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East County Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2020 2 months ago

Wish list for Earth Fare space in Lakewood Ranch

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East County shoppers hope for another specialty grocer at The Green.
by: Pam Eubanks Senior Editor

Several times a week, customers who walk into Sarasota Glass and Mirror at The Green at Lakewood Ranch shopping plaza ask its manager, Steve Pyle, what will be going into the space left by Earth Fare’s demise.

The organic grocer’s Lakewood Ranch store closed Feb. 24, just weeks after Earth Fare announced it would close all 50 of its stores nationwide.

Pyle still hasn’t heard any details about its replacement, but he knows what his customers are saying.

“Most people want a Trader Joe’s,” Pyle said. “A couple of times, I get a [suggestion of] Fresh Market or Whole Foods. The gossip’s going around. Everybody wants to know.”

Scott Goldsmith, vice president of leasing for North American Development Group, which owns  The Green at Lakewood Ranch, would not comment on a replacement for Earth Fare in the 23,500 square foot space.

Ken Swan, a commercial broker with Wagner Realty, said it typically takes six months to more than a year to find a tenant for a space that size, even in normal market conditions.

He said with a Publix across Lakewood Ranch Boulevard from The Green and another Publix being built at the northeast corner of Lorraine Road and State Road 70, the market for grocery stores is highly competitive when it

The Lakewood Ranch Earth Fare opened in January 2018 and closed just shy of its two-year anniversary.

comes to drawing customers.

“But I would think some sort of retailer in the same industry, with freezers, would be the most logical use,” he said of the space.

Some East County residents say another grocery — something with a great produce offering and preferably with organic and healthy options — would be the best fit.

On neighborhood forum Nextdoor, Lakewood Ranch’s Delora Bubb posted “Let’s go after Trader Joe’s to take over EarthFare space in Lakewood Ranch!” with instructions on how to request a store. Her post received more than 100 comments, most of which said “done” or had similar verbiage.

“Trader Joe’s has unique and delicious food, things you can’t find anywhere else, and the pricing is good,” she said.

Esplanade Golf and Country Club’s Birgit DiForio said she will miss Earth Fare and would like a Trader Joe’s too.

She said she has missed Trader Joe’s since moving from Connecticut more than a year ago. Before Costco opened at Heritage Harbour, she traveled to Sarasota once a month to go to Costco and Trader Joe’s in one trip. Traffic, however, has become problematic, so her trips have become more limited.

“I don’t see anything other than a food store [going into that space],” DiForio said. “We don’t need any more mattress shops or nail salons.”

Trader Joe’s Public Relations Director Kenya Friend-Daniel said Trader Joe’s evaluates each request that comes in, but she could not say how many requests the company has received for a Lakewood Ranch store or whether it was considering the location.

Other East County residents have recommended Sarasota-based Detwiler’s Farm Market, Aldi, Sprouts and Wegman’s, a New York-based organic grocer popular in the Northeast.

Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club’s Lynda Thomas said she liked going to Earth Fare after working out at LA Fitness and liked its product offerings.

“They made a great smoothie,” Thomas said.

If something new has to go in, she would love to see a Detwiler’s Farm Market, which has locations in Sarasota and Manatee counties, or Wegman’s, which has bistro-style restaurants within its stores.

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