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It was more than a year ago when rumors began to swirl. The “big” Publix on San Marco Road would be closing after Easter. Stores near the shop started to close. It would be November 2018 when the Marco Eagle would first verify a new store was coming; and artist’s renderings were released.

As Easter 2019 approached, the Island’s other Publix on Collier Boulevard was finishing a remodel that made room for a pharmacy, additional checkouts, more grab and expanded shelving. Yet, both stores remain open. So, what’s the deal?     

One of these days, Marco Island will have a new, state-of-the-art Publix supermarket at the Shops of Marco. But when?

The new store will be a major upgrade from the existing Publix, with 48,000 square feet in place of the current 39,000 square feet, and include new features the chain is adding, said Publix spokesman Brian West.

“The footprint of this store is a new prototype. We have several of these under construction.” Enhancements include a drive-through pharmacy, expanded ready-to-eat items such as a soup case, improved wine and cheese selections, and a “deli in the round,” placed in the center of the sales floor as opposed to the traditional edge-of-the-store location. “All our associates would be customer-facing,” said West.

Construction of the new store will take most of a year, 9-12 months given that the store must be built on pilings, and for that period, the store will not be selling any food items. That will put additional pressure on the smaller Publix store in the Marco Town Center, as well as likely boost business at the nearby Winn-Dixie.

Plans for the new Publix have been approved by the island’s planning board and by City Council. The three necessary permits, for site work, razing the existing structure and building its replacement, have been considered by the city building department and “are ready to be issued,” said building official Raul Perez. “I do not know if/when they plan on having these permits issued.”

One persistent rumor had it that an eagle’s nest nearby was blocking construction. Linda Turner of the Marco Island Nature Preserve and Bird Sanctuary said there is an eagle nest in a tree nearby, but to her knowledge, there has been “no successful nesting activity there – no eaglets.”

Many on Marco Island have anticipated that construction would commence after Easter, once the winter season abated, but no activity has been seen. Asked about a timetable for construction, Michael Leeds of commercial real estate developer Shagbark Properties, who presented the plans to the planning department, said that he could not speak to the question, and all information must come from the Publix corporate office in Lakeland.

West said he has not been notified by the corporate real estate department of any imminent construction on the island, but he tamped down expectations of immediate action.

“If that is in the works, it’s at least a year away. There has been speculation for months. We deal with hundreds of projects in different municipalities,” he said.

With 19 stores in Collier County, Publix has long been the dominant player in the grocery space. But the grocery store wars have been heating up, with many new players staking their claim to a piece of the area’s food dollars.

Collier County has two new Aldi stores with a third on the way, two new Lucky’s markets with another coming, and a Bravo, along with the Fresh Market, Whole Foods, and serious grocery departments at Walmart and Target superstores.

“I think it’s going to be a battle,” said Gary Tasman, a commercial real estate broker. “There are a lot of grocers who have come and gone, trying to emulate and trying to compete successfully with the Publix model.”

West, who has been with the company 28 years in various roles, said he welcomed the competition because it would improve Publix. “You have to be able to change with the times to remain competitive. In 89 years, we’ve gone from one store and six associates to 1,215 stores across seven states and more than 201,000 associates. We average 35 to 40 new stores a year.”

Marco Island has little room for additional large store footprints, so interest in what happens at the existing locations remains strong.

Additional staff reporting by Devan Patel, David Dorsey and Jennifer Beeson. 

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