail institution, Fred's Super Dollar once covered a territory that spanned as far north as Indiana and Illinois, as far west as Texas and Oklahoma, and as far south as the Greater Orlando area in Florida (the short-lived Auburndale, FL Fred's store, about an hour southwest of Orlando, would have been the southernmost store ever in the chain's entire 72 year history). But before we jump into the primary subject of today's post, I'll give everyone a quick recap on Fred's history in Florida, with a tour of a former Floridian Fred's store to follow. Today's Fred's installment will be a bit different that what we've seen on the MSRB in the past, but it's an interesting little glimpse into a market where Fred's just never caught on...

     While Fred's had operated stores in Alabama and Georgia for years, Fred's wasn't very ambitious when it came to making a push into the last missing piece of their Southern footprint: Florida. Fred's opened a lone Floridian outpost in Fernandina Beach in the early 1970's (a town just south of the Florida/Georgia border on the Atlantic Coast), but that was the entirety of Fred's Floridian presence for the next 25 years. In the late 1990's, Fred's tried to establish a second Floridian store in Pensacola, a store which failed after only two years in business. While the Pensacola store's quick demise seemed like a sign to not proceed any further, Fred's wanted to make one last attempt at Florida. Come 2002, Fred's began its most ambitious push into Florida at a time with the company was in peak expansion mode. Beginning with a store in Crystal River, Fred's would go on to open 21 additional stores in Florida as the decade progressed, these 21 stores clustered within the Floridian Panhandle and curving down the peninsula toward Orlando. While the expansion seemed promising, Florida was already a stronghold with Fred's competitors Dollar General and Family Dollar. Being a new brand in the strange retail market that is Florida, Fred's was put to the squeeze almost instantly after opening their first stores (essentially falling into the same trap as Rite Aid during their ill-fated Floridian expansion in the early 1990's - trying to go against two well-established brands that already dominated the market - Eckerd and Walgreens being the two in Rite Aid's case). By the end of the 2000's, Fred's had begun to struggle in Florida. In 2008, Fred's closed half of those 21 new stores opened as part of the Floridian push, marking the beginning of the end. Fred's never opened another new store in Florida after 2008, with more closures trickling out in the coming years. By the time 2019 came around, Fred's last year in operation, only 6 stores remained open in Florida, nearly all of them located in small towns in the Panhandle. If you're curious as to where all the Floridian Fred's stores were through the years, I complied all the locations into this table, viewable in the My Florida Retail Info Database.

     If you follow My Florida Retail, you'll remember I did a post about Fred's in October 2019. That post documented the closure of the Fred's store located in Green Cove Springs, FL, a small town southwest of Jacksonville, and the only one of Fred's final Floridian locations to not be located in the Panhandle. These last few photos you've seen were a sampling of the photos I took during my visit to the Green Cove Springs Fred's store, my full coverage of which you can view here. That visit was my first and only experience at an operational Fred's. Since Fred's stores were rather rare in Florida, it was a chain I never got to experience much, but I'm glad everything worked out and I got to visit at least one location before the chain went under completely. While it would have been nice if I saved those photos of the Green Cove Springs Fred's store for today, I was still able to dig into my archives and come up with an alternative solution to present some Floridian retail with a Fred's twist. Now that all the introductory fluff is out of the way, let's pack the car, grab a slice of key lime pie, and head south to Florida for today's Fred's subject, located in the Space Coast city of Titusville:

     While many readers of the Mid-South Retail Blog may have never heard of Titusville, you're probably quite familiar with the complex located on the barrier island just off the coast of Titusville: the Kennedy Space Center, headquarters of NASA. Many NASA employees call Titusville home, and Titusville's economy and retail scene is very closely tied to whatever NASA is up to. While retail in Titusville has fluctuated as space programs get added and cut, Fred's short run in Titusville wasn't attributed to that, but more so Fred's troubles catching on in Florida as a whole. The complex Fred's operated out of in Titusville was very much effected by the city's economic swings, but that's a story for another day.

     The building you see here is part of the quaint little Titusville (née Searstown) Mall, one of those tiny small-town malls that were quite popular in the 1960's and 1970's. Titusville Mall opened in 1966 as the city was booming with an influx of new residents to work on the Apollo program, NASA's program that was to get man on the moon - a moment in history achieved only three years after the mall opened. Titusville was a hopping place in the late 1960's and early 1970's, spawning a second mall of similar design to this one just a mile up the road in 1968. As you can guess by the mall's original name, the original anchor lineup at Titusville Mall consisted of Sears, in addition to Woolworth, Publix, Eckerd Drugs, and a small movie theater. The building that is the subject of today's post was the mall's Publix anchor, with Publix remaining at the mall until 1986, when a newer store opened a few miles to the west of here replacing this one. I'm not sure what exactly occupied this building between Publix's departure and Fred's arrival, but I'd have to guess something was in here, as Fred's didn't come into the picture until 2006.

     Like most Floridian Fred's stores, the Titusville Fred's only lasted a handful of years - 4 specifically in this case - before closing for good. September 2010 was when the Titusville Fred's served its last shoppers before slipping into the dark voids of retail history. In an article about Fred's closing, the company's then-CFO stated, "the chain does an annual review of its stores and found that "business performance dropped significantly" at the Titusville location". Since the store only lasted 4 years, this place must have seen a huge drop in sales rather quick. For a mall that's seen a lot of ups and downs in tenancy, the loss of Fred's was seen as a big hit, as the store was quite popular with people who lived in the neighborhood surrounding the mall. For the people living around the mall, Fred's was a convenient place to shop for household essentials, especially since a lot of the town's retail has moved west and south toward newer subdivisions and the Interstate in recent years.

     After Fred's left, their former building sat vacant until Wildwood Antique Mall was bright in to fill the void in 2012. Wildwood Antique Mall was a chain of antique malls that expanded quickly across Florida in the mid-late 2010's. Wildwood Antique Mall grew to 9 locations throughout the state by 2019, the year the company declared bankruptcy. Wildwood's bankruptcy proceedings exposed some shady business practices by the owners, practices that seemed to have played into the company's route to bankruptcy. While Wildwood Antique Malls still exists as a chain with three locations now, many of the former locations spun off into independently owned antique malls following the bankruptcy - the Titusville location doing just that, now operating as the Titusville Antique Mall. One thing I've learned from visiting a few of these antique vendor places is most of them are rather low budget operations in terms of remodeling - this one being no exception. While the real fun begins inside, I'd like to point out the antique mall's exterior sign. Even though the sign is just a flat panel against the wall, it's in the exact place and of the exact dimensions as Fred's exterior sign (not the greatest image but the best I can do), covering the scar left behind when Fred's sign was removed.

     The old Publix building has seen some modifications through the years, and a lot of the modifications we'll see today were most likely done by Fred's. While there aren't any pictures of it online, when this Publix originally opened, it had a modified version of Publix's classic 1960's Wing Store exterior. The reason for the modification was because one quarter of the Publix store is inset into the mall building, leaving a smaller chunk of facade exposed compared to a typical store. After Publix left, the building was remodeled to have a more generic design like we see today. Stepping onto the store's front sidewalk, here's a look at the front entrance into the antique mall. I'm pretty sure Fred's was the one to reconfigure the entryway into this double door design, as most Fred's stores I've seen have a similar entryway setup (much like I saw in Green Cove Springs, and like Retail Retell has shown us in the past). Fred's seemed to place their service desk between the two sets of doors, with the check lanes spanning off to one side of the service desk.

     Stepping inside, we'll discover just how many antiques one can stuff into a former Fred's store (answer - a lot!). Like most vendor malls, there are little booths arranged in aisles along the old sales floor, filled to the brim with all kinds of objects. However, amongst all this antiquity, a very obvious Fred's relic remains. I'm sure the regular readers of the Mid-South Retail blog will spot it, although I do have some close-ups of that relic coming up shortly...

     In this photo were standing along the left side of the sales floor, looking toward the front wall. Unfortunately, I'm not too familiar with Fred's to know exactly what departments were where when Fred's was here, as I'm not sure how standardized Fred's layouts were (or if they varied greatly from store to store). However, I can pinpoint one department in this store, and that's Fred's old clothing department. We're standing in that right now, as the wood flooring in this corner of the store was used exclusively in Fred's clothing sections. The Green Cove Springs Fred's I visited had clothing in the same location we see here (front left corner), so it's possible the layout in Green Cove Springs was similar to what would have been used here.

     While it may be unclear how Fred's had things arranged while they were in the building, I can assure all of you that Fred's spent some time in this building. Looking up toward the ceiling, we have a tell-tale sign of Fred's 4 years in this space still going strong 11 years after Fred's left - that stripe on the wall! That purple and green stripe is an obvious reminder of Fred's late 2000's decor, the decor that would have complimented this logo.

     Fred's stores weren't very common in Florida to begin with, and what few traces of Fred's there were in Florida got wiped away pretty quick as these spaces were rolled over to new tenants. That's why I found it interesting to see the Fred's striping on the walls of the antique mall all these years later, an interesting reminder of another chain that came to Florida and slipped into our obscure retail history.

     Looking across the width of the building, you can probably get the feeling this was a really big space for a dollar store (it was Fred's Super Dollar after all!). At 30,000 square feet, this building was average size for a Publix of the time, but even today, that's a lot of space for a dollar store! The size of these stores was one of Fred's differentiation points from the competition, and made these stores a big hit in smaller towns where stores tend to be small and lack a lot of variety. The fact that Fred's offered pharmacy counters was another differentiating factor, however, I'm 99% sure the Titusville Fred's (and just about every other Fred's in the Floridian peninsula) never had a pharmacy. Some of the panhandle Fred's stores that made it to the end had pharmacies, but those were relatively uncommon around here. I know in Fred's later years pharmacies began to have a more significant role in operations, so it's also possible the Floridian store's lack of pharmacies played a role in their short life as well.

     Not Fred's related at all, but I thought all the old advertising signs in this booth were really cool. These antique malls usually have lots of cool stuff for sale, although I tend to think of these places as a hands-on museum more than anything else (usually because a lot of the stuff for sale is really expensive, but still fun to look at and browse).

     Looking across the back wall of the store, this is where the building's life as a Publix becomes more apparent. The ceiling drops lower back here to mark where Publix's former service departments were located. Most likely Fred's had the lower ceiling area walled off as backroom space when they were here, the antique mall breaking though the wall to open the former backroom space up for more booths. 

     The antique mall was making use of whatever rentable space they could find, even the maze of hallways in the back of the store, like we see here.

     In this photo were get a glimpse of the old backroom warehouse space. The layout of the backroom space is still very Publix-like, with the space wrapping around the salesfloor in an L-shape. What we see here is the very back of the store, with this corridor wrapping around to the right side of the building. There's still a very strong backroom vibe in here, with the pipes running across the ceiling, dim lighting, and scuffed-up floors.

     We'll pop back onto the salesfloor through this little corridor, the salesfloor located through that open door straight ahead.

     On the right side of the building now, here's another look across the back of the store.

     The right side wall is visible here, complete with its Fred's stripe.

     I believe the front right corner, which we're looking toward here, was home to Fred's grocery department (going off the layout of the Green Cove Springs store).

     On the right side of the building is another opening into the old stockroom, which I popped into for this photo. This side of the stockroom was roped off to store supplies and equipment for employees, however behind the rope I spotted another relic of this building's past. The relic in this picture is not from Fred's though, but Publix. That green and white checkered tile pattern through the opening in the wall is something I've seen in other former Publix buildings, although I don't exactly know what that tile was from. If there are any Floridians reading this, maybe you can provide some insight on what went with that tile (as I'm not too familiar with the original, unaltered Wing Store layout).

     Spinning around from that last picture, here's a look at the other side of the side stockroom, which someone set up to look like a (a very retro) living room display. Even though this is an old supermarket stockroom, it (strangely enough) makes for a cozy living room.

     Back on the salesfloor, we'll get a few more glimpses of Fred's striping as we peruse the remainder of the store.

     It looked like there was a scar of some kind on the wall, but it seems most likely that scar was from a vendor's display and not something from Fred's.

     Now that we've seen most of the store, I think it will be fun to finish our tour with a few retail goodies I spotted during my visit:

     Since this building was a former Publix, I had to share this picture of some old Publix toy trucks for sale at one of the booths. While the truck on the bottom is supposed to resemble a 1950s design, I believe these particular trucks were issued for sale in the late 80's or early 90's, based on the packaging of the smaller truck on top. Either way, these are a nice little piece of old-school Publix, from the days when Publix was a just a small Floridian chain. (And I'm sorry Publix keeps coming up so much in this MSRB post - Publix has a way of slipping into many aspects of Floridian retail history!)

     Since this Fred's was located in the former Searstown Mall, I thought this Sears branded nativity set was a fun relic to include in this post. The Sears store at the other end of the mall actually lasted for quite a while - until 2018 - the name of the mall changing shortly after Sears's closure that year.

     While Publix and Sears are fun and all, I tried to seek out some Mid-South related relics amongst the booths to include in this Mid-South Retail Blog post. This University of Tennessee Coke bottle is a little bit closer to home for that purpose, but I eventually found something directly related to Memphis as I browsed through the booths:

     Holiday Inn - the hotel chain that can trace its roots back to a single location at 4941 Summer Avenue in Memphis! Digging through a rack of old road maps within one of the booths, I pulled out this 1967 directory of Holiday Inn locations (which had a really nice graphic on the front of the iconic "great sign", a long gone piece of our roadside history). I came really close to buying this, but it was in somewhat rough shape for the price the person was asking for it, so I passed (although I don't think old motel directories have a high turnover rate if I did want to go back and purchase it, as I didn't take this photo all too long ago...) Anyway, in addition to the fun graphics on the front, I also took a picture of the page listing all of Holiday Inn's locations in Memphis at the time this guide was published in 1967 (which includes the original location on Summer Ave., which appears to have been long since demolished). That's the only location I looked up from those listings, but it's still interesting to know about Holiday's Inn's connection to Memphis. At the top of the listings is a map of the Memphis area from 1967 (for the roadgeeks in the room to peruse), with some fun things like the I-240 beltway shown under construction, and US 51, the famous Elvis Presley Blvd., shown with its original name - Bellevue Blvd.

     While that was a fun little tangent, let's get back on track with Fred's! Looking toward the front of the building (which was buried and obstructed by vendor booths), we get one last glimpse of Fred's stripe before we head back outside...

     Stepping into the parking lot, we see the old Publix/Fred's building attached to the neighboring mall. While we're here, I'll give you guys on the Mid-South Retail Blog a small taste of the Titusville Mall. It's a fun little time-warped mall that's had its share of ups and downs, but still seems to hold its own, even with a big empty Sears on the other side of the complex in the present day.

     Stepping through the mall entrance by the old Fred's, this is what we see. Yes, it's an old mall with an old feel, but the owners try their best to upkeep the place, fill in-line vacancies, and fix what needs to be fixed.

     Here's a look toward the mall's center court, which is still very much a relic from the mall's last major renovation in 1985. The Bealls Outlet you see in front of me is located in the mall's old Woolworth store, but has been home to Bealls Outlet for many years now. I believe Bealls Outlet is the last chain store operating in Titusville Mall following the departure of Sears, with all the other tenants being locally-owned these days.

     I have full coverage of the remainder of Titusville Mall to come to My Florida Retail eventually, so we'll head back outside for one last look at the mall's former Fred's store to wrap things up. I hope you guys enjoyed this different (but hopefully still interesting) take on the MSRB's ongoing Fred's series. Retail Retell should be back with his usual Fred's coverage for the June entry to this series (or at least I hope he is, as I'm running dry on Fred's content if I have to get called in again!) Plenty more to come here on the MSRB in the coming months, and if you want to see more from me, you can always explore the craziness that is Floridian retail on the Albertsons Florida Blog and My Florida Retail. For coverage of stores closer to home, Retail Retell also has weekly uploads on his flickr photostream too. There's always something going on in the retail blogosphere, so there's never a shortage of stuff to discover! Anyway, that's all I have to say for this post, so as another retail blogger once put it -  until next time, thanks for reading, and have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!


Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Celebrating Six Years of The Mid-South Retail Blog!


It's that time of year again, everyone -- can you believe it's already been one year since our fifth anniversary?! Time has flown by in some regards; and in others, it has dragged on for way too long, haha. After what wound up happening in March of 2020 (right around the time our last anniversary post was published, as a matter of fact), I thought I would be quite wary to go through a month of March ever again, but as it turns out February of 2021 was difficult enough that I was actually looking forward to March's arrival, believe it or not!

Anyway, I digress, but there is a point to be made somewhere in there -- I know all of y'all have a lot of stuff going on in your lives, whether it's affected by the current state of the world, or just individual circumstances that you're dealing with. And I know that everyone needs a little time to cool off and get away from it all every now and again. I sincerely thank you for choosing to spend some of that time browsing my content. That means a lot to me.

Like you guys, publishing these blog posts and responding to your comments is part of the way I relieve stress sometimes, not to mention that obviously I'm just really into a lot of this stuff in general. But it wouldn't be sustainable for me to keep it up if I didn't get all of the wonderful interaction that you guys provide, which makes the whole activity worthwhile -- both here, and over at my flickr page. So, again, I appreciate you for stopping by!

2021 marks The Mid-South Retail Blog's sixth (!) year on the web, after a very productive mambo year number five, in which we broke 100,000 pageviews and got to celebrate with a very special post. We also wrapped up our long-running Rite Aid series, plowed forward with our ongoing Fred's series, and had a pretty healthy number of contributor posts -- which, by the way, I encourage you to continue sending in; our mailbox is at midsouthretailblog [at] gmail [dot] com. There's also one other really cool thing that I was invited to be a contributor to myself, which I'd like to share with y'all, except that it hasn't been made public just yet. I believe the crew is working on finishing it up. I'll be sure to share that here as soon as it's released. I'm very proud to be a part of that project, even if it is only a miniscule contribution.

Our pageviews as of today stand at 119,530, which is an increase of 25,487 off of last year's 94,043 -- about 8,060 more than our increase from 2019 to 2020, which is great to see. For you longtime readers and newcomers alike, I'm glad you keep finding it worth your time to come on back. If you'd like to revisit any of our posts from the past calendar year, you can find them all conveniently listed and linked below, and don't forget that all years' past content is always available from our sidebar as well.

January 2020

February 2020

March 2020

April 2020

May 2020

June 2020

July 2020

August 2020

September 2020

October 2020

November 2020

December 2020

Unfortunately, in regards to what I was saying earlier about enjoying writing for this blog in my free time -- I haven't really had much of that these past several weeks, as you may have noticed with the very short posts I published in February (although it is worth noting that this year does mark the first time I published more than one entry in February, so there's that, at least!). I expect that to continue for the next several weeks as well, so I apologize to any of you who may have been looking for more frequent content (trust me, I'd like to be writing more as well, but it is what it is). 

All that said, this month is scheduled to have the next entry in our Fred's series, and naturally, the show must go on. So, please stay tuned in the next several days for a very special guest post kindly authored by a friend of the blog -- you won't want to miss it!! And of course, I hope to have plenty more fun content for you as soon as I'm able to get back in the groove as well. Again, thanks so much for your readership as well as your patience; and until next time, as always, have fun exploring the retail world wherever you are!

Retail Retell