CLEARWATER — Health food grocery chain Whole Foods Market has finally confirmed that it is coming to Clearwater.
Whole Foods has signed a lease to take over the lower level of Sears in Westfield Countryside Mall — the same arrangement it has made with Sears at a few other malls around the United States.
Construction is to begin in summer, and the grocery store should open sometime next year.
Sears will keep its south entrance near BJ's Restaurant, while Whole Foods will get the west entrance, according to plans submitted to the city. There won't be an entrance to the mall from Whole Foods.
Because a Whole Foods location operates several kitchens, the grocery chain plans to install columns to hide vents that will go through the Sears store on the second floor.
With more than 330 locations and an eco-friendly approach, Whole Foods is known for its vast salad bar, hot food bar and soup selection along with products such as organic milk, grass-fed beef and whole-grain foods.
The growing chain of large health food grocery stores is making inroads into Tampa Bay. It opened its first bay area store five years ago on N Dale Mabry Highway near Interstate 275 in Tampa. It recently opened its second local store on Northdale Boulevard in Carrollwood in Hillsborough County, and it's also looking at downtown St. Petersburg.
In Clearwater, its closest direct competitors will probably be a Fresh Market on U.S. 19 just south of Countryside Mall, and Nature's Food Patch, an organic grocery store downtown.
Whereas traditional grocers compete on price and service, Whole Foods caters to shoppers more concerned with healthy eating, environmental practices and selection. Supermarket consultants say the chain looks to locate in communities with residents earning six-figure salaries.
As Sears downsizes around the country, Whole Foods has taken over parts of Sears stores in Colorado, North Carolina and New York.
The addition of a high-end grocery store dovetails with Countryside Mall's strategy of becoming a regional shopping destination.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.