A mixture of concern and optimism hovered over The Green at Lakewood Ranch on Feb. 3 as Earth Fare announced it was closing its grocery stores, including the one in Lakewood Ranch.
Earth Fare, which sold no food items with artificial ingredients, opened in January 2018 at The Green, located at the northwest corner of State Road 70 and Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. The company announced Feb. 3 it is closing its 50 locations. In a statement, it cited “continued challenges in the retail industry” as the core reason for the closure and said it is pursuing a sale of “assets, in whole or in parts.”
The Lakewood Ranch store is the anchor of the Green at Lakewood Ranch and has about 130 employees. Other tenants there include LA Fitness, Sirius Day Spa, Panera Bread, Starbucks and CVS.
“That will be terribly detrimental to our business,” said Megan Boston-Wood, manager of Dog Perfect, which opened in The Green one year ago. “It draws people to the shopping center. We would hope they replace them with a like business.”
Tracy Nguyen, the owner and manager of Lavish Nails and Spa, said the nail salon gets some business from Earth Fare but is not reliant upon it. Although she was worried the closure might impact business, she said she is hopeful a replacement tenant can be found quickly.
“I hope something better comes in,” she said. “The prices over there are too high.”
Karen Medford, owner of Sirius Day Spa, called the closure a “shame” but also hoped something “bigger and better” would come. She said the LA Fitness in the plaza is more of a draw for her business than Earth Fare.
Medford said she hopes another grocer or even a large restaurant would fill the space after Earth Fare closes. No closing date has yet been announced.
“The biggest asset for The Green is restaurants,” Medford said. “We need restaurants. It’s going to be better for everybody. The idea is for walkability.”
Amber Quiroz, a hair stylist at Salon Lofts, agreed.
“I would like to see anything with good food [in its place],” Quiroz said. “There aren’t many food options here. I think it drew a few people here, but I can’t say anybody found me because of Earth Fare. The area is expanding so much, I hope it doesn’t do anything [to business].”
Patrons of Earth Fare were surprised Feb. 3 to learn of the pending closure.
Lakewood Ranch’s Todd Christy said he visits the store once per week and likes the grass-fed meat selection.
“We buy a lot of produce and meat here,” Christy said. “I don’t know any other place in our area that handles these kinds of products at a good quality.”
Greenbrook’s Claudette Russell said she could not understand the closure but hopes another grocer, such as Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, goes in.
Neither North American Development Group, owner of The Green at Lakewood Ranch, nor Earth Fare responded to inquiries for comment by press time Tuesday. Linda Ritter, senior property manager with Centrecorp Management Services, which manages The Green, declined comment.
A sign hanging inside Earth Fare alerted customers the store was closing in “two to three weeks.”
At the Jan. 27, 2018, grand opening, Earth Fare CEO Frank Scorpiniti 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’s 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, another Observer Media Group publication. “We have 46 stores and will open 13 on top of 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 grocer 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 stated.
Pam Eubanks, Liz Ramos and Mark Gordon contributed to this report.