Publix makes Boro grand openingA look at the Statesboro Publix grand opening that attracted a large crowd Wednesday morning.
About 200 people, maybe more, streamed into Statesboro’s new Publix supermarket in the first 10 minutes it was open. Among those already in line when the ribbon was cut at 7 a.m. Wednesday, some have been driving almost an hour each way to shop at Publix stores in Pooler, and a few remembered the previous Statesboro Publix.
“It’s just a long time coming, and I’m happy they’re back. …,” said Johnny White. “We’re from Mobile, Alabama, but we moved here in ’95 before the original store closed and kind of got accustomed to shopping there and were sad to see them leave.”
White, now a Statesboro resident, actually supplies produce to Publix stores. Specifically, he is sales manager for Shuman Farms, based in Tattnall County, which produces Vidalia onions during their season and markets imported Peruvian sweet onions at this time of year. But he had taken his place among the shoppers lining up before the new store opened.
A chill was in the air and lights illuminated the parking lot in front of the 43,387 -square-foot supermarket in the also new, still being fleshed out Eagles Corner Shopping Center at Old Register Road and Tormenta Way.
“I’m ready to see what they’ve got to offer, to see the new store format,” White said. “I’ve been in one of these before, this new mezzanine type with the upstairs dining area.”
The other store he visited with a front mezzanine and balcony is in Foley, Alabama.
Kate Mock, 16, wasn’t born yet when Publix’s previous Statesboro store, which was on Northside Drive East, closed in the late 1990s after only a few years in business. But she was eager to see this new one open. She and her grandfather Hadley Campbell had joined the line outside the store about 20 minutes before the ribbon cutting.
“I love Publix,” Mock said. “I’m very excited for the bakery. The bakery is the best part.”
She visits the bakery in a Publix at Hilton Head, South Carolina, during vacation trips with her family and also mentioned going to a Publix in Pooler.
Marva Johnson hails from Michigan but has been visiting family here, including her sister Frances McCray, whose home is near Metter in Candler County, since Thanksgiving. So the two sisters took part in one of area’s events of the season, the Publix grand opening. They had been witnesses to a line forming around 6:30 a.m., still before daylight, and were interviewed shortly before the doors opened.
Previously McCray shopped at a Publix in Pooler, “all of the time,” she said. “I was there Friday.” She hoped to find some more “buy one-get one free” deals here Tuesday.
Patrick Robertson, who works in the student housing office at Georgia Southern University, said he had been waiting for Publix to arrive “for about five years.” He was first to arrive Tuesday, at about 4:30 a.m., he said, but he had let several other shoppers get in line ahead of him.
‘Here to stay’
Daniel Keefer, store manager for the new Publix, greeted the crowd before cutting the ribbon after a 5,4,3,2,1 countdown.
“We’re excited to be back in the community. I can tell you we’re here to stay this time. We’re not going anywhere,” he said, to cheers and a few whistles.
Keefer, who has worked with the company for 26 years, comes to the new store from the Publix in Port Wentworth, where he was the manager for three years.
The company started hiring for the Statesboro store with two job fairs in September. The new employees, or associates, were trained at stores in the area, including the one in Port Wentworth and the two in Pooler.
To fill the shifts for supermarket hours of 7 a.m.-10 p.m. seven days a week and pharmacy hours of 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-7p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday, the store employs between 150 and 200 people.
“They’re not all new hires,” said Chris Norberg, Publix Super Markets Inc. community relations manager for the Jacksonville Division. “We did bring over some other associates that had been at other locations for a while that, maybe this was closer to home or in an area they wanted to work in.”
As announced when Publix broke ground at the site in May 2021, this store design is a relatively new one.
The mezzanine is an upstairs seating area where customers who buy food downstairs can go to enjoy a meal or snack “between shopping, after shopping or before shopping,” Norberg said. From the interior mezzanine a balcony extends to the open air, like an upstairs porch over the store entrance.
Customers can approach a stand-alone deli island in the middle of the sales floor from any direction, “360,” he said.
Other features of the store include the meat department with custom-cut and ready-to-cook items; a full-service seafood department with “fresh, never frozen” whole fish and fillets and hand-rolled sushi; the bakery; produce and floral departments and a pharmacy with a drive-thru.
Publix, based in Lakeland, Florida, describes itself as the largest employee-owned company in the United States. After a batch of recent openings, the chain had 1,320 stores in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia as of Wednesday.
In addition to the Statesboro store, a new Publix opened in McDonough, Georgia, and two others just outside Nashville, Tennessee, on Wednesday. In Florida, the company opened a new store in Orlando last Thursday and is opening another in St. Augustine this Thursday.
Few of the stores open with as much fanfare or anticipation as the one here.
“This is one of our best grand openings we’ve had in a while because of all the excitement around this location opening up in Statesboro,” Norberg said.
The Statesboro Herald’s archives show reports of developers’ efforts, at first unsuccessful, to bring Publix back to the community beginning more than 15 years ago.
Publix’s return, and the site where the store now stands, were announced by South Georgia Tormenta FC soccer franchise President Darin Van Tassell at a groundbreaking ceremony for Tormenta Stadium and the overall Old Register Road Tax Allocation District, or TAD, plan in March 2019.
The Bulloch County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education had required a commitment from developers for a sizeable grocery store before committing shares of property tax revenue growth from the 250-acre district to the TAD fund created by the city of Statesboro.
Now the growth margin from city, county and school district property taxes goes to repay the city for spending for infrastructure in the district, including building Tormenta Way and adding lanes along Old Register Road to the bypass, with signals installed at both intersections.
Watkins Real Estate Group purchased 12 acres in the TAD and developed the 66,000-square-foot Eagles Corner Shopping Center with Publix as the flagship tenant. Six other businesses are slated to open within the shopping center: Grand Nail Lounge, Orangetheory Fitness, Tropical Smoothie, Great Clips, Lendmark Financial and Stella Boutique.
A Huey Magoo’s Chicken Tenders restaurant and Tidal Wave Auto Spa’s second Statesboro location are planned for construction on two of the corner outparcels.