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    New store rewards devotion

    When Publix wanted to close its Oakhurst Plaza store, neighbors rallied. The company's new store at the site opens Thursday.

    By MAUREEN BYRNE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published April 3, 2001


    SEMINOLE -- Carmen and Marie Christiano have lived in their neighborhood for nearly three decades. For most of those years, they've bought their groceries at the nearby Publix at Oakhurst Plaza.

    Since last summer, though, the couple has had to shop elsewhere for their bread, milk and eggs. The store closed in June, the building was razed and construction began on a brand-new Publix. But it reopens Thursday.

    "We've been really happy with that store and missed it," Carmen Christiano said Monday.

    Store manager Debbie Robinson believes plenty of folks will visit the store when it opens at 8 a.m. She said people have been peeking inside the store for the past week, asking employees when it would open.

    "I think there will be a line out there Thursday morning," Robinson said.

    The $2.7-million supermarket at 9330 Oakhurst Road will be a prototype for the company's smaller stores and is the first of its kind in Pinellas County. The prototype is a scaled-down version of the superstores the company has been building in other locations. The new store will have all the conveniences of the larger stores, officials said, including a bakery, which the old Publix didn't have.

    In addition to the traditional meat, produce, dairy and frozen food sections, the 27,000-square-foot building will contain new areas, including a full-service deli and a fresh seafood department.

    Workers also added a bakery. In the old store, cookies and bread were displayed in a self-serve rack near the checkout.

    "They had to deliver them by truck or the employees went and got them (from other stores)," said Kristina Kinnaman, one of the store's 140 employees.

    Another new section is the Green Wise Market, where organic products, such as Barbara's Yogurt and Green Onion potato chips and Eden Blend Rice and Soy beverage, are sold.

    The store also has an open-air ceiling with dozens of bright lights. Colorful signs hang throughout the interior.

    In 1994, Publix decided the 24,000-square-foot store was too small, and didn't offer conveniences customers had become accustomed to, such as a bakery. But when residents heard of the company's plans to close the store, they, including the Christianos, filled pages of petitions to "Help Save Our Publix" and made calls to store officials.

    They didn't want one of those superstores, like the 48,000-square-foot Publix a few miles up the street. They liked their small neighborhood market.

    It worked. The Lakeland-based chain said the store wouldn't close.

    "I think it's wonderful how the community embraced Publix when it fought so hard to keep this store open," Robinson said.

    In addition to rebuilding the 28-year-old store, workers added a new facade, landscaping and a resurfaced parking lot to the shopping center located in the triangle formed by Oakhurst Road, 94th Avenue and Antilles Drive. Its new look features colored stucco in place of the old shingles that lined the storefronts.

    - Contact staff writer Maureen Byrne at 445-4163 or at byrne@sptimes.com.

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