Attention, Winn-Dixie shoppers: The store at 111 104th Ave., the local grocery for city residents for 38 years, is closing today at 5 p.m.
Residents will be without a neighborhood market until Dec. 12, when a private, independent Fort Myers grocer, Dave Carney, plans to open a Topps Supermarket here. Carney is putting renovations in the express lane, so to speak, so that residents won't be without a grocery store for long.
"We bought all of Winn-Dixie's equipment intact," Carney said. "We're going to repaint and clean the place up as quickly as possible. Then we'll go slower next year and start replacing everything."
Carney recently purchased the building, which has been appraised with a market value of about $1.175-million, from its Arizona owners. Carney wouldn't disclose the actual sale price.
"The big guys, the Winn-Dixies and the Publixes of the world, are focusing on big stores," Carney said. "I still feel there's a niche for a smaller store that gets involved in the community."
Carney has been in the grocery business for 30 years and owns another Topps Supermarket in Fort Myers. He recently sold a third store in Punta Gorda but says he is looking to expand in other beach towns in Florida.
Winn-Dixie opened the door to the sale when the company chose not to renew the lease on the 18,936-square-foot building this month. The store had to be closed because it wasn't large enough and couldn't be expanded to generate enough sales, said Marc Sutherland, the marketing director for Winn-Dixie's Tampa division.
Winn-Dixie has been trying to reposition itself in the market with larger, one-stop-shopping Marketplace stores, which normally start at about 45,000 square feet.
Sutherland apologized to any customers who will be inconvenienced by having to drive 15 minutes north to the grocery store in Madeira Beach or east to the trio of large stores in South Pasadena for the next month.
"We've had some people disappointed that we were leaving," Sutherland said. "But I think the fact that someone will be moving in will give them another option for groceries. As a business, you have to make certain decisions at times and hope everybody will understand."
About 85 employees at the store will be offered jobs at 21 other area Winn-Dixies, Sutherland said, although some want jobs at the new store. The store's inventory, or what's left on the half-stocked shelves today, will be sent to other area stores.
The new Topps will probably have hours from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Carney said. The company is advertising to hire about 60 employees this month.