In the Know: A little delayed, but Sprouts is sprouting in Southwest Florida; latest real estate numbers; and what did Tom Golisano say?

Phil Fernandez
Naples Daily News

Not the original timeline with coronavirus and everything else going on in the world, but Sprouts is proceeding with plans to open at 7 a.m. June 3 in the Estero Grande development.

The unveiling of the Sprouts Farmers Market at 19990 S. Tamiami Trail will give Southwest Florida its second location and Lee County's first, a couple of months later than planned.

One of the fastest-growing retailers in the country, the chain debuted last year in Naples, 2224 Logan Blvd. N.

This comes as, another upstart, Lucky's, had big hopes, too, for the region and nation, only to close nearly all its shops this year.

However, Nasdaq's own website has been touting it as one of the No. 1 stocks to buy, based on Sprouts' strong track record that's been helped with the increasing interest in the kinds of products it offers as the virus scare rages.

The "Natural Foods Products space" was ranked 10th last month out of more than 250 industries, according to the exchange.

In part, the demise of Lucky's and similar rivals like Earth Fare, which also swelled too rapidly and had its balloon popped, clears the path, not only for Sprouts but others like the independent Oakes.

"In my opinion, all these specialty grocers, a lot of them expanded at the same time," said Gina Acosta, senior editor for Progressive Grocer, which specializes on the retail food industry. "They all kind of came up at the same time and targeted the same neighborhoods, same shopping centers, same demographics."

Sprouts brings 110 full- and part-time positions that include cashiers, administrators, department managers and assistants and clerks in deli, bakery, produce, vitamins and body care, meat and seafood, among others, according to Kalia Pang, senior public relations specialist.

The company plans virtual interviews April 22 and 23, and potential employees can apply at

So what would give you an upper-hand at a job at a time when more folks are looking in the age of COVID-19?

"Sprouts’ 'Healthy Living for Less' approach to grocery shopping means potential team members should share a passion for healthy eating," Pang said.

So one would think it would be good to stash away those colorful Frito-Lay bags out the background of your video chat, push those long abandoned KFC buckets and Pizza Hut boxes into the corner and shoo away your yapping Taco Bell chihuahua by tossing several Beefy 5-Layer Burritos into the other room.

In the Know: Photos of construction of Sprouts and adjacent multi-family housing off near the completed Texas Roadhouse, Starbucks and other businesses on U.S. 41 in Estero.

Maybe not.

The company actually has a history of hiring former PepsiCo colonels and top dogs including essentially its No. 2 in the corporation, starting just over a month ago making $650,000 annually.

That's a lot of Cheetos.

The arrival of Sprouts might be the one of the higher profile pickups to that corner of the burgeoning region around the Collier-Lee county line since Oakes launched its Seed to Table in North Naples in December.

As evidenced by my last month's photos with this story on, construction was pretty far along on the 30,000-square-foot structure and adjacent multifamily, where pre-leasing has begun.

And the Estero Grande area already has a foundation with the launching of several stores and eateries such as the Texas Roadhouse last year.

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Inside, Sprouts will feature a sizable, largely organic, section of produce, which Sprouts distributes itself, that is often a lively focus of attention.

Beyond organic, shoppers can go to the bulk section and fill a reusable sack with nuts, grains, treats and more or check out the spice rack to get a tablespoon or two of seasonings instead of an entire container.

In addition, Sprouts, like Winn-Dixie, has been growing its offerings of hemp-derived CBD products.

Headquartered in Phoenix, Ariz., Sprouts employs more than 30,000 team members and operates about 350 stores in 23 states. It actually dates back to 1943 as a fruit stand but didn't open its first mart until 2002.

Fifteen of them dot the Peninsula, with eight more on the way including new ones coming to Jacksonville later this month and Miramar opening shortly after our place.

Even though the area has lost Lucky's and a few Winn-Dixies, other Sprouts competitors continue to thrive including Aldi and homegrown Wynn's Market in Naples.

Real estate is calling on The Closer

February might be the last complete monster month for awhile for real estate, with positive numbers across the board in the latest reports.

"The February report is a continuation of the incredible pace of the market we saw in January, with impressive results across all categories and price ranges," said Budge Huskey, president of Premier Sotheby's International Realty.

Before the coronavirus crisis essentially shut down the country, the local market looked like nothing could stop it.

Hurricanes. No problem.

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Crazy people in charge at the highest levels of the free world. We can handle it.

Red tide. A little stinky but we came out smelling pretty good on the other side.

COVID-19. Now that's a wall that will be tough to tear down.

"These figures reflect the market in advance of the coronavirus impact, which will no doubt be evident in March," Huskey said. "The reality is business is continuing, albeit at a far slower pace as the Realtor community and the public enact the recommended precautionary steps to ensure the situation is short-lived."

The newly released Naples Area Board of Realtors stats for the year's second month looked like it might have set the tone for 2020 had it not been for the virus and the major misread by the White House when it first got information around the Christmas holidays.

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"We have a resilient real estate market," said Dominic Pallini, Vanderbilt Realty broker who was NABOR President during Hurricane Irma in 2017 and remembers other calamities. "That was proven during the last recession. This interruption should end in a few months; not seven to 10 years."

NABOR data showed overall closed sales increased 29% to 789 closed sales compared to 610 closed sales in February 2019.

What might save upcoming March and April numbers from a free fall are the many overall pending sales in February, when it was up a staggering 43% to 1,526 compared to 1,068 a year ago.

Showings followed a similar pattern, with 32,712 showings, up roughly 11,000.

Brenda Fioretti, managing broker at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Florida Realty, predicts that once tallied, March closings should be healthy as a result of February's pending sales, and vigorous efforts of Realtors, lenders and closing agents.

And who knows who else needs to be called to Git-R-Done? The Closer's Kyra Sedgwick?  How about baseball's former relievers Robb Nen, Kent Tekulve and Mike Marshall from a time when pitchers actually threw more than an inning to finish the game and secure the victory, which is what is desperately needed now?

Fioretti's firm is focusing "efforts on closing pending transactions because February's pending sales were so strong and many buyers and sellers are eager to successfully close on their properties," she said. 

It's going to take hard work for sure, with quite the laundry list.

"There are many important tasks that must be completed in order to have a successful closing, such as inspections, appraisals, final walk through, meeting lender requirements, Homeowner Association applications and approval and more," Fioretti said. 

And the pending sales were still coming based on Multiple Listing Service stats available through March 25, with somewhere around the average 25 or so that day, according to Wes Kunkle, president and managing broker at Kunkle International Realty.

A lot of them are condos, which NABOR's February Market Report illustrated "a renewed and growing interest" with a 45% jump to 802 in pending, as compared to a year ago's 552.

February 2020 data by the Naples Area Board of Realtors

The confidence that the market can overcome stems from another factor noted by West Coast Sales Manager Adam Vellano of BEX Realty - Florida. 

Because the federal government enacted stricter standards for financing following the recession in 2008, "most buyers in the last 10 years have purchased homes using cash or conventional financing with significant down payments," said Adam Vellano, West Coast Sales Manager, BEX Realty - Florida. "This has created larger amounts of equity in the market and, with our current balanced inventory, we can absorb a short disruption."  

Vellano added that we are not facing a housing crisis like what was experienced in 2008 because there aren't a lot of highly leveraged owners with second mortgages that will be forced into foreclosure.

The virus also gives existing homeowners another lane. They won't be competing with a lot of additional newly constructed places as builders have halted projects all over Southwest Florida including Allegiant Air's high-profile $420 million Sunseeker Resort.

Even as Realtors are trying to figure out the situation for themselves, they are helping out where they can, supporting the efforts of Collier's first responders and front-line health care workers during the crisis.

Beginning today, the 7,000-member NABOR is providing a credit for them toward a take-out meal at one of five local restaurants. Restricted to an order of up to $20 per recipient per day, first responders and health care providers only have to present a valid work identification from a Collier employer when they pick up their food.

Here are the five:

  • Noodles Italian Café & Sushi Bar - 1585 Pine Ridge Road
  • Larry's Lunchbox - 2650 Airport Road S.
  • Boston Beer Garden - 2396 Immokalee Road
  • Sophia's Ristorante Italiano - 3545 Pine Ridge Road
  • Rusty's Raw Bar & Grill - 2700 Immokalee Road 

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Tom Golisano takes heat

Naples billionaire philanthropist Tom Golisano has made himself available for interviews with the Naples Daily News in the past.

But this was not one of those times, coming after he surprised and upset many with opinions he shared with a Bloomberg reporter related to COVID-19.

Instead, he issued a statement that read in part:

"I want to apologize for any hurt or confusion those comments may have caused. I want to be clear; I DO NOT advise that people go back to work now. I echo New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s stance on this – that we need to proceed with caution now and abide by the recommendation of health officials.

"I did not and would never suggest that anyone risk their life and go against the recommendations of medical experts and health officials and go back to work before it is advisable." 

Tom Golisano

So what were the original comments from a man whose name is on buildings all over Southwest Florida including medical facilities? A man who's donated 7% of his net worth to causes over his lifetime, according to Forbes.

“The damages of keeping the economy closed as it is, could be worse than losing a few more people,” said Golisano, founder and chairman of the payroll processor Paychex Inc. 

Golisano said late last month he wanted workers to go back to offices in states that were not considered "hot spots" for coronavirus.

“You’re picking the better of two evils,” he said. “You have to weigh the pros and cons.”

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The reaction to that kind of thinking, from thousands on social media, letters to the editor, talk shows and other platforms, was not pretty. A lot of it not printable in a family newspaper.

Here's a sampling of words describing him that didn't involve profanity: Joke, unbelievable, crazy, out of touch, soulless, blind, corrupt, greedy, heartless, evil.

It was suggested numerous times that he should volunteer to be one of the "few more people" he described who should die to keep the economy going.

Sentiment also included putting the blame for the virus at his feet and those of other billionaires because their "dependence on China is why the world is in this mess."

Even the Bible was referenced: "It is not by accident that Jesus said it is so hard for a rich man to enter into heaven. Money is their God. People are just bots to make them richer. They have actually sold their soul to Satan for the love of money."

"Philanthropy doesn’t give you a pass for being a (insert expletive of your choice,)" said New York legislator Rachel Barnhart from his birthplace of Rochester.

"His cavalier attitude is a huge disappointment," said Realtor Carla Rosati, who has donated to causes led by Golisano and praised his donations.

Opposite perspectives to Golisano's position were offered as well.

"Business and an economy can be rebuilt. A life lost cannot be rebuilt. This attitude is just callous," said Bill Judkins, a marketer.

"I suggest this alternative to Golisano's point of view: The damages of keeping the economy closed as it is to save thousands of American lives is a risk worth taking, even if we lose a few more billionaires along the way," said Jim Cronin, an educator.

Optimism. It's an important word. Hang onto it. Florida Today contributed to this column. Based at the Naples Daily News, Columnist Phil Fernandez ( writes In the Know as part of the USA TODAY NETWORK. Keep the ideas coming. Like my colleagues, I will be taking furlough days, and there will be extended period of times that I will not have access to your emails. While we have as many readers as we've ever had, whether in print or digital, our business, like many others, is not immune to the struggles of the economy. If you can: Keep democracy alive and subscribe to a newspaper.

In the Know's new columnist, Phil Fernandez. The photo was shot in Naples Daily News studio Thursday, September, 12, 2019.