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BJ's Wholesale Club is about to make its Pinellas County debut

Employees on Thursday walked through the new Clearwater BJ's preparing the store for its Saturday, April 6 grand opening. (SARA DINATALE | TIMES)
Employees on Thursday walked through the new Clearwater BJ's preparing the store for its Saturday, April 6 grand opening. (SARA DINATALE | TIMES)
Published Apr. 5, 2019

CLEARWATER — There's only a few places shoppers can find 30-ounce tubs of hummus, 48-count Pop-Tarts and 4-pound boxes of mozzarella sticks.

In Pinellas County, that type of bulk selection has long been limited to Costco and Sam's Club. But that's set to change this Saturday when a new BJ's Wholesale Club opens its first Pinellas location in Clearwater.

BJ's entered Tampa Bay with two locations across the bay in Tampa about 13 years ago. In total, BJ's has 32 Florida locations.

"We think the Clearwater community is a great fit for BJ's," said Kirk Saville, the chain's vice president of cooperate communications, "and it's an area that's clearly growing."

BJ's targets blue-collar families seeking savings and value. Already, Clearwater has shown its enthusiasm: Saville said a recent party at a nearby membership office attracted 600 attendees.

Over the last decade, the competition among the warehouse clubs has been fierce. Amazon's success has also pushed wholesale clubs to focus on how they sell items both online and in-store. BJ's newest location shows how the Massachusetts-based retailer is trying to get an edge on the other bulk grocers.

Read more: BJ's Wholesale Club opens in Clearwater Saturday. Does it compete with Costco and Sam's Club?

The store has refreshed and sleek branding and signs. Shoppers are greeted by "WOW" in big letters suspended from the ceiling to mark an area showcasing the store's best deals, often seasonal finds. TV screens line the wall above their member service counter, declaring a BJ's membership saves shoppers up to 25 percent a year on grocery bills.

A kiosk will allow shoppers to check-in and pick up orders made ahead of time online or on its app, a service Saville said was popular during the last holiday season.

BJ's, like its competition, offers large "value" sizes of nonperishables foods, mounds of clothing, cases packed with frozen foods and a rotating mix of furniture, outdoor sets and plants.

"It's our produce that really puts us ahead of our competitors," Saville said. "We really are a one-stop shop."

In addition to its cases of fresh fruits and vegetables, BJ's also has a bakery and deli.

Although wholesale stores are responding to Amazon, recent data shows they aren't struggling. Trade publication Progressive Grocers and Tennessee's HSA Consulting firm found that while consumers were unlikely to have memberships to two wholesale clubs, they are willing to have an Amazon membership along with their wholesale membership.

The research showed that the club stores sales had been growing faster than overall U.S. retail sales in the last five years. Some questioned if Sam's Club decision to close about 60 stores last year signaled trouble for club stores. But many of the axed locations were aging or near newer locations. The one shuttered in Tampa, for example, was flipped into warehouse to service online orders.

The research predicted the club stores would grow by roughly $30 billion to $193 billion in U.S. sales by 2022.

The new BJ's is within a short driving distance to both a Sam's Club and a Costco. But the brands have proven they can attract enough customers to coexist while in close proximity: the Town 'N Country Costco and BJ's are just a few-minute drive away from each other.

The three main wholesale clubs operate similarly. A membership is required to shop the store's discounted products, though a surcharge can be applied for shoppers who want to shop BJ's without a membership. As part of its grand-opening celebration, the BJ's in Clearwater is offering discounted one-year memberships. The lowest starts at $25.

After more than a decade operating only in Hillsborough County, BJ's seized the chance to take over the former Kmart space at 26996 US Highway 19 N. after the struggling retailer closed the store in early 2018.

It opens to shoppers at 9 a.m. Saturday. The following Saturday the store will hold customer celebration, complete with free food samples.

The location's gas pumps, however, won't be ready by its Saturday debut.

Contact Sara DiNatale at sdinatale@tampabay.com. Follow @sara_dinatale.

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