The story of Pic N’ Save Drugs began in Springfield in 1910. That year, Benjamin Setzer arrived in Jacksonville as a result of his older brother’s, Abraham, efforts to leave Lithuania, which was then ruled by Nicholas II, “Czar of All The Russias.”

After being in the ice business, Abraham and Benjamin Setzer established a lumber company called Setzer Brothers around 1918. Their lumberyard was located at 438 Phelps Street, just northwest of the Old City Cemetery. However, within three years, Abraham had become a peddler and Benjamin, a butcher in Springfield.

Setzer’s in San Marco Square on April 19, 1939. This store later became a Pic N’ Save. (Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida)

By 1921, Benjamin Setzer had relocated from the Eastside to Springfield, where he resided at 1516 Market Street. At the time, he was employed as a butcher at a small Springfield market owned by Emmett and Wesley Peacock called Peacock Brothers. Peacock Brothers was located in a two story mixed-use building on the northeast corner of 5th and Silver Streets. A year later, Setzer moved to an apartment above the store and took over operations, making the location the first Setzer’s.

By the end of the Great Depression, his store had expanded to become one of Jacksonville’s early grocery chains, creating the need for a distribution hub. To facilitate the growing business, Setzer found a warehouse in the Springfield Warehouse District at 2301 Liberty Street in 1939. It had been originally designed by famed Detroit industrialist architect, Albert Kahn, as a parts depot for the Chevrolet Motor Car Company. At the end of World War II, this warehouse had grown to small for the company’s needs so they relocated to 2323 Liberty Street, which was the location of the former Springfield Coal & Wood Company. Here, the 40 unit chain would establish its corporate offices and distribution center. By the mid 1950’s, Setzer’s Supermarkets had expanded into a 40 unit chain, with stores across North and Central Florida. In 1958, Setzer sold his grocery chain to Food Fair Stores.

Setzer’s general office and distribution center on North Liberty Street in Springfield in 1943. (Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida

After Food Fair’s acquisition, Setzer focused on his other up and coming business, Pic ‘N Save Drugs. In 1955, seven years before Sam Walton opened his first Walmart, Setzer and his partners, opened the first Pic ‘N Save in Arlington’s Town & Country Shopping Center, a Setzer real estate development. Pic ‘N Save was designed to be the area’s first self-service store, which was considered a new concept in retailing at the time. It’s motto was to “Stack It High And Sell It Cheap.”

At the time of Setzer’s death in 1969, the chain had grown to 25 stores, with Setzer’s 200,000-square-foot general offices and distribution center on Liberty Street transitioning to serve that role for Pic ‘N Save. Here, the corporate entity was branded as the National Merchandise Company, with Pic N’ Save being a trademark name owned by the company. Under the leadership of Setzer’s son Leonard, the chain peaked in the mid-1980s, employing over 3,000 in 40 stores throughout Florida and Georgia.

Mary Lou Norwood shops in the produce section of Setzer’s Grocery in Tallahassee, Florida in 1960. (Courtesy of the State Archives of Florida)

The Longwood, FL Pic N' Save store in 1983.

Pic ‘N Save’s downfall began in the late 1980s with the arrival of larger chains like K-mart and Walmart, who also “stacked them higher while selling them cheaper.” However, poor internal decisions and disputes ultimately sent the Springfield business into bankruptcy. This included being hesitant to invest in new technology and information systems to track business, something that the competitors excelled at and descendants of Setzer disputing over operations. In February 1995, the company filed for bankrupcty citing a loss of $38 million in the previous 13 months. In May 1996, just three months after a judge approved a bankruptcy reorganization plan, the company announced its decision to close its remaining 27 stores and laying off its remaining 1,800 employees (1,100 in Jacksonville). The loss of Setzer’s Pic N’ Save was a major blow for Jacksonville and the Springfield Warehouse District.

Now, 21 years after the closure of one of the city’s largest employers and one of the south’s first major grocery chains, the Springfield building that served as the base of operations is quietly coming down.

Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Davis is a certified senior planner and graduate of Florida A&M University. He is the author of the award winning books “Reclaiming Jacksonville,” “Cohen Brothers: The Big Store” and “Images of Modern America: Jacksonville.” Davis has served with various organizations committed to improving urban communities, including the American Planning Association and the Florida Trust for Historic Preservation. A 2013 Next City Vanguard, Davis is the co-founder of Metro Jacksonville.com and ModernCities.com — two websites dedicated to promoting fiscally sustainable communities — and Transform Jax, a tactical urbanist group. Contact Ennis at edavis@moderncities.com