Polk County Community Development Manager Jim DeGennaro is among those who believe news may not be too far off in the future about Fort Meade’s efforts to obtain a new grocery story.
DeGennaro was in Frostproof last week to hold a workshop with council members there who are also trying to attract a Save A-Lot to their city.
“There’s been press that Fort Meade is going down the same path as you all are doing. They’re a little bit bigger community, and they might just hit the home run,” he said. “They’ve been trying for 15 years to get a grocery store there.”
He said he remembered a Publix official that came to speak at a Fort Meade chamber event in 2002 for what he thought was going to be a routine speaking engagement.
“He got bushwacked. The city fathers were there, there was a marching band, a color guard, the whole community center was in green and white. There was a big ol’ cake from Publix. The food was from Publix in Bartow. He was overwhelmed, but we didn’t get the store,” DeGennaro said.
He also said that Fort Meade’s recent change to allow Sunday alcohol package sales was probably a necessary step in trying to attract a grocery chain here.
“I can just say in general that the 21st century calls for the sale of alcoholic beverages on Sunday afternoon,” he added. “There’s just too many options today for people to go elsewhere. Somebody’s going to outflank you.”
Frostproof is one of the few remaining municipalities in the area that prohibits Sunday alcohol sales.
Frostproof City Manager T.R. Croley expressed concern that what happens in Fort Meade would hurt her city’s ability to get a store there.
Publix has a store to the north of Fort Meade, in Bartow, but none in Wauchula, where there is a Winn-Dixie, Sweetbay and Wal-Mart Supercenter.
DeGennaro said what happens in Fort Meade wouldn’t affect Frostproof’s position.
“If anything, Publix is more concerned with Bartow, which is an underachieving store,” he said. “A number of people that go to the Bartow store come from Fort Meade as it is. It’s not one of their top producing stores.”
The Bartow Publix was closed for a long period of time to be completely renovated, and since then, a major road project in front of it has snarled traffic which may account for some of the store’s performance since it reopened in October 2011.
A Publix spokesperson said in a recent email that there was no news to report regarding a Fort Meade location.
“Publix is always looking for future locations to serve our customers, but at this time we have not finalized any plans for a Publix location in Fort Meade,” noted Shannon Patten, Publix’s manager of media relations for Central and Southwest Florida.
DeGennaro indicated recent projects in and around Fort Meade have made locating a store there a more attractive proposition now than in past years.
“They’ve got the hopes of U.S. EcoGen and Streamsong,” he said.
An email request for information regarding Winn-Dixie’s possible interest in the local market was not answered. Sweetbay recently announced it would be closing almost three dozen stores in central and western Florida, making them an unlikely entrant into the local scene.