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Winn-Dixie store manager shelters locals in the Keys

The Winn-Dixie Store in Big Pine Key of the Florida Keys housed several evacuees during Hurricane Irma. [Photos courtesy of Winn-Dixie]
The Winn-Dixie Store in Big Pine Key of the Florida Keys housed several evacuees during Hurricane Irma. [Photos courtesy of Winn-Dixie]
Published Sep. 15, 2017

The Winn-Dixie grocery store on Big Pine Key opened Thursday after Hurricane Irma, thanks to a few local residents and one kind store manager.

Kenny Lowe, the store manager of the Winn-Dixie grocery store on Big Pine Key in the Florida Keys, hunkered down inside the grocery store during the wrath of Hurricane Irma. While preparing the store for the big storm, he connected with a 19 local customers who needed shelter, so he opened the doors to the grocery store to let them in.

COMPLETE COVERAGE:Find all our coverage about Hurricane Irma here

The store and everyone inside managed to weather the storm mostly unscathed. A tree crashed into the back of the store, which caused some produce cases to break, but the Winn-Dixie store is open now for those who are still in the Florida Keys, said Southeastern Grocers CEO, Anthony Hucker, during a phone interview with the Tampa Bay Times Thursday. Southeastern Grocers is the Jacksonville-based parent company of Winn-Dixie, Bi-Lo, Harveys Supermarkets and Fresco Y Mas stores.

Hucker said that the five Winn-Dixie stores in the Florida Keys are open now, including the one on Big Pine Key. But the stores are struggling to find enough associates to staff them, since most people evacuated the area and local law enforcement aren't allowing residents back into the area yet.

"We had to get through two police check points to get to the store," Hucker said. "But it's amazing. These people who stayed in the store here and volunteering to work to keep it open."

Winn-Dixie is allowing 10 customers in the store at a time because they don't have the manpower to allow much more, Hucker said.

"It's just so humbling to see these people who have lost their houses coming back here to work. They're thanking me. One man was crying because he lost everything," Hucker said.

Southeastern Grocers operates roughly 700 Winn-Dixie stores in Florida. All but 48 are open and serving customers this week.