SEFFNER — The city's busiest retail area will transform over the next two weeks thanks to a grocery store acquisition that will lead to changes for customers, employers and adjacent retailers.
Three Seffner supermarkets are among the more than 30 Tampa Bay area stores that will transition to new-look futures as Bi-Lo, the parent company of Winn-Dixie, rolls out changes after purchasing area Sweetbay stores from its parent Delhaize America.
The Sweetbay at 750 W Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. (near Parsons Avenue) will rebrand as a Winn-Dixie, closing at 1 p.m. on April 5 and reopening on April 11. The pharmacy will open first, on April 7. Seffner's current Winn-Dixie, across the street at 725 W Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., is one of five Tampa Bay area Winn-Dixie stores closing for good May 24.
The Sweetbay at 11230 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. (near Lakewood Drive) also will rebrand along with eight other East Hillsborough grocers closing on Saturday and reopen on April 4 as Winn-Dixie stores.
While customers will notice the different branding and signs, Winn-Dixie spokeswoman Mayra Hernandez said the changeover process also includes "patching, painting and moving staff around."
Employees from both companies have expressed concerns about their job security. According to Winn-Dixie, workers at Sweetbay have been invited to join the new team.
"I believe they would look at what's available at other areas and accessible for employees," Hernandez said.
Ricky Iaria has worked since 2005 as a grocery store manager at the North Grove Shopping Center Winn-Dixie that is closing. He said he's not sure if his 88 employees have job priority at the Sweetbay across the street at Parsons Village Square or whether there will be a merger between the two staffs. He did say that every employee will have the opportunity to be placed within a 25-mile radius.
"Some people were worried they were going to lose their jobs," Iaria said. "Then HR came in and said no one is losing their jobs. It's pretty open where people want to go. It's a good atmosphere because with the change there is a possibility of a promotion for some people."
The permanent closing of the Seffner Winn-Dixie where Iaria works will leave yet another vacant storefront in the area, and it's future remains uncertain. Tammy Sassin represents Isram Realty and Management, the company that handles the leases at North Grove Shopping Center. She said she has proactively sought an anchor tenant for six months because she "knew something was going to happen" and that she has a "couple things cooking" but there are no firm plans in place for the next tenant.
"We have a lot of shopping centers with Winn-Dixie," Sassin said. "That was one of their good stores."
Richard Kelly, owner of the Seffner Ace Hardware a few doors down from the Winn-Dixie that will shutter, said he doesn't think the closing will hurt his business. He has owned Ace for more than seven years, and moved near Winn-Dixie 2 ½ years ago from the Seffner Walmart plaza that has a Publix.
"I'm on a good intersection," said Kelly, whose current lease has 2 ½ years remaining. "There's life after the major anchor leaves. I have no intention of ever leaving. I'm optimistic."
Signs at the Sweetbay stores tout 25 percent discounts off private store brands such as Home 360 and Food Lion holdovers Hannaford and My Essentials. The discounts do not apply to items such as milk, deli or produce. A manager from the Sweetbay at 750 W Martin Luther King referred questions to the corporate office and a call was not returned by press time.
The other East Hillsborough area Sweetbay closings slated for March 29 and reopening April 4 as Winn-Dixie stores include two in Riverview (10579 Big Bend Road and 6929 US 301 S) and stores in Lithia (16751 Fishhawk Blvd.), Valrico (2535 State Road 60 E), Plant City (205 W Alexander St.), Apollo Beach (252 Harbor Village Lane) and Ruskin (1023 N Tamiami Trail).
The acquisition also includes the leases to 10 closed Sweetbay locations. Hernandez said no decision has been made on whether to reopen them as Winn-Dixie stores, or repurpose them another way.
"There is no information on those yet," she said. "It is still being considered."
The acquisition, pending since May, includes 73 Tampa-based Sweetbay stores and the leases to 10 closed Sweetbay locations. Bi-Lo expects the $265 million acquisition of the Sweetbay, Harveys and Reid's supermarkets will end by May 31.
With headquarters in Jacksonville, Bi-Lo owns 697 supermarkets in the southeastern United States. Delhaize America is a subsidiary of Belgian grocery store operator Delhaize. It owns and operates 1,553 supermarkets in the Northeast and Southeast under six banners: Food Lion, Sweetbay, Harveys, Reid's, Hannaford and Bottom Dollar Food.
The Winn-Dixie reward program, that allows customers to save on Shell gasoline, will continue and the Winn-Dixie customer reward card also remains unchanged.
Interested supermarkets, department stores or other retailers that would like to inquire about the 34,590-square-foot location can call Sassin at (813) 928-4748.
Eric Vician can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.