NEW TAMPA — For Anna Allsgood, the reopening of the local Publix supermarket signals the return of an old friend.
"I'm ecstatic!" said Allsgood, who lives in the Hamptons at Tampa Palms. "I didn't like driving all the way to Cross Creek or 50th Street to get to a Publix."
Allsgood, who has shopped at the Tampa Palms store for six years, was among many loyal customers disappointed when the store at 16041 Tampa Palms Blvd. closed Jan. 2 for remodeling. It reopened last week, to the relief of those who live and work in New Tampa and saw this Publix as not just a grocery store, but a focal point for meeting people and grabbing a bite for lunch.
Carla Judson of Tampa Palms said the store's closing meant more than an inconvenience. It also meant she had to say good-bye to people she appreciated and enjoyed talking to.
"The people here know me," Judson said. "Some of them even call me by my name."
The store reopened in a 54,000-square-foot space, up from 45,000 square feet, making it one of the chain's larger prototypes, said Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten.
It wasn't just the customers who had to travel farther, Patten said. During the past eight months, the store's 200 employees were temporarily assigned to other stores in the area. Most returned to their old jobs, she said.
Store manager Rick Tucker said he was glad to be back in more familiar territory after spending most of this year working at a Publix in Largo.
"It's great to be back," said Tucker, who has managed the store for five years. "I've missed the community, the people and the store."
The new store's produce, meat, bakery and pharmacy departments are larger than before, and there is also a new 1,600-square-foot liquor store and a full-service florist.
Another change is that the Publix GreenWise organic and earth-friendly products are not in their own section, but integrated throughout the store. GreenWise products are on radial shelving that curves out so customers can quickly identify them, Patten said.
A unique addition to the store is the new "Diet-Restricted Foods" section, which features items like breads and pastas for people with phenylketonuria, also known as PKU. People with PKU are not able to digest phenylalanine, an amino acid. Symptoms include delayed mental and social skills, hyperactivity, mental retardation and seizures.
Patten said the section was included because of Tucker's recommendation. He said a number of customers had asked him about gluten-free products. Since the Aug. 12 reopening, that section has proven quite popular.
"To our surprise, we have people from all over the county who come for those products," Patten said.
Another feature of the remodeled store are the energy-saving lights in the frozen food cases, Patten said. The frozen food cases have sensors on the LED lights, which turn on automatically when a customer walks down the aisle, and then turn off when no one is there.
Jeanette Santiago, also of Tampa Palms, said she hated to shop elsewhere after going to the Tampa Palms Publix for four years.
"I was relieved when they opened back up," Santiago said. "When this wasn't here, I had to go to Winn-Dixie."
Scott Berg, who works at the Grand Reserve apartment complex nearby, said he used to depend on Publix's deli for his lunch. When the store closed, Berg said he ate more fast food, even though he knew it wasn't good for him and he didn't like it as much.
"The stuff I can get at the deli is a lot better for you," Berg said.
Sean Ledig can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.