- October 16, 2020
Luke Whipple started the customer line at 4:45 a.m. Aug. 11 for the 7 a.m. opening of the East San Marco Publix store.
“I want some Eggo waffles,” he said.
More than that, he wanted to see the place.
At 17, the Douglas Anderson School of the Arts senior said he had been hearing about the store his entire life because his dad had worked for Regency Centers Corp., the developer of East San Marco, a project talked about for at least two decades.
A friend since middle school, 18-year-old Ernest Soles joined Whipple as second in line.
Soles, a University of North Florida student, was there for Publix’s chicken tenders, saying “it’s like the sign said, it’s worth the wait.”
That’s the sign in front of the shopping center at Hendricks Avenue and Atlantic Boulevard.
After 20 years in the making, Publix Super Markets Inc. opened the 39,209-square-foot store at 2039 Hendricks Ave. that is on the second floor, with a parking garage beneath and a surface lot in front.
Customers can take the stairs or one of four elevators that each can handle several customers with shopping carts.
Lakeland-based Publix also opened a separate Publix Liquors on the ground floor.
Customers lined up
About 60 customers were in line about 10 minutes before the opening.
Sherron Watson of Springfield and Janice Poole of San Marco arrived about 6:30 a.m. Watson typically shops at the Publix in Riverside, where customers say parking can be a challenge because the lot serves the store and other restaurants and retailers in a small space.
Watson noted that parking in East San Marco was “good so far.”
Poole lives near East San Marco and until now would choose among three Publix stores several miles away in different directions.
“Being here made it a lot easier,” Poole said. “Plus, I can walk from the house.”
She considers the first-floor garage and second-floor store “an innovative way to address the space issue.”
Chad Skipper, who works at Publix in the Shoppes at RiverTown, was in line since 6 a.m. so he could greet his former assistant store manager, who was named manager of the East San Marco store.
“They’ve been waiting for this store a long time,” he said.
That manager, Lauren Hindery, led the ribbon-cutting to open the store.
District 5 City Council member LeAnna Cumber said her family moved to the area 12 years ago, when a sign was up on the vacant corner lot where East San Marco was built.
“People have been ready for this for 20 years,” Cumber said. “It’s such a great addition to the neighborhood.”
She observed that customers of “all ages” were at the opening.
“Our kids can bike here for their chicken tenders,” she said of her fourth- and sixth-graders, who missed the event because they were at the first day of classes.
Customers quickly circulated through every aisle as dozens of Publix managers and employees offered guidance, served samples and thanked visitors.
Publix employs about 120 people at the store, said Community Relations Manager Chris Norberg.
The store, in tones of dark brown and the Publix signature green, features fresh meat, seafood and produce, including self-service floral; grocery, frozen and dairy sections; deli and bakery departments; and a pharmacy.
The deli department, positioned as a stand-alone section rather than along the wall like at some Publix stores, includes custom subs, salads and sandwiches; platters; sushi; an expanded specialty cheese selection; hot meals and sides; grab-and-go entree meals and sides; and Boar’s Head fresh sliced meats and cheeses.
The bakery includes custom cakes, platters, fresh baked breads and desserts.
Publix also will feature contactless pay options, money and lottery services, and full-service and self-service checkout.
There are six self-checkouts and six full-service lanes, including one express line for customers with 10 or fewer items.
The store is open 7 a.m.-10 p.m. daily.
The pharmacy is open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday; and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.
The liquors store is open 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Friday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Saturday; and 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Sunday.
A long history
Jacksonville-based Regency Centers Corp. ceremonially broke ground on the site Feb. 16, 2021.
“San Marco has deserved this project for a long time,” said Patrick McKinley, Regency Centers vice president and market officer, at the private groundbreaking as the coronavirus pandemic continued into its second year.
Regency Centers is a national owner, operator and developer of shopping centers.
Initial discussions surfaced in 2002 about a Publix and mixed-use development on the site. In 2006, Regency Centers and The St. Joe Co. announced the project, including Publix and condominiums.
The project was delayed by several factors, including the recession and a residential development partner that pulled out of the deal in 2017.
In 2018, Regency Centers Chairman and CEO Martin E. “Hap” Stein Jr. said the project would continue but with just the shopping center.
In October 2019, Regency Centers unveiled plans for East San Marco that included the area’s first and, so far, only two-level Publix building.
It then applied for construction permits totaling 59,052 square feet of retail space, comprising a two-story building of 76,588 square feet, with a 39,000-square-foot Publix on the top floor and parking on the bottom; a two-story retail building totaling 8,665 square feet; a one-story retail building of 9,951 square feet; and a 1,436-square-foot Publix Liquors store.
The city issued the horizontal work permit in December 2020 for the 3.25-acre site and construction permits starting in February 2021.
The residential land was sold for town houses. Toll Brothers is developing those, called the Terraces at San Marco.
More shops coming
Publix is one of several tenants at East San Marco, but the first to open.
McKinley said Orangetheory Fitness likely will open by year-end with Crumbl Cookies and St. Johns Eye Associates following early next year.
Foxtail Coffee Co. also is expected to open early next year and the Gemma Fish + Oyster restaurant late in the first quarter.
Regency is talking with a couple of restaurants for the remaining 3,599-square-foot space.