In the Know: Is a new Baby Publix coming to SWFL? And the latest on old Lucky’s locations

Is a new Baby Publix coming to Southwest Florida? How about GreenWise market?…

In the Know: Is a new Baby Publix coming to SWFL? And the latest on old Lucky's locations 1
In the Know: Is a new Baby Publix coming to SWFL? And the latest on old Lucky's locations 2

Phil Fernandez
 
| Naples Daily News

George Stansbury asked me a question the other day that has been on the minds of many of you about East Naples including fellow readers Barbara Tyne and Nancy Payton.

“What (type of) Publix is going into the old Lucky’s?” Stansbury asked. “GreenWise?”

Believe it or not, we marked the one-year anniversary this past week of when In the Know first reported the Lucky’s Market departure.

After the 2020 we just had, does that feel like a century ago?

Before breaking the piece, we had already been writing about how the company’s future was in doubt, and when it happened it seemed particularly heartbreaking for those living in the East Naples area, which had celebrated Lucky’s as their own.

Locals welcomed its arrival in an area that too often had been bypassed when new ventures would come to the region.

“Lucky’s was such a sweet place to have,” said our aforementioned Barbara Tyne.

A few of you read it as a bad sign when the doors closed. But take heart. You’re seeing what I’m seeing.

Even with the pandemic, more businesses and restaurants continue to emerge along what is long remembered as the East Trail corridor to serve residents there and the many more, like tor not, who are coming.

When we first broke the story about Publix taking over that Lucky’s location, some suggested its organic-driven GreenWise model could be in play.

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It’s understandable.

More than a decade ago, Publix chose Collier County to heavily push its GreenWise product line, now widely available, when it opened in the old Albertsons in the Pelican Bay area.

And with this vacancy, the thinking out there, in part, was it would make sense to have something similar to Lucky’s because at the available 38,300 square feet that’s smaller than its traditional footprint.

The company has never confirmed that, and to this day, its website shows a trio of future sites but at this point, not in Southwest Florida.

At the same time, it has ended up closing a handful of those including a few in recent months, and it’s down to seven venues, puny relative to its more than 1,250 of the original brand. And although that’s a smaller spot at Naples Towne Centre South, it’s actually on the bigger side of these other remaining half-dozen or so outposts.

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GreenWise isn’t its only option.

With an eye toward the future, the chain has been putting a greater focus on smaller scale stores. Call them Baby Publix. They’re cute. Comfy. Geared to an era when we’re going to continue to see increases in online ordering, delivery and pickup. The coronavirus crisis accelerated the trend.

On Wednesday, it’s scheduled to open a 39,000-square-foot locale in Nashville. Another Baby Publix has popped up in Sarasota County’s Osprey, near the beautiful mansions of Casey Key. In Lakewood Ranch, Manatee County publications reported last year on a proposed 38,400-square-foot version, almost exactly the size of ours.

And last month, in the world of fresh vs. vintage, it unveiled its modern concept not far from the Alabama home of the historic 136-year-old Birmingham Barons, formerly the Coal Barons, considered one of the country’s three oldest minor league baseball teams.

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In Collier public records I’ve studied, I’ve found no mention of GreenWise in the plans for 3815 Tamiami Trail E. All simply say Publix, fitting into the space already there.

In my contacts with reps, they’ve consistently said there’s no new info. And right now, as you can imagine, nearly all their attention is on the recent vaccine rollout worked out with the state.

The company has been busy on the development front, with its work we’ve previously reported all around Southwest Florida, such as Marco Island, way south on U.S. 41 seemingly on the edge of the Everglades and on the other side of the world in Babcock Ranch.

We’ll keep tracking it, but one thing’s for sure: The organization has come a long way from the 3,000 square feet it had when founder Frank Jenkins led its Winter Haven debut in 1930.

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What about other abandoned Lucky’s?

The breakup between Lucky’s and Kroger, which had many of the leases, led to court involvement that’s played a role in some of the sites just sitting there all this time.

Some things are starting to shake loose. Last month, Lucky’s got an OK on its Chapter 11 plan. And among the proceedings across the nation, Kroger, for example, cut a deal with a Bradenton property complex owner who had sued for breach of contract.

How did the nation’s 23rd largest revenue generator on the Fortune 500 settle? It shut up the landlord by just buying the four acres for $5 million.

Where this goes from here, Kroger’s not saying but it has led to all types of speculation over the past few days including whether that chain, so familiar to the northerners who have taken up residence here, will finally pop up on the peninsula.

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Something’s also bubbling with the lease at the former Promenade at Naples Centre setting near Pine Ridge and Airport-Pulling roads that could come together any day.

“We are still in negotiations on that,” said Patrick Fraley, principal for the Investment Properties Corporation of Naples. “We have multiple offers on that space. We’re waiting for legal proceedings to play out.”

And among others, there’s the Gateway Shoppes-North Bay plaza where old and “new” U.S. 41 meet in north Collier that a lot of you keep inquiring about including the Tarpon Cove community’s Perry DeSiato, along with Jose Ochoa, Sharon Fay and sweet Sue Sutto, who lives nearby.

In our inquiries, the owners haven’t offered up the goods, and those usually handy public documents have revealed little. We’ll stay on it.

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Is it 2004 all over again? 

Some have compared the current house-buying frenzy to 2004 and 2005 when the market boomed and then eventually stumbled and fell.

But folks at the Naples Area Board of Realtors say the factors aren’t the same.

“The difference is that today’s home sales are not coming from investors. In today’s market, end-users are purchasing homes,” said Adam Vellano, west coast sales manager for BEX Realty – Florida. “Not only is the demand real, but we don’t have predatory lenders to worry about.”

This is new territory as folks wanting more space in social distancing times have been flooding the Southwest Florida market. Many from larger metro areas, but others are locals.

“As a direct result of the effects of the pandemic, 2020 was one of the first years in history where we saw more buying activity in the second half of the year than during the first half of the year,” said Mike Hughes, vice president of Downing-Frye Realty Inc.

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Something else was also historically different after the November election of President Joe Biden, who won the popular vote by the 12th widest margin in history.

“Historic election-year hesitancy regarding changes in administrations has not been reflected by top business leaders or the equity markets, and certainly didn’t dissuade home buying decisions in Naples during December,” said Budge Huskey, CEO of Premier Sotheby’s International Realty. “In fact, in the high-end market, closed sales for homes priced over $2 million increased an astounding 62.4 percent year over year.”

There’s more reason for optimism for 2021.

“Once more people get the COVID-19 vaccine, I believe we’ll begin to see sellers who were on the fence during the pandemic loosen up and begin to list their homes,”  Hughes said. “But this might not be until the second half of the year.”

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Realtors are also watching another group of owners.

“Based on the fundamental strength of our market, I would have thought more foreigners with second homes in the area would be selling this year since travel restrictions prohibit them from entering America, but that hasn’t happened yet,” Huskey said.

With all these trends, that’s meant a lot fewer abodes out there for buyers.

The year ended with nearly half the number of homes that were on the NABOR market in December 2019. And the median closed price hit $405,000, up from $342,500 a year ago, according to the latest numbers on Friday.

Other year-to-year data: Closed sales up 45.4%, with pending leaping 88.6%.

Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez (pfernandez@gannett.com) writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Support Democracy and subscribe to a newspaper.

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