By Paul Burdziakowski
For Hometown News
The closure and demolition of the Publix at Williamson Boulevard and Taylor Road in the Westport Square Shopping Center is forcing customers to look for alternatives for their shopping needs. Local businesses are being impacted by the change in shopping habits, some good and some not so good.
A few loyal Publix customers are making the longer trip to the next nearest Publix, which is at Dunlawton Avenue and Nova Road in the Dunlawton Square Shopping Center. That Publix underwent the same type of construction with similar short-term impact on surrounding businesses when it closed July 5, 2009, and reopened a few days before Thanksgiving of the same year.
"The goal is for the Westport Square Publix to reopen before Thanksgiving," Port Orange Principal Planner Tim Burman said. "Utility relocations, additional parking spaces, and reshaping of the storm water pond is some additional site work that may increase the time involved for the completion of the project."
"It seems as though a majority of Publix customers are going east of I-95 as part of the adjustments to their regular shopping habits," Mr. Burman said. "There has been a noticeable increase of foot traffic at the Super Target and Walmart."
Other customers are using small businesses in the area as alternative sources for their shopping needs.
Love Whole Foods owner Mitchell Booth opened the first whole foods grocery store of its kind in Ormond Beach 24 years ago, and recently opened a second store in Port Orange about a year and a half ago. His business is one of the few in the area benefiting from the closing of Publix.
"As a fellow small business owner, I feel sympathetic towards the businesses located in the lot next to the Publix," Mr. Booth said. "There has been an increase in some foot traffic to the store, but there are still a lot of people who don't know that we are here and what we have to offer.
"I believe that Love Whole Foods can meet the needs of those customers in the area who had been shopping regularly at Publix," he said. "Love Whole Foods is a full-service grocery store that specializes in yeast free, gluten free and sugar free foods and we provide every food item that Publix does but on a smaller scale."
Another business that has seen a change in customer habits and in the type of products being sold is the 7-Eleven across Williamson from Westport. According to the store manager, because 7-Eleven offers a broad selection of fresh, high-quality products, they have seen an increase in sales of items like milk, butter, beer and newspapers.
The 7-Eleven will coincidentally be undergoing renovation of its own starting May 15 when it expands its fuel islands and puts down bigger fuel tanks. They will continue to be open for all business except gas and allow for a full flow of traffic during that time. The fuel island construction should be completed about four weeks from the start date.
The remaining small businesses in Westport Square face a bit more of a challenge when it comes to the limited parking space available due to the construction and the regular customer flow that Publix generates.
"It's been tough at the beginning with the uncertainty on whether people will continue to come," one of the four owners of FlapJacks & More, Christine Lowe, said.
"At first everyone thought the whole plaza was getting torn down, but we have used signs, Facebook and word of mouth to spread the word that we are still open," Ms. Lowe said. "While the weekday turnout has been a bit slower, our weekends have been good."
Spruce Creek Scuba owner Tracy Grubbs has been at Westport Square since 1996 and although this has been the first major project at the shopping center, he has not noticed a major impact on business besides a few less new walk-in customers.
"This is one of four dive shops in Volusia County, so our customer base is pretty well established," Mr. Grubbs said. "This business is also largely weather dependent so we typically pick up as the summer season draws closer and whenever weather conditions are good."
Publix has been at Westport Square since 1994. It first submitted the proposal to rebuild in October 2012. Approval was given by the city on Jan. 30.
"Publix has been at the Westport Square location for 19 years so the improvements are a normal course of action to take in order to meet the growing population demands and to improve customer service standards," Mr. Burman said.
"We know there will be some inconveniences generated from the construction process, however we will be working diligently to address any issues that may arise," Patrick Opalewski, vice president of shopping center owner Root Real Estate, said. "We believe this will be a positive outcome for all the parties involved. When completed, the property will host a brand new Publix store with approximately 30 additional parking spaces that will only enhance an already well positioned property located in one of Volusia County's most dynamic retail submarkets."