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Jax Daily Record Monday, Feb. 3, 202011:30 AM EST

Earth Fare closing all of its stores, including 3 in Northeast Florida

The Asheville, North Carolina-based company cites “continued challenges in the retail industry.”
by: Katie Garwood Staff Writer

Earth Fare, the natural and organic grocer, announced Feb. 3 it will close all its stores, including two in Duval County and one in St. Johns. 

The company said liquidation sales will begin immediately. Hours are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. until Feb. 5 when they go from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The store will search for buyers for store locations, according to a news release.

Asheville, North Carolina-based Earth Fare operates about 50 stores nationwide.

Besides Florida, Earth Fare has stores in North Carolina, Virginia, Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama.

“Earth Fare has been proud to serve the natural and organic grocery market, and the decision to begin the process of closing our stores was not entered into lightly. We’d like to thank our Team Members for their commitment and dedication to serving our customers, and our vendors and suppliers for their partnership,” the company said in a statement. 

The company cited “continued challenges in the retail industry” and the inability to refinance its debt as reasons for closing its stores. 

Earth Fare opened its newest Northeast Florida store in October at 120 Shops Blvd. in the Shoppes at St. Johns Parkway in St. Johns County.

It opened its first area store in 2014 in the Atlantic North shopping center at 11901 Atlantic Blvd. In 2017, it opened in the Mandarin South Shopping Center at 11700 San Jose Blvd.

In October, Earth Fare President and CEO Frank Scorpiniti said there were 15 more Earth Fare stores in development in Florida, but none in Northeast Florida. 

It’s the second closure in the natural foods market industry in two weeks.

Lucky’s Market announced Jan. 22 it would close most of its stores nationwide, including all but one in Florida. The two Jacksonville stores are at 580 Atlantic Blvd. in Neptune Beach and 8380 Merchants Way in Oakleaf.

Publix Super Markets Inc., Aldi and Southeastern Grocers said they wanted to take over many of the 20 former Lucky’s Market locations in Florida. Lucky’s leased many of its locations, and Earth Fare leases its three Northeast Florida stores.

Sleiman Enterprises owns the Shoppes at St. Johns Parkway and the Atlantic North shopping center. Preferred Growth Properties owns the Mandarin South Shopping Center.

Sleiman also owns the OakLeaf Station, where a Lucky’s store is closing.

Sleiman Enterprises COO Michael McNaughton said the company is “committed to secure the best outcome for the centers and the community they serve.”

“The ability to stay relevant and accommodating to the consumer while mindful of future trends and operating practices remains a hallmark of survival in today’s fast-paced marketplace, not just as a retailer but as a property owner as well,” McNaughton said.

“This retail evolution is not new and we fully expect it to continue as it has for decades,” he said.

Jacksonville-based Native Sun Natural Foods Market founder and CEO Aaron Gottlieb said in August the reason he was closing his three locations was because of the influx of specialty grocers to the area. He plans to reopen one location Feb. 12 leased from Sleiman Enterprises in Jacksonville Beach.

Gottlieb said the grocery market was saturated when Earth Fare opened in Jacksonville six years ago and has been since. There were too many stores with not enough customers to sustain each. 

At its peak, there were six national specialty grocers focusing on fresh, natural and organic foods in Jacksonville. 

Four remain with Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts Farmers Market and The Fresh Market. 

Publix is moving into the market with its natural and organics banner, GreenWise Market. It announced it will open two in St. Johns County near existing full-line Publix stores and it confirmed it wants to take over the Lucky’s lease in Neptune Beach near a full-size store, indicating a third GreenWise.

“This was bound to happen, it was a grocery bubble of who’s going to survive the marketplace,” Gottlieb said. “We knew it wasn’t sustainable for anyone, whether you are a mainstream traditional grocer, or you’re a super natural or you’re just coming into the marketplace as a new natural food store, the fact is there’s not as many bodies.” 

Earth Fare said its employees have been notified of the closure of the company’s stores and corporate office. It said the company will continue to pursue a sale of assets, in whole or in parts.

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