Dec. 13, 2012.
It was like Longboat Key’s “Black Friday,” but it fell on a Thursday.
A crowd gathered around 7:30 a.m., a half-hour before doors opened.
But this crowd was seeking BOGOs instead of Blu Ray players — and their first glimpse of the new Longboat Key Publix.
The crowd burst into applause the moment the double doors opened.
From behind them stepped Longboat Key Publix store Manager Andy Lappin, surrounded by store associates.
“Are you ready to see the new store?” he asked, drawing cheers from the crowd.
First, he brought a bit of bad news.
Vicki Workman, aka “Miss Vicki,” a longtime Publix associate who is so beloved on the Key that one of the Harbour Links swans is named after her, was sick and wouldn’t be cutting the ribbon at the opening ceremony, as planned.
In her place, Publix administrative coordinator Tina Nohmer, a 28-year store associate, cut the ribbon.
With a snip of Nohmer’s scissors, the new Publix was open for business.
Joan Sinder was the first customer in the door.
The first item she placed in her cart was sliced bread. As she checked out the orange juice selections, she told the Longboat Observer that she arrived about 7:30 a.m. for the opening.
“It was nice,” she said of being the first customer to walk through the doors. “I think everybody has been waiting for this.”
Jimmy Seaton Sr., as he walked to enter the new store, said, “Well, I've got a social life again.”
His son, Jimmy Seaton Jr., owner of Longboat Limousine/Suncoast Sedans said: “This store has eclipsed the Colony as the topic of conversation in our cars.”
. . .
For the past eight months, a trip to Publix has required Longboaters to get in their cars and drive further than usual.
They’ve braved the drive over the John Ringling Bridge to a Sarasota Publix or navigated the Bradenton Beach roundabout en route to the Holmes Beach Publix.
“You don’t know how much you’re going to miss it until it’s gone,” said Elaine Brereton on Thursday.
But residents had waited even longer than eight months for the opening.
Rumors about the Avenue of the Flowers shopping center had been swirling since September 2008, when the Lakeland-based Publix purchased the shopping center for $14 million from Dead River Properties.
Publix brought plans for its Longboat Key store to town staff in 2009 but withdrew them and spent two years revising them before resubmitting plans in July 2011 to rebuild Publix, along with a new CVS, bringing the supermarket chain’s newest prototype to the Key.
The Longboat Key Town Commission had concerns, particularly about the parking lot, but Publix officials emphasized the urgency of the ticking time clock: To meet its ultimate goal of re-opening its Longboat Key store before Christmas, it would need to obtain its building permit by mid-March.
The commission approved plans on first reading and public hearing Jan. 9, at the end of a four-hour, 45-minute meeting, and in a second hearing Feb. 6.
Publix closed its 31-year-old store April 7, 2012 — the day before Easter — and began demolition almost immediately.
In the end, the store opened 12 days before Christmas.
Customers seemed to agree that it was all worth the wait.
Many described the store as “awesome” to the Longboat Observer, as they made their way through the enhanced bakery, wine, cheese and produce selections and got their first looks at the hot bar, Pacific wok station and salad bar with more than 20 items.
As he made his way toward the delicatessen section, Commissioner Jack Duncan smiled.
“I never thought I'd get goosebumps going into a grocery store,” he said.
Asked if the new store made the long hearings leading up to the new store worthwhile, Duncan laughed. His wife, Debbie, compared it to childbirth.
“I think that the mind starts to forget the bad,” the commissioner said.
A LOOK BACK
Day One: June 5, 1980
At least one shopper on opening day of the new Publix remembered what it was like back when a drive to the mainland for groceries was part of Longboat life.
Bunny Herman, who waited outside Thursday morning for the doors of the new Publix to open with plans to buy orange juice and sushi, lived on Longboat Key back in 1980, when Publix first opened.
“It was priceless,” said Herman, who doesn’t remember if she shopped at the store on its first day 32 years ago.
But the opening of the island’s first supermarket, along with an Eckerd drugstore, was a battle that many believed would cost the island sorely in the late 1970s.
At the time, some residents worried that the stores would jam traffic on Gulf of Mexico Drive. They told commissioners that the stores’ presence could draw shoppers from the mainland and require the town to add to its police and fire departments.
During negotiations between the town and Arvida Corp. to put a Publix at the planned Bay Isles shopping center, commissioners worried that the store was too big, leading the late Arvida CEO John Siegel to quip: “Well, if that’s what you think, then tell me what aisle we should leave out to make it smaller.”
The project received approval in 1979 and broke ground that year, as well.
When the store opened June 5, 1980, it advertised several special features, including a kosher deli, takeout sandwich and salad service, cut flowers and plants, wedding/party cakes, bagels and French and Danish pastries.
Arvida and town officials came together for an opening day ceremony. And, then, with a snip of a ribbon, the island’s only supermarket was open for business.
$14 million — The amount Publix paid to purchase the Avenue of the Flowers shopping center in September 2008
49,533 — The square footage of the new store
249 — The number of days Longboat Key was without a Publix
200 — The approximate number of employees who will staff the new Publix
15 — The number of months until Publix opens its in-store pharmacy
14 — The number of hours each day (7 a.m. to 9 p.m.) that the store will be open
10 — The number of checkout lanes in the new Publix, two of which are express lanes
2 — The number of other Publix stores nationwide built with a prototype similar to that of the Longboat Key store. (The other two are in Naples and Atlanta.)
MAN ON THE STREET
“This store is such an important part of daily life on Longboat Key. It’s a mile from my house and you don’t know how nice it feels to have it back and better than ever.”
— Barbara Kucharski
“It means so much to have Publix back up and running. It looks amazing.”
— Susan Brunning
“This store is fantastic. I can’t get over it. I’ve never been in a Publix like this. Publix went all out for us.”
— Gus Carriero
“I visit the Key every season and planned my trip around when the store re-opened. I’m not disappointed. It looks fantastic.”
— Urve Percival
“It’s great. They have a lot of samples of food we can try. The aisles are very wide in this store and there’s no more bumping into somebody. We are enjoying the experience.”
— Roslyn Schindler
Compiled by Kurt Schultheis