SPRING HILL — A 439,000-square-foot former big-box store — a black hole for 10 years in a thriving retail area along U.S. 19 — has found a new tenant.
Come fall, Rural King, which bills itself as "America's Farm and Home Store," will move into the former Kmart store near Timber Pines, just north of Spring Hill Drive.
Founded in 1960 in Mattoon, Ill., and now with 60 stores in seven states, Rural King is introducing itself to Florida, and it's chosen Spring Hill as its first location.
"We're the hobby farmer. We're a farm store on steroids," said company president Alex Melvin. "We have two to four times more goods than a tractor store."
Indeed, the company's website and online catalog lists 14 product categories, ranging from domestics and home improvement to clothing and sporting goods, as well as agricultural.
"We're a family-owned company, not a big-box store," Melvin said.
Melvin said he has visited Hernando County "several times."
"I think there's more farms than you think," he said. "Within a 20-mile radius, you've got four farm stores."
(According to the Hernando County Cooperative Extension Service, there are 768 farms in Hernando that produce $1,000 or more of agricultural products per year.)
Melvin was aware that Hernando County commissioners are considering an ordinance to allow backyard chickens in Spring Hill.
"We sell baby chicks," he said. "We sell rabbits."
Also, "we sell a lot of bird seed, every specialty cat and dog food that they sell in the big pet stores."
Speaking about other product lines, Melvin said: "Our customers are people who want to take care of their cars; we have the best battery price around. … Work clothes, basically we have a mix for male and female, ladies' boots, anything workwear related. … Gardening, as big a garden shop as the big-box stores."
Rural King's website says the company prides itself on low prices "along with being the industry leader in product knowledge and customer service."
The company plans to open the doors of its $1.6 million acquisition in Spring Hill by Sept. 1.
"It needs a lot of remodeling," Melvin acknowledged. "It's going to need a pretty big facelift."
All the construction will be done by Florida companies.
"We always try to hire as much local contracting as possible," Melvin said.
The company will hire 20 to 30 full-time employees and a like number of part-timers. Hiring is expected to take place "three to four weeks before we start putting shelving in the store," he said.
While the company trains its employees, Melvin said applicants should have a general knowledge of the product field in which they want to work.
The store manager already has been designated, a regional manager who has been with the company for 17 years. At least three or four assistant managers will be hired from the pool of local applicants, Melvin said.
Aiming to make Rural King a good neighbor, Melvin said the company is working with the Hernando County Farmers Market to keep the market in place in the store's parking lot on Saturdays, but perhaps in a limited space.
"Their customers are our customers," Melvin said.
Rural King currently operates in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio, Michigan and Missouri, where some of the sites host farmers markets.
As for the company's venture into Spring Hill, "We liked the market," Melvin said. "It kind of helps when there's an empty building … at a price that works for us."
Beth Gray can be contacted at [email protected]