SOHO — Wrapping up her first visit to the new Publix GreenWise Market on Tuesday afternoon, Fran Locke almost didn't want to leave.
But it wasn't because the Palma Ceia working mom loved the selection of natural and organic groceries and gourmet foods.
It was because it had taken her what seemed like forever to find a parking space in the two-level garage, and she didn't want to give up her coveted spot near the elevators.
"I circled around at least a few times on both floors," said Locke, who didn't buy anything but walked around the market during her lunch break. "I almost gave up, and then I followed another woman to her car and took her spot."
As curious shoppers flocked to GreenWise during its opening week, many experienced the same manic hunt for parking spots. The store has nearly 200 spaces, which Publix felt was an adequate number for the 39,000-square-foot market.
"Be patient" was the message from corporate headquarters. Publix is aware of the issue and, in fact, expected it.
"We have such a loyal fan base that whenever we open a new store, we literally have hundreds of people waiting to get in," said Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten. "We do know that's going to happen, and we try to take proactive measures."
SoHo, the area surrounding the South Howard commercial strip, has struggled with a lack of parking space for years. In 2006, Publix submitted plans to the city for its own parking garage, one of very few in the area, and neighbors asked whether it could be used for some of the after-hours bar and restaurant traffic. But Publix would not lend the garage for noncustomers, citing safety and liability reasons. The garage closes after the store does at 10 p.m.
During the opening weekend, GreenWise employees — including cashiers, baggers and stockers pulled from other Publix stores to help out temporarily — actually parked miles away at the old Albertsons lot in Britton Plaza. They took shuttle vans to work so that customers could use the garage, Patten said.
Publix expects the congestion to ease after the initial opening-week rush, as has been the case with other store openings. The market has an average number of parking spaces for a store of its size, Patten said, but Publix will continue to monitor the situation to see whether more needs to be done to make parking easier for shoppers.
Peak hours are usually right after the store opens at 7 a.m., and GreenWise has been getting a big lunchtime crowd. It is also busy on weekends and in the early evenings.
"We are looking into different things, but it's nothing I can talk about yet," Patten said. "Once the hype settles down, people will settle into their normal shopping routines, and we think it'll get a lot better."
Emily Nipps can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3431.