“THE BEEF PEOPLE” — Winn-Dixie has been associated with Jacksonville for so long that it’s hard to believe that it didn’t originate here. Company founder William Milton (W. M.) Davis hailed from Texas. In 1913, he bought a Burley, Idaho, general store and renamed it “Davis Mercantile.” Taking the advice of his brother Carl, however, W. M. moved to Florida during the Land Boom of the Twenties. He purchased a Miami store, the Rockmoor Grocery, and his family changed its name to “Table Supply” in 1927. It began to branch northward to Tampa and the central part of the state.
After W. M.’s death in 1934, his sons, the four gentlemen above, assumed responsibility for the chain. Five years later, Jacksonville finally gained their company’s headquarters. The head of the Jax-based Winn & Lovett grocery chain, William “Bill” Lovett, convinced the Davis family to acquire 51 percent of his company’s 73 stores. Table Supply also adopted the River City as its new home and “Winn & Lovett” as its new moniker. The future Winn-Dixie company operated stores under the names “Lovett,” “Table Supply,” “Piggly Wiggly,” “Steiden,” and “Margaret Ann.”
The Idaho store had gone bust because it fell victim to new grocery concept: cash-only purchases. Many small town grocers had extended credit to their regular customers. The Davis Brothers learned from this failure, so they required cash from their customers. After acquiring Winn & Lovett, moreover, they super-sized everything, with larger stores boasting more variety and lower prices. Following the end of World War II in 1945, their company was set to expand as America eventually entered into an era of abundance.
THE W/D NAME — A red letter date came in 1952, when Winn & Lovett was listed on the New York Stock Exchange. It proved the first Florida industrial corporation to do so. Three years later, the name “Winn-Dixie” was adopted after the purchase of 117 Dixie Home supermarkets in the Carolinas. The Dixie Home leaders requested that “Dixie” be kept as part of the title. Can you picture the checkmark in the Winn-Dixie logo? It comes from the logo of another grocery chain, Kwik Chek, which had joined the Winn & Lovett company sometime in the early 1950s. The name Kwik Chek first appeared in a 1953 Winn & Lovett annual report but there were no newspaper notices of an acquisition or merger.
Due to its acquisitions and new store openings, Winn-Dixie ranked as America’s 11th largest retailer by 1983. It’s long been an industry leader, with hundreds of outlets operating in the South. Winn-Dixie also serves as a major River City employer, and it boasts a solid record of big time philanthropy.
By the way, you may have heard of a best-selling, award-winning children’s book called Because of Winn-Dixie. In this fictional story by Kate DiCamillo, a girl moves to a Florida town after her mother’s death. She starts to improve her life and find her place because of her dog, Winn-Dixie. And that’s why the tale has its unusual title!
~written by Glenn Emery