TAMPA — It’s not that a grocery store never looked to open in West Shore, it’s that there was not any room.
West Shore has been a busy business district for two decades, with nearly every square foot of land developed. It wasn’t until the Sports Authority chain toppled, closing all of its locations and freeing up 30,000 square feet on W Kennedy Boulevard, that Publix could move in.
Sports Authority closed four years ago. On Thursday morning, the long-awaited Publix will open.
“In the big picture, Publix has been looking at this area,” said Patrick Berman, a managing director with real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield. “There is not a grocery store west of Dale Mabry (Highway), but there are a whole lot of people living west of Dale Mabry.”
The district is about 10 square miles along West Shore Boulevard between Kennedy Boulevard and Hillsborough Avenue. It encompasses both the WestShore Plaza and International Plaza malls, as well as Tampa International Airport. And before Publix, it didn’t have its own supermarket.
The residents near and in West Shore would have to visit the Trader Joe’s about 2 miles away or the Publix in South Tampa that is farther. It might not sound like a great distance, but in the South Tampa gridlock it could feel like “an ocean away,” said Publix spokesman Brian West. A drive could be as few as 10 or 15 minutes or as long as 30 one way.
It’s a bustling area. The West Shore district has more than 100,000 workers coming to its offices each day, according to local business group the Westshore Alliance. About 15,000 people live within the district itself, and there are the 40 hotels with a combined 7,000 rooms.
West said Publix expects the store to be especially busy during the lunchtime and evening rush hours. The store is about 33,000-square-feet, making it slightly larger than some of the brand’s other urban locations but smaller than its standard 45,000-square-foot suburban markets.
After walking through the store’s sliding glass doors, customers are greeted with an assortment of grab-and-go options. There are refrigerators packed with fresh sliced fruit. The sub counter is center stage, with a small counter of ready-to-serve hot items at its side. For those in more of a rush, cardboard containers are prepacked with entrees such as roasted salmon and pulled pork.
“This is a brand new market for us,” West said. So the store is making its best guesses on what customers will want with room for adjustments.
Publix looks at an area’s demographics when designing a new store’s layout and choosing its inventory. The store only has six cash registers, but three self-checkout lanes to cater to shoppers who are coming in for lunch or just a couple things on their way home from the office.
The store is at 4900 W Kennedy Blvd., which is near the Interstate 275 interchange. Berman, who is an expert in retail real estate, expects the West Shore location to quickly become one of Publix’s top 10 earners overall because of its location.
“It’s next to condos and apartment buildings, ideal consumers,” Berman said. “It’s also a lot of families and affluent people.”
Across the street, WestShore Plaza and its owner Washington Prime are plotting to turn the traditional mall into a mixed-use complex. The plans call for apartments and another grocery store.
The project is still in the early stages, but Berman said if it comes together in the next couple of years Publix still doesn’t have much to worry about. The store not only has a loyal following, so many people pass through the district it’s enough to feed two grocers.
“The demand is there and the demand is strong,” Berman said.