Saturday, February 24, 2018
Business

Seminole could be site of bay area's first Earth Fare grocery store

SEMINOLE — After years of wishing, hoping and guessing what stores might open in a rebuilt Seminole Mall, residents here now have some names.

One of them — Earth Fare — is new to the Tampa Bay area. Earth Fare is a North Carolina-based chain of boutique grocery stores that concentrates on organic and natural foods.

Representatives from Earth Fare could not be reached for comment. But its website, earthfare.com, says the company's philosophy can best be summed up in one word: "No."

As in, no high-fructose corn syrup, no artificial fats or artificial trans fats, no artificial colors, no artificial flavors, no artificial preservatives, no artificial sweeteners, no antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones in fresh meats and dairy goods, and no bleached or bromated flour.

Earth Fare says it has both a "boot list" and a "boot patrol." The boot list consists of items the chain will not sell because they contain ingredients the chain bans. The boot patrol is an effort to recruit customers to help police shelves. Customers who find a product on Earth Fare's shelves containing a banned item and report it get a $50 gift card and the product is booted from the store.

Jeff Preston, managing partner of North American Development Group, which owns the property through its Seminole Mall LP subsidiary, agreed that mall developers are in "advanced discussions with Earth Fare.'' But, he said, the deal is far from done.

"We're hopeful that everything does materialize," Preston said. "This would be their first opening in the Tampa area. … We think it's a very unique specialized concept that's different from any other grocer in the market."

Earth Fare was founded as a natural foods store in 1975 in Asheville, N.C., under the name Dinner for the Earth. Now it has stores in 10 states. It has stores in Jacksonville and Tallahassee and is generally seen as a competitor to groceries such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe's and Fresh Market.

If one does open at Seminole Mall, it would not only be the first Earth Fare in Tampa Bay, it would be the first of that type of grocery in the southwestern part of Pinellas County.

Preston said developers believe Earth Fare would function as a shopping destination not only for Seminole, but also for folks from Largo, St. Petersburg, the beaches and Pinellas Park.

Roger Edelman, a Seminole City Council member and president of the Seminole Chamber of Commerce, agreed that Earth Fare's offerings could attract shoppers from a wide area. Edelman said Seminole residents drive to St. Petersburg to go to Trader Joe's or Mazzaro's. So it makes sense, he said, that the reverse would be true.

"I think it's going to be a really, really good draw," Edelman said.

Mike Meidel, the county's economic development director, agreed having a new chain move in is a good thing because of the interest it sparks. And, while Pinellas already has a Trader Joe's, two Fresh Markets and a Whole Foods, Meidel said he doesn't think the market is saturated yet when it comes to "healthy" food store alternatives.

Seminole residents, business owners and elected officials have long wanted to see Seminole Mall become a destination shopping mecca. The mall, at 11201 Park Blvd., is considered to be Seminole's "downtown." It changed hands several times in recent years, with successive owners promising great things.

NADG bought the mall in 2012 for $14.6 million, about 59 percent less than the $35.7 million the previous owner, Downtown Seminole, paid in 2006. The next year, it bought the two office buildings at 7997 and 7999 113th St. N, on the northwest edge of the mall property, for about $1.98 million. NADG has partnered with Primerica Group One and Primerica Developments, a Tampa company whose primary focus is on shopping centers.

NADG and Primerica brought a proposal before the Seminole council last year that shows spaces for 24 businesses ranging in size from about 2,000 square feet to a multiplex cinema with 56,998 square feet and 1,262 seats. It would be known as Seminole City Center.

Preston said there are lots of stores interested in locating in the revamped mall. Among them are current tenants CVS, Stein Mart, Bealls and Ross Dress for Less.

Other retailers that have expressed an interest, according to Seminole city records, are LA Fitness, Home Goods, Ulta Beauty, Pollo Tropical, Petco and Sports Authority. Preston cautioned that deals have not yet been struck with any of the retailers. In the end, he said, the lineup may be entirely different.

Contact Anne Lindberg at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450. Follow @alindbergtimes.

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