Earth Fare, a specialty natural and organic grocery chain that opened a store in Lakewood Ranch in January 2018 to great fanfare, is shutting down operations and closing all its stores. The company, in a statement, cited “continued challenges in the retail industry” as the core reason for the closure and is pursuing a sale of "assets, in whole or in parts."
The store, at Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and State Road 70 East, had approximately 130 employees. It's the anchor of the Green at Lakewood Ranch. Other tenants there include an LA Fitness and a CVS. Earth Fare CEO Frank Scorpiniti, at the Jan. 27, 2018 grand opening, told the East County Observer the corner was a "fantastic location."
"We toured Lakewood Ranch a couple of years ago," Scorpiniti said. "It was a vibrant community and there was an energy to the entire place. We saw it as a healthy community looking for healthy options. Then you look at the data about real estate. It is a substantially growing community and a family environment. People can get in and out. It is convenient."
Scorpiniti, at the opening, also acknowledged the steep competition in the grocery industry. “The percentage of growth is a pretty big challenge,” Scorpiniti told the Business Observer, sister paper of the East County Observer. "We have 46 stores and will open 13 on top that over the next year. That's 25% unit growth. It's pretty massive. It really requires unwavering commitment to the business.”
The Lakewood Ranch location, like the chain's other 50 stores, will have an inventory liquidation sale. Details on the timing of that sale weren't disclosed.
In addition to Lakewood Ranch, the Ashville,. N.C. company has three locations in the Tampa region, in Lutz, Seminole and Oldsmar. The demise of Earth Fare follows the recent news of Colorado-based niche grocer Lucky’s Market, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Jan. 27. The grocer, with at least three locations spread from Tampa to Naples, signed agreements with Aldi and Publix Super Markets Inc. to acquire 11 of its locations. One of those was the Naples Lucky’s.
New York City-based private equity firm Oak Hill Partners owns an 80% stake in Earth Fare. Over the past few years, Earth Fare officials, according to the statement, “have implemented numerous strategic initiatives aimed at growth and expansion and enhancing the customer experience.”
"While many of these initiatives improved the business, continued challenges in the retail industry impeded the company's progress as well as its ability to refinance its debt,” the release adds. “As a result, Earth Fare is not in a financial position to continue to operate on a go-forward basis. As such, we have made the difficult, but necessary decision to commence inventory liquidation sales while we continue to engage in a process to find potential suitors for our stores.”
Earth Fare officials say they notified all the store and corporate employees of the impending closure of the company's stores and corporate office. "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,” the company says in the statement.