Thousands stop by to shop at new Publix in Naples Plaza

William DeShazer/Staff 
 People slowly make their way into the newly remodeled Publix during their grand reopening in Naples Plaza on Thursday Dec. 6, 2012.

Photo by WILLIAM DESHAZER, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

William DeShazer/Staff People slowly make their way into the newly remodeled Publix during their grand reopening in Naples Plaza on Thursday Dec. 6, 2012.

Thousands of shoppers swamped the new Publix on Thursday for its grand reopening in the Naples Plaza, across from Coastland Center mall.

The 56,000-square-foot prototype store at 1981 U.S. 41 N. features natural and organic products, a soup bar, salad bar, cheese shop, and a Pacific wok so customers can eat Mongolian beef and other Pan-Asian favorites. The store, which is decorated with natural elements, also features an event planning station, cafe, a sample wine addition, a body care section and an indoor and outdoor seating area.

Publix is rolling out the new prototype in five states.

"This is the first of this prototype to open in Southwest Florida," Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten said. "This entire concept is an open environment that allows our customers to explore an area of specialty foods and services all under one roof."

The new store is similar to the 54,000-square-foot hybrid Publix at Pelican Bay, on the southwest corner of U.S. 41 North and Vanderbilt Beach Road in North Naples. That store opened in October 2010.

"It's beautiful," said Liz Vachon, 68, of Naples, while drinking coffee at the supermarket's new cafe. "It's just great. I'm happy that it finally opened."

The Naples store replaces the 47,000-square-foot Publix that was demolished in April. The original store was built in 1962. The new store hired an additional 80 employees and has 200 people on staff. There are still open positions.

"This is one of the oldest Publix and it's nice to see that they have made it into a super Publix," said Naples resident Anita Wright, 56, while selecting toppings at the salad bar.

While customers checked out the new store, about 30 people, including members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, local church leaders and allies, picketed outside at the corner of U.S. 41 North and Golden Gate Parkway. The group is calling for the supermarket giant to join the Fair Food Program, a growing partnership among workers, Florida tomato growers and retail food giants aimed at ending decades of farm labor abuse in the state.

"We will continue to ask of Publix to come to the table and have a dialogue with us so that we can give them our position, and for them to understand this is not a labor dispute," Oscar Otzoy, a farmworker and a member of the coalition, said in Spanish.

Otzoy, 28, who has been a farmworker for six years, pedaled his way with two others from Immokalee to the store.

For about three years, the coalition has demanded that Publix improve working conditions for tomato pickers by adopting a code of conduct that includes a zero tolerance on slavery, and for the grocery chain to talk directly about the issues with the coalition.

The coalition is seeking a commitment to pay workers a penny more per pound of tomatoes picked. Workers are paid about 50 cents for each 32-pound bucket of tomatoes, according to the coalition.

The coalition has successfully reached agreements to improve wages and working conditions for workers who pick tomatoes for Whole Foods, Subway, McDonald's, Burger King and Trader Joe's.

"We are more than willing to pay a penny more per pound or whatever the industry charges for the goods," Patten said, "but it needs to be put in the price (of tomatoes). We cannot pay the farmworkers directly for their labor. They don't work for us."

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