New grocery store planned for Sadler Square Shopping Plaza

  • A Publix GreenWise Market and a Publix liquor store could be coming in 2021 to the Sadler Square Shopping Plaza in Fernandina Beach. JOHN SHAFFNER/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER
    A Publix GreenWise Market and a Publix liquor store could be coming in 2021 to the Sadler Square Shopping Plaza in Fernandina Beach. JOHN SHAFFNER/FOR THE NEWS-LEADER

Jacksonville-based Sleiman Enterprises Inc. has presented a preliminary plan to the city of Fernandina Beach for a new grocery store – possibly a Publix GreenWise Market – for its Sadler Square Shopping Plaza in the 2100 block of Sadler Road. The proposed store would displace two existing tenants, Ms. Carolyn’s restaurant and a UF Health Family Medicine clinic.

The News-Leader has learned that a subsequent “concept plan” designates the 27,862-square-foot space as a Publix grocery store – which fits the footprint for a Publix GreenWise Market – and also designates “tenant space 2136 (five spaces east of the proposed grocery store space) as a Publix liquor store. Publix has its brand liquor stores adjacent to or close by its grocery stores in many markets.

This smaller footprint grocery store and liquor store would be just a couple of blocks east of Publix’s main store in the Island Walk shopping center at Sadler Road and South 14th Street, but Publix is known to have located its grocery stores in close proximity to each other in some markets.

Representatives of Sleiman and Wade Olszewski of Jacksonville-based CPH Corp., the architectural and engineering firm working for Sleiman, made the initial “pre-application” presentation on Aug. 13 to the city’s Technical Review Committee, which reviews all development and change-of-use applications for the city’s Department of Planning and Conservation. No formal application has yet been filed by Sleiman to reconfigure and build out the spaces.

That initial plan shown to the TRC only labeled the site as a “proposed grocery store.” According to Senior Planner Jake Platt, It was apparent in discussions that it included the spaces presently occupied by Ms. Carolyn’s restaurant and the UF Health Family Medicine clinic. There have been additional contacts by Sleiman with the city since that initial meeting during which a concept plan presented was reportedly titled “Publix GreenWise” and the additional smaller space was identified as “Publix liquor store.”

After several attempts to discuss this proposal with Sleiman representatives, the company that owns the shopping center, the News-Leader received an email from Director of Corporate Communications Samantha Ashcraft that stated, “Sleiman has no comment at this time.”

In response to a News-Leader request for comment from Publix, an email from Director of Communications Maria Brous stated, “We can only comment on sites where we have a signed lease. I do not show this location as a confirmed Publix location. My apologies that I could not assist further.” Publix did not confirm nor deny whether it is looking at sites for a second store location in Fernandina Beach or on Amelia Island.

This is not the first time in recent years that there have been discussions of a second Publix store on Amelia Island. There were rumors in early 2019 that Publix was looking to build a store on the site of The Dome Healing Center, 5024 First Coast Highway (A1A) at Scott Road. That rumor faded.

In May 2019, Skinner Bros. Realty of Jacksonville presented to the city’s TRC plans for a shopping center at the southeast corner of Amelia Parkway and Bailey Road, which included a 49,000-square-foot grocery store with an adjacent liquor store. To date, that development has not proceeded. Skinner is a developer of shopping centers and had worked with Publix on previous occasions.

Kelly Gibson, director of the city’s Department of Planning and Conservation, told the News-Leader that it has been known for some time that Publix considers its present store at Island Walk shopping center to be too small to meet the needs of the Fernandina Beach/Amelia Island market. Gibson said that short of moving the store or doing a major expansion, “the addition of a GreenWise Market and separate liquor store nearby would make sense.” She added that might prompt some remodeling at the present Publix.

The News-Leader also discussed the proposed plan for a possible Publix GreenWise Market and liquor store with the CEO of another company that owns and manages shopping centers in the Southeast. The CEO texted back, “Could make sense.” However, he added, “Owners are reluctant to discuss until the deal is done.”

Sleiman certainly has been reluctant to share any information about this concept proposal – even with the present tenants it would displace. Carolyn Sylvester, owner of the popular Ms. Carolyn’s breakfast and lunch restaurant, told the News-Leader, “(Sleiman) has not approached me. No one has spoken to me about it.” Sylvester said her lease is up for renewal next year, but was unsure of the date.

Sylvester first opened a restaurant in Fernandina Beach about two decades ago. Ms. Carolyn’s Breakfast and Desserts on South 14th Street was an instant hit. After a few years, she moved to her current location at 2021 Sadler Road, where her son-in-law, Kenny Pickett, had started his own restaurant, KP’s Kitchen.

Asked if she had plans to close or move her restaurant when the present lease comes up for renewal, Sylvester replied, “I am not planning on closing the restaurant.” She added, referring to the proposed grocery store in her current space, “Sometimes their deals fall through.” But she was obviously surprised that the News-Leader was the first to inform her of the preliminary plan from Sleiman, which includes all of the shopping center spaces from the eastern edge of Lott’s Furniture store to tenant space 2126, which totals 27,862 square feet, including the spaces presently occupied by Ms. Carolyn’s and the UF Health Family Medicine clinic.

The plan also designates all of the parking spaces in the center’s parking lot east of the main entrance for use by the grocery. Gibson indicated there would be some issues to be addressed, including changes to the parking lot to add trees according to the city’s present ordinances.

Publix Super Markets Inc. opened its first Northeast Florida GreenWise Market in Nocatee Town Center on June 20. GreenWise Markets are smaller than traditional Publix stores and often are located near the full-line supermarkets, which is the case at Nocatee. GreenWise is leasing 25,150 square feet in Nocatee Town Center, but it is unclear whether that includes back-of-store product storage space.

GreenWise announced in October 2019 it would open a second area store in St. Augustine in 2021. Six more are reportedly planned in Florida and Georgia, according to the announcement at that time. The locations of all those stores were not identified. It also recently opened a GreenWise Market in Odessa, Fla., just north of Orlando.

Publix describes GreenWise Market as a specialty, natural and organic store featuring items for the health-conscious and gourmet market. The GreenWise stores are divided into experience zones, which Publix describes as: 

• EATS – a large prepared foods area that is home to gourmet pizzas, burrito bowls, chef-created sandwiches and a selection of heat-and-eat main courses and sides. Items are created using organic meats and cheeses, and vegan options are available. 

• POURS – where customers can purchase beer, wine, coffee or other beverages to drink while they shop. 

• CUTS – which is home to organic and sustainably sourced meats, including in-house smoked meats and sausages. 

• FINDS – where customers can discover new items, beer and wine, and gourmet options for a charcuterie platter. 

According to a 2018 story by Progressive Grocer magazine, the Greenwise Market concept, which was first developed a decade ago, has been reignited by Publix, according to industry observers, “as the grocers attempt to compete with the booming ecommerce businesses of Amazon, Walmart and Target” as well as compete with niche grocers. 

Research by the News-Leader identified a few other grocery stores that could fit the space profile identified on the plan  – Sprouts, Trader Joe’s, and new Target and Walmart small footprint grocery stores – but none of those typically locate next to a separate liquor store of the same brand. When asked about an early rumor that Trader Joe’s might open a store in that location, a shopping center industry executive familiar with this market told the News-Leader, “That is not going to happen.”