ST. PETERSBURG — The latest grocery store in town is vying for your dollars with the promise shoppers will not only find organic produce and meats at low prices, but also have a good time doing it.
Lucky's Market, inside part of the former Sears block at the Tyrone Square Mall, held its soft opening on Tuesday with its grand-opening slated for Wednesday . Sip wine while you shop — the carts have cup holders. Chuckle at the store's private label quips — it's not just a bag of frozen fruit, it's Sir-Mix-a-Lot of Berries and Bohemian Raspberries.
"We want our shoppers to have fun while they're pushing the grocery cart," said the store's director, Curt Rotrock.
On Tuesday morning, shoppers trickled in to explore Tampa Bay's first Lucky's during the unannounced opening. They were greeted by tables of organic produce, bright lights and a rustic aesthetic similar to that of Whole Foods with prices more akin to Trader Joe's.
"It's like if those two stores had a baby, you'd get this one" said shopper Robin Thill, 54.
She lives about a half-mile from the new Lucky's and came inside as soon as she noticed it was open for business. She stood in the produce section surveying the rest of the store, deciding where she wanted to hit next. A few items in and she said she was already hooked. She scored a good price on Dr. Bronner's toothpaste and was thrilled with the fresh, chopped and ready-to-cook bulk stir-fry mix.
She showed off chives she said were priced 30 cents lower than competitors. In the surrounding stands were cantaloupes for 98 cents; four for $1 mangos and avocados for 98 cents each.
"And that's for organic," she said. "You're not getting that at Publix."
The closest Publix had a non-organic avocados on a four for $5 deal — $1.25 a pop. Cantaloupes at that same Publix were $2.99 each. On sale, a pound of Lucky's strawberries was 98 cents. At Publix, it was three 1-pound cartons for $6.
Rotock said while sales were "heated up" for the store's opening, customers can expect consistently low and competitively priced produce.
If it seems like cutthroat pricing battle, that's because it is — especially in Florida where there's a growing market.
Last year, most states saw grocery openings drop on average of 29 percent, according to real estate brokerage firm JLL. In Florida, by contrast, the square-footage of grocery store openings grew by 6 percent.
Speciality grocery stores have exploded in the area: There's Sprouts Farmer's Market in Hillsborough and North Pinellas and Earth Fare is in Seminole and Oldsmar. Big-box stores like Winn-Dixie have been struggling, but the store's parent company opened two new Fresco y Más stores in Tampa and one in Orlando. The Miami-based brand has been a hit with customers, according to the company's CEO, and could expand to more locations in the future.
Because there are no Whole Foods locations in St. Petersburg (the nearest are in Clearwater or Tampa), Lucky's shoppers said on Tuesday they were thankful to have something specializing in organic foods nearby.
Lucky's also boasts a juice bar, cafe, ramen and sushi bar and ready-to-make dinners for two as low as $9.99. An apothecary section has a bar where shoppers can make their own body scrub or shop essential oils and natural remedies.
Unlike Trader Joe's, which is strictly private labels, Lucky's carries a few well-known brands like NyQuil, Silk and Campbell's, in addition to its expansive private label. The company says it then uses 10 percent of the private label sales to donate to the community.
Lucky's Florida expansion began in early 2017, when it announced it would open at least six new Florida stores — the next closest to Tampa Bay being in Sarasota.
The store markets itself as having organic food for the "99 percent." It was started by two Colorado chefs who wanted a one-stop shop for foodies. Lucky's is a cook's paradise, said Rotrock.
Grains and other cooking ingredients are available fresh and in bulk so shoppers can get only what they need for recipes, he said. The store prides itself on having low-priced staples such as $6.99 in-house smoked bacon, $5 wine, 99-cent coconut water, and two for $5 cartons of cage-free eggs.
Rotrock, who has been in grocery retail for three decades, is from Tampa. So he remembers when the very floor he was standing on was a Sears, which closed in 2016 to make way for a Dick's Sporting Goods, Five Below and, of course, Lucky's. Now, even more Sears are closing — likely making room for even more in-demand speciality stores.
The new Lucky's has hired 190 people and Rotrock suspects the area will wooed by the store's prices and variety.
And in case you're seeking recommendations: his favorite prepared item is the in-house chicken salad.
Contact Sara DiNatale at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @sara_dinatale.