Sunday, December 6, 2009

Anniston retail notes: Wakefield's, Winn-Dixie, etc.

Lots of strange things happen retail-wise in second-tier markets.  You know, those cities that aren't big enough to have name recognition outside the state nor the population and incomes to support many big city establishments.  What I mean by that is that not only do retail chains often put their outpost stores in such markets, but such markets also feature a few peculiar stores of their own.  While this is far less true today than it was 20 years ago, Anniston proved to have a few treasures.

The first of these treasures is Wakefield's, a small department store chain that seems to be on the line of Kohl's or Peeble's, but located only in Alabama.  All of its stores, however, are known as Martin's except one...a free-standing vintage mid-century store close to downtown Anniston.  It is a complete mystery to me why there is one store called Wakefield's and all the others "Martin's Family Clothing".  They also operate "Martin's Baby Depot".  I personally like the Wakefield's name, sign and logo better.  The nearest Martin's is extremely close with a store in Oxford at Quintard Mall and also right across the street from it!  Martin's is also located in Rainbow City (suburb of Gadsden), Florence and Decatur.  The latter two are quite far removed from their obviously strong base in Anniston/Oxford.

A couple more views of Wakefield's.  Note the "W" over the doors on the second photo.  All other Wakefield's locations are known under the Martin's Family Clothing or Martin's Baby Depot names.

Martin's is located here in a small strip mall on Quintard Avenue.  This one is located across from Quintard Mall with some departments located in a store across the street inside Quintard Mall. 

Second, Winn-Dixie, long a staple of the South, has mostly been erased in the more populous areas due to the ever increasing dominance of Publix.  Winn-Dixie once coexisted peacefully with Publix, but not so anymore.  Winn-Dixie was in a difficult position with many antiquated stores and a market that catered to the same crowd that also buys groceries at Wal-Mart...oops.  They were also pushed back in their northernmost markets by the upscaling of Ingles (same demographic) and continued regional popularity of Harris Teeter.  Since then, Winn-Dixie has retracted, retrenched and reinvented themselves.  The Winn-Dixie I stopped at in Oxford was far superior to the older stores. It was very clean and well-stocked with an attractive, semi-upscale design.  However, Winn-Dixie also dominates the Anniston market in part because they have been snubbed by Publix there, which I'm sure that the management of Winn-Dixie is definitely not complaining about.  I, for one, am not comfortable with only one or two chains having a stranglehold on whole states and regions so I'm happy to see Winn-Dixie still around.  Unfortunately, competition Foodmax seems to have withered away in the same town, their parent company Bruno's almost fatally wounded by the expansion of Publix into Birmingham.  I visited one of those Foodmax locations in 2006, which felt like a firm step back to about 1991.  At one point, they had stores in the Atlanta market along with Bruno's.

This Winn-Dixie looks to be of very recent vintage, and it sports the newest logo.  It is located on the new Anniston By-Pass about a mile north of I-20.

Third, small cities tend to not get hung up on the replacement store bandwagon found in hotter retail markets.  This is evidenced by the Rite-Aid located across from Quintard Mall.  This is not a former Eckerd; this is an original Rite Aid located in a very small strip mall with only one other local shop.  Inside, the store is a mid-century treasure with wall displays apparently never updated from around 1972.  If you'll note in the photos, these displays also do not generally match up with the merchandise being sold underneath.  Note the Cokes underneath what says "video"...that is, unless they're secretly chilling vintage VHS tapes back in the freezer.

A couple outside shots of the vintage Rite-Aid across from Quintard Mall.  The only other tenant with Rite-Aid is a men's clothing store.

A look at the inside of the Rite-Aid.  The wall displays remind me of pictures I've seen of the wall displays inside the Montgomery Ward at long-abandoned Dixie Square Mall.  I like them, though.  They are delightfully tacky, cozy looking and vintage.  Owners, please do not ever change them as long as the store is there.

Fourth, speaking of drug stores, I wanted to show you a vintage franchised drug store I found downtown known as Wikle's Rexall Pharmacy.  This seems to be an extremely popular site to photograph in Alabama, so if you want any daytime shots, they can be easily found in a web search.  This one is one of those drug stores of baby boomer youth...the ones where you knew the pharmacist by name and the place felt like home as well as a treat to shop at with its quirky selection of merchandise and vintage feel inside.  That was the case with a pharmacy my family went to as a kid known as Bells Ferry Pharmacy.  It was a Rexall franchise like this one.  We knew the pharmacist personally like a relative and the place fit that description completely.  The pharmacist finally gave up and closed in the late 1990's after the place was robbed, and he worked a few years longer in a group of pharmacists with CVS.

A couple night shots of the Wikle Rexall drug store.  It is a registered historic site.

Last, I wanted to note a local Alabama barbeque chain known as Golden Rule Bar-B-Que.  This chain attempted very unsuccessfully to move into the Atlanta market, but it is a standard in Alabama.  According to the website, its first location was built exactly a century ago in Irondale north or Birmingham.  I also remember an earlier attempt they made in another part of the Atlanta area west of Marietta.  Their failure was quick and abyssmal both times, and part of that nowadays is due to the popularity of another Atlanta-grown barbeque chain known as Shane's Rib Shack.  Nevertheless, Golden Rule seems very popular in Alabama, so I'm wondering why they never caught on in Georgia...oh wait, I keep forgetting *slap*.  Inversely, Shane's does not appear to be in Alabama at all.  One location of Golden Rule I know of actually converted to Shane's, and it has been a major hit ever since it reopened as such.  I personally never tried Golden Rule, but I did not hear positive feedback from those who tried it locally.

A recently-constructed location of Golden Rule Bar-B-Que in Oxford.  This location was identical to the two closed Georgia locations.

In all, part of Anniston's interesting retail history may be attributed to its location on a historically popular route to Florida, US 431.  US 431 basically functions as a continuous suburban highway its entire length with endless shops, strip malls and stores extending from Anniston to Huntsville.  With this, there were a couple things I failed to cover such as the closed Food Town and Foodmax stores I saw as well as the presence of Rally's Hamburgers...the same thing as Checker's with a different name.  I would love to hear your comments and memories of the area as well.


  1. I witnessed first hand the failure of Golden Rule here in GA. One opened in Ellijay and shortly thereafter another opened here in Jasper, where I live. Neither of them lasted long.......I tried the Jasper one and was NOT impressed!! I understood why they had to close. We have a couple of really incredible, non-chain, BBQ places here, Golden Rule never had a chance.....

    I TOO used to frequent the Bells Ferry Pharmacy......I've basically worked across Hwy 41 from the location for the last 20 years!

  2. Following the link, it looks like the one Wakefield's called Wakefield's is going out of business.

    As for Winn-Dixie, their northernmost markets were Louisville, Cincinnati and Fredericksburg, VA (just beyond the DC market). They didn't last long in Fredericksburg and would not have done well in the DC suburbs. Kroger totally dominates Cincy (their HQ), and probably does the same in Louisville. In Cincy, WD bought a chain from American Financial ( they also had a klarge stake in Indy's Marsh chain) which once had been a strong comeptitor, but WD probably didn't understand the market. Publix seems to fill in the gaps in its territory over time, as they did in Georgia. It will be interesting to see if they do that in the markets between Nashville and Birmingham.

  3. I've never been in the Martins across from Quintard Mall, but I've been in the one inside the mall, and it looks really dated, as if it hasn't been changed since the day the mall opened.

    My first Levis jeans came from the Martins in Gadsden in fall 1982. My size was 27 waist, 29 inseam then when I was 14. They were the stiff, dark blue kind that never really softened up.

    The one I went in a lot in the 1990s and early 2000s was the one in Decatur. That chain is quite conservative and seems to sell most stuff like cheap khakis and jeans and some sports stuff (sweatpants and stuff). They've survived for a very long time, but I'm curious about how much of their market has been absorbed by Wal-Mart and Target in recent years. Martin's seemed to be in that category of one level above Wal-Mart and K-Mart clothing, but a level below a mall department store, which is an interesting niche to be in.

  4. Something I should mention about Anniston: The main north-south route through there used to be more important in pre-interstate days, and a lot of the retail near downtown Anniston may have started springing up before I-20 was built. US 431 used to be US 241 until around September 1953. The main difference in the US 241 route in comparison to US 431 was it went south to Talladega and Sylacauga on its way to Opelika. US 431 seems like a kludge in the way that it follows US 78 a few miles east before going south, but it takes the route of the old AL 37 to Opelika, which was a shorter route despite the kludge at Oxford.

    US 78 used to come into Anniston from the west instead of Oxford (on or near what is now AL 202), so that gave Anniston more traffic back then, since US 78 followed US 241 (and later 431) to Oxford before continuing east.

    I find the retail interesting along the 6-lane stretch of US 431 that has trees in the median. I've never found the date when Noble ceased to be the main road and the current route began being used.

    As soon as you get into Anniston from the north after going down that hill and around that curve, there are lots of old-looking signs. I remember that McDonalds sign looking different than others. Some of the shopping centers are placed oddly, back from the road a bit, giving that stretch a very different look than the typical multilane stop-and-go shopping strip.

    One thing I remember about Anniston when going down there in the mid 80s while at JSU: There used to be a Wal-Mart across from the K-Mart. The Wal-Mart has moved to a Supercenter north of there. That Wal-Mart was a Mason's earlier. When the Plaza cinema opened, it advertised that it was next to Mason's.

    Mason's might be a chain to investigate. I was too young to remember going in one, but I remember the one in Gadsden at the shopping center at the southeast of Albert Rains (US 411) and Meighan (US 431/278).. I only remember it being closed and sitting there for a long time before the space got used by a grocery store (Gregerson's Warehouse Groceries in the lmid-to-late 80s). The space has changed again since those days. Evidentally, Mason's was one of those 60s and 70s discount chains that couldn't compete with K-Mart, but it would be neat to know more, and to know how widely their stores were spread, and where they were based.

  5. Rite Aid in Anniston, and most Alabama locations began as Harco Drugs, which sold to Rite Aid in 1997 or 98. They also owned Carport Auto parts stores, which were usually located next to Harco. Most Carports became Advance Auto Parts, but I'm don't know if it was a direct purchase or just picking up locations from a defunct company.
    CVS is a product of the mergers of Revco, Big B, and SupeRx. Big B and SupeRx picked most former Eckerd stores in the mid-80's. SupeRx had a Quintard Mall store as a result and a store on Snow Street across from the mall, next to the former OxfordKroger and further north on McClellan next to the former Annsiton Kroger.

    Wakefield's is the oldest department store in Anniston. Under the Martin's banner, more locations existed, including a Riverbend Mall location in the corner next to the old Baskin-Robbins store as you entered the main corridor from the back entrance where the food court was added in an attempt to keep Rome's first mall viable.

    Kmart has stayed with its original Anniston location, which probably survives due to low lease terms and low overhead, as opposed to being a high volume store. It's far enough away from the new Target that the upscale cheap chic retailer hasn't taken business, and retains the anti-Walmart shopper and cherry picker.

    Winn-Dixie has long been the dominant chain in Anniston, as Food World/FoodMax only had 3 area stores at the most with Oxford being the last to close. Winn-Dixie once had a store in Piedmont, north of Jacksonville, in addition to Coldwater, Jacksonville and Annsiton.SuperValu supplied independents had a stronghold in Anniston, as its Southeaster DC is nearby. Gregerson's of Gadson had a couple of locations, with the Oxford store becoming the FoodMax. The two former Kroger's also became SuperValu supplied independents, suriving into the late 80's. Kroger came to Annsiton in the early 60's with the Oxford store being open one or two years at most before Kroger pulled out of Anniston, Birmingham, and Gadsden during 1971-72. A&P survived a little longer before closing by the mid-70's.

    As to aligment of 431, Ala 21 at the Anniston Airport diverges, moved due to the construction of the airport. Barry Street ends at the airport due to this, running north to become Main Street in downtown Oxford, where Snow Street intersected as the old US 78 aligment. In Anniston US 431/78 became Noble Street. US 78 turned west onto 10th Street and rejoined Ala 202 near the West End area of town and joining the current aligment at Coldwater. US 431 continued northward, branching northwest as Gadsden Highway and the northeast fork as Pelham Street to Jacksonville and Piedmont. Alabama 21 north follows this aligment north of McClellan Blvd. McClellan Blvd/Quintard Blvd seems to be a product of the mid to late 60s judging from the age of the oldest retail structures along the route.

    Anniston has suffered due to the decline of the local steel industry and the closure of Ft McClellan, but is transforming to an exurb midway along I-20 between Atlanta and Birmingham. As such, the arrival of Publix is only a matter of when, as the chain has been slow to enter the more blue collar areas serviced by the Atlanta division.

  6. Anniston is sort of the secret refuge for Winn-Dixie fans in the Atlanta area. After all, Anniston is only about 45 minutes away from 285.

    The store in Oxford is indeed very nice. There are some dumpier and older WDs including the one right in downtown Anniston near the Sonic drive-in. There are a few other older ones around.

    About twice a year, I make a trip over there to stock up on Chek drinks and other WD exclusives. My family loves the Diet Freshy drinks in particular. And the Barbeque beans are astounding. Nobody else makes them that way.

    But the sad thing is that WD has dropped many of their former house brands like Deep South and others. WD was a chain that used to take major pride in making many of their own house brand items. Not any more. The price of survival, I guess.

    I hope Publix understands that they don't need to annihilate WD. There is room for both.

  7. One thing I remember from Winn-Dixie was the Superbrand Ice Cream. My mother bought that for years. We never liked the Chek brand drinks. The "newer" Winn Dixie logos mentioned in this post remind me of the old Quik-Chek stores (what Winn-Dixie called a good many of their stores in the 60s and 70s). Huntsville, AL used to have a number of those.

  8. Wakefield's was the original store in that particular chain. Martin's followed sometime after. The stores are named after the corporation's founder, Martin Wakefield. Wakefield's was once THE place to shop in Anniston, but the clientele has been reduced to the "little old ladies" of the area - and usually just those who reside on the East Side around 10th Street Mountain. The Martin's location in the Quintard Mall has lost its lease and is currently liquidating their inventory. I understand that Books-A-Million will be moving to that location.

    The Rite-Aid was never remodeled from its former state as a Harco Drug Store. The same is true for most of the area Rite-Aid stores that were once Harco Drug Stores. The Rite-Aid in West Oxford (Coldwater Shopping Center) looks almost identical inside and out to the one you visited.

    The Winn Dixie you visited was one a Winn Dixie Marketplace, a more upscale version of the Winn Dixie stores - probably meant to compete with Publix. At some point, the Marektplace logo was dropped and the store was rebranded as a standard Winn Dixie. Of the four in the immediate area, that one is deifnitely the nicest.

    There was a time when we thought we might lose our area Winn Dixie stores. We didn't expect the Bruno's Food World and Food Max stores to go under. Surprisingly, Winn Dixie rebounded instead. They have managed to keep a hold on the budget minded shoppers of the area with their customer rewards card.

    That said, I personally am very impatiently waiting for a Publix to open in the area.

  9. winn dixie is a retail god

  10. I lived in Anniston until my junior year in high school, and there are some great memories in this post. My mom loved Wakefield's. There was also a department store called Hudson's a bit north of there, but a block or two off Quintard. We usually did a 1-2 with those.

  11. The name Winn-Dixie is quite legendary and hallowed in the Anniston area as the most damage from a December 1983 tornado was the complete obliteration of its store in Oxford next to what was a Sky City department store. That store was replaced with one in a completely new shopping center on Greenbrier Road (later turned into a Fred's), which was later replaced by the existing store on the road leading to the by-pass.

  12. The name Winn-Dixie is quite legendary and hallowed in the Anniston area as the most damage from a December 1983 tornado was the complete obliteration of its store in Oxford next to what was a Sky City department store. That store was replaced with one in a completely new shopping center on Greenbrier Road (later turned into a Fred's), which was later replaced by the existing store on the road leading to the by-pass.

  13. I actually recently came across photos of that tornado's damage - with one that shows the Sky City sign in tact.