Publix has opened a new, larger supermarket across the street from its thriving Northeast Shopping Center store.
Officials for the Lakeland company think there are more than enough shoppers to ensure the profitability of both supermarkets in such close proximity.
"We have a loyal customer base within that community, and we look forward to serving those customers from two stores,'' spokeswoman Shannon Patten said.
"Everyone has 'their Publix,' and there's something unique or special about a certain location that makes them choose one over the other, whether it's the associates in a location, the way it's laid out or the design of the shopping center itself.''
The new store on Fourth Street N is the first former Albertsons supermarket to open as a Publix on Florida's west coast. Publix purchased 49 Albertsons stores in Central and North Florida this year, with plans to renovate and reopen each. The new St. Petersburg store is one of 17 former Albertsons that Publix bought in the Tampa Bay area.
On Wednesday, the newly refurbished store was a beehive of workers stacking cans and boxes, buffing floors, arranging fruit and vegetables, and baking and decorating desserts. Fooled by the jam-packed parking lot, eager shoppers stopped by, only to learn that they were a day early.
On Thursday morning, Lauren Kleinfeld was among the first three dozen or so customers to walk through the doors. They were welcomed with samples, recyclable shopping bags and long-stemmed red roses with the word "Publix" stamped on petals.
"I'm a Publix diehard,'' said Kleinfeld, who stores the phone numbers of every St. Petersburg Publix in her BlackBerry.
The St. Petersburg Coliseum manager quickly shelved plans to pick up just bread and peanut butter. "I was so excited when I saw the beautiful fish display,'' she said, adding that she bought a whole pompano — her husband's favorite — and had it filleted.
Clare Greene declared that it was sheer luck that brought her to the new store. She happened to spot a television camera in the parking lot. "Frankly, we had forgotten it was opening today,'' she said.
But Cindy and Jack Byers and 5-year-old daughter Lily had planned for the occasion.
"We've been waiting for this,'' Cindy Byers said.
The family normally shops at the crowded Publix across the street, she and her husband said. Thursday they were picking up brown rice and snacks for Lily.
In addition to the traditional grocery, meat, produce, dairy and frozen food departments, the new store has a pharmacy and full-service floral, bakery, deli and fresh seafood departments.
The store carries an expanded line of natural and organic products, most of which are displayed in easy-to-spot convex shelving throughout the supermarket.
Its meticulously arranged produce includes an expanded line of tropical products such as tamarind, Buddha's fingers — an exotic many-pronged citrus from California — passion fruit and horn melons. The new supermarket also has a liquor store.
As he prepared to cut the ribbon Thursday, St. Petersburg City Council member Bill Dudley praised the Lakeland chain and welcomed the jobs it was bringing to the area.
The store's nearly 160 employees include former Albertsons staffers, Patten said.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.