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East County Tuesday, Mar. 31, 2020 1 month ago

Lakewood Ranch business owner offers thanks to Publix for its rent assistance

The grocery store chain waives up to two months rent for its tenants who had to close due to COVID-19
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

Like many business owners, Judith Williams has had a heavy heart after closing the doors of her four Fifi's Fine Resale stores, including two in East County, due to the COVID-19 threat.

On Monday, though, she had great news that made her "cry like a baby."

She reached out to her landlord in two of her stores, one in Lakewood Ranch and the other in Apollo Beach, to ask if the rumors were true.

Publix representatives confirmed the grocery store chain is offering rent relief to businesses operating in Publix-owned shopping centers that have closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Judith Williams, the owner of Fifi's Fine Resale, has more than 15,000 consignors who depend on her.

A press release from Publix was posted on its website Tuesday, saying the relief package includes waiving rent for two months as well as waiving payments for common area maintenance fees and taxes, regardless of the tenant’s access to other relief or assistance.

"I am a strong businesswoman, but I have been worried about how we would make it through this," said Williams, who has 36 employees. "We haven't gotten anything in writing because Publix is having its attorneys write it up. But this will be a true blessing. I was running scared. If we have to be closed two months, this will be a great help. I was very emotional because it's not just me. Too many employees depend on me."

Williams, who represents more than 15,000 consignors in her stores, said she has been trying to stay positive and has been reaching out to the property owners of her stores' buildings to see if anything could be done. Besides Publix helping out, she said SITE Centers of Cincinnati, which owns her store's building at 7343 52nd Place E., Bradenton, has offered to defer her April rent.

The owner of her Osprey location is Debra Brantingham, a small business owner herself.

"She has a mortgage to pay herself and she has been very understanding," Williams said.

It's been a bit of relief in a situation Williams never has encountered.

"We were having a great season," she said. "It was a tough decision to close, but we followed the President's and the Governor's recommendations. To lose March and April is going to be a big hurt."

Most of all on Tuesday, Williams wanted to make to make sure Publix, SITE Centers and all the landlords who are helping their tenants through a tough time understand it is much appreciated.

"How do we express our gratitude so it is heartfelt?" she said.


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