Grocery stores thriving as Publix store reopens

Publix store manager Trudy Nevitt,  of the Village of Glenbrook, prepares for today’s reopening as the shelves were stocked and fresh produce was arranged. The Spanish Plaines Plaza store also features a drive-thru pharmacy window.

Life changes immediately for many Villagers at 7 a.m. today when Publix Super Markets reopens its store at Spanish Plaines Plaza.

That was evident Wednesday morning when a number of Villagers arrived at the store to shop, only to find they were a day early.

So much of a community’s socioeconomic fiber depends on convenient access to the staples of life, which are now available at this newly revitalized location that contains one of Florida’s few drive-thru pharmacies at a grocery store.

The reinvestment in the store and its reopening also highlight the grocery industry’s continuing confidence in the community as a growth market, said Scott Renick, The Villages director of commercial development.

“It’s the same for a lot of other industries in The Villages,” he said. “They see the stability that The Villages has to offer with an active and stable base of customers. And they know we’re still growing.’’

The growth of Publix and its seven stores in The Villages follows the community’s dynamic growth, Publix spokesman Brian West said.

“We’re fortunate we have a population here that can support this many stores,” he said. “We’re thankful that The Villages likes to shop at Publix, and we’re thankful we can provide what they’re looking for.”

On Their Radar

Publix at Spanish Plaines Plaza takes the spotlight today because of the reopening, but it is one of 14 grocery stores that serve residents in The Villages and surrounding communities. It takes that many to serve an area that includes the nation’s fastest-growing metropolitan statistical area over the last decade.

The Lakeland-based employee-owned grocery store chain operates seven stores in The Villages that compete with three Winn-Dixie stores, Fresh Market, Target and Walmart, which operates a Neighborhood Market and a supercenter grocery.

Most grocery store chains identify a store location with the goal that it will serve a targeted market of at least 10,000 consumers, Renick said.

“They do this as a rule of thumb in their analysis of markets, the competition and the consumers within the trade area,” he said.

But the ratio of customers per store is around 8,400 people in The Villages, considering the 118,000 Villagers who live in Lake, Marion and Sumter counties as of Dec. 31, according to the Developer’s population estimates.

Grocery sales in just Sumter County offer some insight into why these grocers value The Villages and its growth.

Over the past 10 years, Sumter’s food and beverage sales because of The Villages grew by 61 percent to about $346 million for the year ended Dec. 31, according to the state Department of Revenue.

“We’re known as a community where folks like to dine out, but the volume of grocery sales I’ve seen are well above average,” Renick said. “It’s just a healthy market all the way around.”

And that annual sales figure could grow exponentially, too, as The Villages expands farther south into Wildwood and Leesburg, he said.

 “We’ve talked with most of the grocers that are certainly active in the state of Florida, and The Villages as it exists and its future growth certainly is showing up on their radar,” Renick said.

Significant Value

The newly revitalized Publix also contains the type of customer enhancements that reflect what James Miller has observed over the years as spokesman for the Florida Retail Federation.

“What you’re seeing with a lot of grocers, whether Publix, Winn-Dixie or Walmart, they’re rebranding their stores to fit whatever community they service, whether that’s older, millennial or Hispanic,” he said. “I would imagine the Publix (at Spanish Plaines) is doing that and catering to an older demographic.”

That rebranding certainly is evident from the golf cart accessible drive-thru pharmacy at Spanish Plaines, Miller said.

“I’ve only seen drive-thu pharmacies at CVS and Walgreens,” he said. “Talk about catering to your audience. That’s perfect for them. They simply drive-in and get their prescriptions. To see Publix doing that is new. To see a grocery doing that is really neat.”

Publix planners spend considerable time developing a store to meet the needs of the neighborhood’s population, West said.

“We’re always thinking, ‘What is the customer looking for?’” he said. “So, you’ll find a nice Grab-and-Go section adjacent to our deli for those folks coming in to get a sandwich, salad, a pizza even, something quick and simple. They’re going to find premade items there ready to eat, and they’re tasty and made fresh daily. We’ve got an entire chief’s selection with some prepared foods that you’re really just putting together a meal. Everything you pull out of that section is ready to eat. So, you can get some potato salad, steak or fish. You get a chance to pick an entrée and put a meal together.”

In addition to the drive-thru pharmacy, Publix took into consideration another benefit to a senior population at the Spanish Plaines store, West said.

“This is a floor plan where the aisles are wider,” he said. “For us, we go out of the way to provide a clean, pleasant shopping experience for our customers. We pride ourselves on that.”

Expect the trend toward rebranding to continue, Miller said.

“Walmart, for instance, is spending $200 million to rebrand its stores in Florida,” he said. “That’s a significant commitment from a grocer on store rebranding to save customers time and money.”

The commitment of these grocers to The Villages also impressed Miller, especially with Publix operating seven established stores in the community.

“It’s apparent Publix sees significant value having multiple stores,” he said. “Publix is no fool. They wouldn’t put multiple stores there if they didn’t see any value in it. It says a lot about The Villages’ spending power, that Publix is willing to invest this type of money.”

Intelligent Design

What excites Sumter County Administrator Bradley Arnold about Publix’s continuing commitment to The Villages is its impact on economic development.

Take for example the four stores that Publix operates in the Sumter section of The Villages — in the Southern Trace, Colony Plaza, Grand Traverse and Lake Deaton neighborhood retail centers — as well as the two stores that Winn-Dixie operates at the Lake Sumter Landing town center and Pinellas Plaza neighborhood retail center, he said.

Most of those retail centers operate at a high occupancy rate, Arnold said.

“When you look at these different commercial nodes, the anchor tenant really drives the business coming to that particular node,” he said. “That’s a signal to other businesses. When a grocery store makes that decision to be the anchor tenant, No. 1, they run the numbers to be sure there are enough consumers to support that location. This tells other retail entities that this is a good investment to go into the commercial node, because they’re going to be able to present themselves to all that traffic going to the grocery store. It tells them that they can market their goods and services to all that traffic going to that grocery store. So, there’s no question that other retail establishments are looking for a substantial anchor to draw the volume that they’re looking for.”

One other element supports this economic growth, Arnold said. The Villages Developer recognized the value of the strategic placement of grocer-anchored neighborhood retail centers in The Villages.

Such strategic development accounts for why The Villages reports a average commercial occupancy rate of around 97 percent, he said.

“And that intelligence by design tells those other retail entities that there is a proven track record and that The Villages’ own data for occupancy is outside the norm,” he said. “By intelligent design, The Villages has sent a signal that if there is any type of failure of a retail store, it’s because of its own management of it.”

David R. Corder is a senior writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5241, or david.corder@thevillagesmedia.com.