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Whole Foods to open in Clearwater, while a Publix store will close

CLEARWATER — You could call it the Supermarket Shuffle — one leaves, another arrives.

On one hand, a longtime Publix at Sunset Point Plaza is about to close because it's competing with another Publix just a half-mile to the west — a store that the chain bought from Albertsons a few years ago.

On the other hand, a major new player, Whole Foods Market, is planning to open its first location in the Clearwater area — possibly at Westfield Countryside Mall.

Whole Foods Market

This growing chain of large health-food grocery stores is making inroads into Tampa Bay. It opened its first bay-area store five years ago at Interstate 275 and Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa. It just opened its second local store in Carrollwood in Hillsborough County, and it's looking at downtown St. Petersburg.

This week, the chain announced that it's coming to Clearwater, but it provided no further details.

However, Whole Foods representatives are scheduled to talk with Clearwater planning officials later this month about a proposal to take over the lower level of the Sears department store at Westfield Countryside Mall.

"They would take up part of the existing Sears space at Westfield. Sears would continue to be there, occupying less space," said Assistant City Manager Rod Irwin. The addition of a high-end grocery store would dovetail with the mall's strategy of becoming a regional shopping destination, he said.

Representatives of Sears and the mall couldn't be reached for comment Friday.

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.

In Clearwater, its closest direct competitors would probably be a Fresh Market on U.S. 19 just south of Countryside Mall, and Nature's Food Patch, an organic grocery store downtown.

While traditional grocers compete on price and service, Whole Foods caters to shoppers more concerned with healthy eating, wise environmental practices and selection. Supermarket consultants say the chain looks to locate in communities with residents earning six-figure salaries.

In Clearwater, that would perhaps suggest the Countryside or Sunset Point areas.

Too many Publixes

Meanwhile, the Publix at U.S. 19 and Sunset Point Road has been there for decades. It was greatly expanded and updated in 1992.

But in 2008, Publix Super Markets bought about 50 Albertsons stores around Florida — including one at Beckett Lake Plaza, located a half-mile away at Sunset Point and Belcher Road.

There's not enough business in the immediate area to sustain both stores, said Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten.

So the U.S. 19 store will close on Dec. 29.

Mike Brassfield can be reached at brassfield@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Whole Foods to open in Clearwater, while a Publix store will close 11/09/12 [Last modified: Friday, November 9, 2012 8:03pm]

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