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Winn-Dixie to close more stores

Before emerging from bankruptcy this summer, Winn-Dixie Stores Inc. will take one more whack at its remaining marginally performing stores by giving up the ghost on 35 more, including 28 that will be closed in Florida.

Two stores will be put up for sale or abandoned in the Tampa Bay area, a market where Winn-Dixie's depressed market share this week fell below 10 percent for the first time in decades, according to Trade Dimensions International.

That's 2 percentage points from March 2004. But it's less than half the 22 percent share of retail grocery sales Winn-Dixie held in 1998 when Wal-Mart Supercenters and Publix Super Markets kicked off a huge store-building and remodeling binge. While Kash n' Karry has been able to stabilize its share by transforming itself into Sweetbay Supermarket, Winn-Dixie this month slid to fifth place in the market behind Albertson's for the first time.

Winn-Dixie is throwing in the towel on stores at 33650 U.S. 19 N in Palm Harbor and 4479 Gandy Blvd. in Tampa. Closing dates depend on whether they are sold, but most employees will be offered transfers to other local stores. That will leave Winn-Dixie with 44 stores in the five-county market, about half the market presence the chain commanded a decade ago.

Jacksonville-based Winn-Dixie, which has pulled out of several states and closed hundreds of stores to concentrate on Florida and the Gulf Coast, plans to emerge from bankruptcy with 550 stores, including 10 in New Orleans that have been closed since Hurricane Katrina. About 395 of them will be in its home state.

Statewide, the chain holds a solid third place among Florida grocers with 14 percent of the market behind Wal-Mart's 20 percent and Publix's 41 percent.

Winn-Dixie management has been negotiating a plan of reorganization with a creditors committee. Closing stores is easier for a retailer in a bankruptcy because a judge can rewrite contracts and lease terms. The plan is due March 20, but a hearing is scheduled March 9 in which Winn-Dixie will ask for an extension until April 19.

Winn-Dixie's performance perked up in the most recent quarter when sales in stores open more than a year rose 7.6 percent.

The company's customer satisfaction rating inched up in the most recent assessment by the University of Michigan.

"We believe the 550 stores in our continuing footprint will provide us the most solid possible foundation on which to build a more profitable future for Winn-Dixie," said Peter Lynch, president and chief executive officer. "We do not expect any other store closings as part of our Chapter 11 reorganization."

Mark Albright can be reached at albright@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8252.

TAMPA BAY AREA WINN-DIXIE STORES TO CLOSE

+ 33650 U.S. 19 N in Palm Harbor

+ 4479 Gandy Blvd. in Tampa

WINN-DIXIE TAKES A SWAN DIVE

The Jacksonville supermarket chain's market share in the Tampa Bay area has fallen dramatically since 1998 as Wal-Mart and Publix increased their market penetration. The third biggest chain in 1998 fell to fifth this month and its market share is a fraction of what it had been.

PCT. MARKET SHARE FOR 1998

1. Publix 33%

2. Kash 'n Karry 24%

3. Winn-Dixie 22%

4. Albertson's 14%

5. Wal-Mart

+ 2%

PCT. MARKET SHARE FOR 2006

1. Publix 39%

2. Wal-Mart

+ 17%

3. Kash n' Karry

+

+ 16%

4. Albertson's 10%

5. Winn-Dixie 9%

+Does not include Sam's Club

+

+Includes Sweetbay Supermarket

Source: Shelby Report of the Southeast / Trademark Dimensions International

Times graphic

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