ST. PETERSBURG — Five years ago when Publix bought 49 Albertsons stores across the state, local shoppers quickly questioned what would happen to the seemingly redundant situation at 38th Avenue N and Fourth Street.
On the west side sat an Albertsons and on the east, a Publix. Would the Lakeland grocery company close one or convert it to its "healthier" Greenwise concept? Neither.
After a facelift, the Albertsons reopened as a Publix, or "Publixons" as many shoppers nicknamed it. Despite continued rumors along the way of closings or new concepts, five years later both stores continue to operate just a few hundred yards from each other.
"We are happy with the performance of both of those stores and we are fortunate they're doing so well in such close proximity," said Publix spokesman Brian West.
There are no plans to alter what seems to be the redundant locations, he said. There are enough shoppers in the area to support both stores.
"It's very common to have stores in very close proximity," West added. "I know we have stores that are just a few blocks from other in Miami."
But these are the only two that are more or less across the street from each other in the five states where Publix operates.
The stores are so close, in fact, that if a shopper finds one is out of a certain product a Publix employee will go to the other store and fetch it. Those are the only two stores with such an agreement, West stressed.
Shoppers interviewed by the Tampa Bay Times recently at the two stores were not aware of the convenient customer service, but each had a reason for shopping on the east or west side of the street.
Amy Willoughby has been shopping at the original Publix for a decade. She tried the converted Albertsons a few times but came back to her grocery roots.
"I didn't feel that familiarity at (the converted Publix). I can find things easier here," she said while pushing her 7-year-old daughter, Reese, into the original store at 200 37th Ave. N.
"I just never bothered to change," said customer Sal Schantz, as she exited the original Publix. "I know some people like it over there but it doesn't make much sense to me."
Brooke Mitchell came to the area four years ago and sampled both Publix stores. She opted for the one on the west side at 3700 Fourth St. N.
"This parking lot is so much better than the other one. With all the other shops in the shopping center it's harder to find a place to park over there," she explained.
Barbara Merrill shopped at the first Publix from 1999 until the new one opened. The parking lured her to break tradition and head west.
"The store is less crowded, too. It took a little while to get used to it but now I like it a lot. I can run in and out faster," she said.
Richard Storer has bought his groceries on the west side of Fourth Street since it was Skaggs Albertsons 40 years ago, he said with a smile. He prefers it now because of the wider aisles. His daughter has limited mobility and can get around on her crutches much easier in the bigger store that was Albertsons.
"It's convenient for us and gives her a chance to walk," he said, adding: "We've always shopped here."
Katherine Snow Smith can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8785.