Sunday, January 10, 2021

About that name Publix ... and its link to Paramount Studios

Historic Tampa Theatre 1935
Florida State Archives/Florida Memory


 By Jane Feehan

George Jenkins opened Publix Food Store in Winter Haven, Florida Sept. 6, 1930. In 1940 he launched Publix Super Market; the rest is history and part of everyday life for the millions of us who shop there. But the provenance of the name Publix goes back to Dec. 21, 1925 and it’s linked to show business.

That’s the year the two largest movie theater groups in the world—Famous Players Lasky and Balban and Katz Theatres of Chicago and the Middle West—merged to form Publix Theatres, Inc., an affiliate of Paramount Studios (formed 1912 and led by Adolph Zukor). From that date, Sam Katz president and Harold B. Franklin, vice president, oversaw operations of 700 theaters throughout the nation, including those in St. Petersburg, Tampa, West Palm Beach, Jacksonville and a list of others in Florida.

The film industry was an expanding and relatively new form of entertainment in the 1920s, especially after the first “talkie” with Al Jolson in the Jazz Singer released in 1927. There was still an attachment to live theater or vaudeville, so it was common to see a movie paired up with an extravagant live revue before a film started (much like latter day Radio City Music Hall).  

Revues included scores of entertainers. One newspaper in Buffalo claimed $2 million was spent to provide for “the greatest in picture and mammoth stage production.” Publix Theatres built a reputation for operating lavish theaters with plush carpeting and luxurious seating. Their reputation also included maintaining a well-trained staff.

The Buffalo Times exclaimed Publix Theatres entertained on a “scale so elaborate that no single theatre could afford it.”  The New York Daily News billed one of the Publix Theatres, the Paramount in the Paramount Building in Times Square, as “New York’s Newest Wonder.” A reporter for The Middletown Times Herald in New York state wrote “as Publix goes, so goes the rest of the show business. Expect everything in a Publix Theatre because you won’t be disappointed.”

The stock market crash of 1929 changed the course of Publix Theaters, Inc. Debt piled up. Bills went unpaid. The company restructured in 1930 but filed for bankruptcy and went into receivership in 1933. By 1935 the company reorganized as Paramount Studios.

The Publix theaters were failing so George Jenkins "borrowed" the name. He liked the name for his new business; its reputation was tops – and remains so to this day--though for a different business with a much longer history.



Yonkers Herald, Dec. 21, 1925

Buffalo Times, Jan. 14, 1926

Buffalo Times, May 27, 1926

Yonkers Herald, Sept. 21, 1926

New York Daily News, Nov. 28, 1926

Middletown Times Herald, June 10, 1930

New York Daily News, July 20, 1933

Library of Congress

Florida State Archives/ Florida Memory:

Tags: Movie theaters, Florida in the 1920s, Paramount Studios, Publix Theatres, Inc.

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