Supermarket makeover


High Springs resident Vanessa Wilson and her grandson Garret Wilson, 3, shop the area's newly renovated Winn Dixie Supermarket Tuesday.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Thursday, January 31, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 30, 2008 at 6:00 p.m.

HIGH SPRINGS - The Winn-Dixie supermarket here has a new, modern look and new merchandise, with an emphasis on fresh and prepared food - the Jacksonville-based company's response to changing customer tastes.

This Winn-Dixie in north Alachua County is one of 105 to receive a major overhaul in 2007 and 2008 as part of the company's plans to bounce back after emerging from bankruptcy in November 2006, plans that also included closing about 500 stores throughout the Southeast.

On Tuesday, Store Director J.W. Woodard stood in the produce section newly relocated to the prime spot in the front right of the store, pointing out the new displays, the addition of two aisles of organic food, an expanded deli with more prepared foods and new, modern colors for various departments to replace the turquoise and pink.

The supermarket also has a new storefront, self-service checkouts, a new layout, new chicken wing bar and salad bar, and expanded seafood and wine departments.

"I think they've tried to make it a little bit more upscale," said customer Lanna Hodson of White Springs.

She said she shops there when visiting family in town, but otherwise shops at the Wal-Mart Supercenter in Lake City.

"It looks a lot cleaner and neater. The prices here are still pretty high."

Delores and Donald Kupchak of High Springs said the appearance of the store is greatly improved.

Donald Kupchak noticed changes in how food is displayed. "Everything is out in the open."

"It looks more like Publix," said Delores Kupchak.

Comparisons to Wal-Mart and Publix underscore the struggles Winn-Dixie has faced. Publix has captured the selective Florida shopper while a growing Wal-Mart grocery business appeals to the thrift segment.

"A lot of it is driven by socioeconomic areas, what people have to spend," said Mike Warren, president of AMJ Inc., a Gainesville commercial real estate management company. "There's a lot of change because the high profit margins are in prepared foods, so in areas where people have money to spend, you can make more money making strombolis, sushi and deli sandwiches than you can selling cans of peas."

Winn-Dixie had let its standards slide and public perception was of a second-class store but was starting to turn around when it went bankrupt, Warren said, adding that it will be a long process to change perceptions. "They have a big ship to turn around."

The company declared bankruptcy in February 2005 after vendors tightened credit following reports of increased losses.

Winn-Dixie closed 500 of its least profitable stores and reorganized store and corporate structures, cutting $100 million in annual costs.

Their struggles left three empty storefronts in Gainesville, although the Northwood Village store temporarily houses the Outrageous Bargains furniture store and Kohl's department store has submitted plans to renovate the Archer Square location that has sat empty for several years.

Winn-Dixie now has 521 stores throughout the Southeast.

Net income in fiscal 2007, ending June 27, was $300.6 million compared to a loss of $361.3 million in 2006, while same-store sales were up 1.6 percent.

As part of its grand reopening, on Saturday the High Springs store is holding a customer appreciation cookout benefiting the High Springs Community School from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and a health fair with screenings from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Anthony Clark can be reached at 352-374-5094 or anthony.clark@gvillesun.com.

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