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Publix tries new store format

The grocery chain plans to merge convenience stores and gas stations, lured by the market's potential profits. The first store is slated for Tampa.

In a bid to widen its customer base and fatten its profit margins, Publix Super Markets Inc. said Thursday it will build a handful of combination gasoline stations and convenience stores, starting with one here.

The prototype store will be built across the parking lot from a 51,000-square-foot Publix grocery at 1313 S. Dale Mabry Avenue. At 3,000 square feet, the as-yet unnamed shop would just about fit inside its sister store's bakery department. Construction is slated to begin this fall and finish early next year.

A spokeswoman for the Lakeland-based chain said Publix covets the high profits generated by convenience stores. Gas pumps also would provide an added service for Publix grocery store customers.

"Your profit margins in the supermarket industry are anywhere from 1 to 3 cents on the dollar, so it's a low-profit industry," said Jennifer Bush.

An internal committee at Publix has been studying the issue for over a year. The employee-owned company, which has 500 grocery stores across Florida and about 130 more in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama, had sales totaling $13.1-billion in 1999 and net income of $462-million.

Details on the planned stores are slim. Bush said Publix officials haven't decided whether to sell name-brand or off-brand gas, whether to charge full retail for the gas or discount it, what the precise mix of foods and snacks will be, how many stores will be built, or whether all the new stores will sit next to existing Publix groceries.

She did say the company is leaning toward providing traditional convenience-store cuisine such as chips and milk instead of pre-made meals, though an in-store deli is a possibility. Grab-and-go service should attract hurried customers who don't want to wait in line at a grocery-store express lane.

Edward Brosnan, who owns a Texaco station across the street, said he loves shopping at Publix but thinks the convenience store is a bad idea.

"It creates an atmosphere of greed," he said. "People will be turned off."

Publix is not the first grocery chain in the bay area to add a convenience store to its mix. Last May, Albertson's Inc. opened a 2,700-square-foot snack and gasoline store, called Albertsons Express, about 100 yards from its supermarket on S. Missouri Avenue in Clearwater. It is now one of five Albertsons Express stores in Florida.