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Shoppers fill parking lot to sample new Publix

Shoppers took almost every space in the parking lot and filled the aisles as they checked out the new Publix for the first time on Wednesday. The supermarket chain opened the store at 7 a.m., plunging into the south gateway battle for food and pharmacy dollars and putting competitors to the test.

"I don't know where they would have parked if we had parked there," Assistant Manager Linda Rush said. She was referring to nearly 150 employees on duty for the grand opening, all of whom were directed to park at Mud Creek Baptist Church and shuttled to the store all day long.

The 88-year-old Lakeland, Fla.-based grocery chain moved into North Carolina in 2014, opening stores in South Asheville and Weaverville as well as metro areas in the Piedmont.
The store on Greenville Highway at White Street had been the subject of much second-guessing. The grocer’s plans to build a new store in Hendersonville first surfaced in February 2015 and was officially announced 16 months later. Numerous tries at a floodplain permit has delayed a final OK and even now the store opened under a temporary certificate of occupancy while it awaits final state approval of its floodplain plan.
“I’ve had so many questions about when you were going to open,” Mayor Barbara Volk said to Kim Reynolds, the Charlotte-based community relations manager for Publix.
Besides the curious, the shoppers are likely to include the many area residents who have lived at some point in Florida, where Publix dominates the food market.
“We anticipate there will be a line around the corner when we open,” Reynolds said on Tuesday morning.


Sneak peek

Mayor Volk was among about 15 guests who got a sneak peek at the new supermarket on Tuesday. Now that it's open, Publix will flex its retail muscle with its reputation for service, a wide variety of fresh produce, meats and produce and Aprons Simple Meals, a cooking demonstration station offering customers two recipes a week.
The store has hired 150 employees, most of them from the area, and promoted many managers from other stores.
“Publix does have a culture of promoting from within,” Reynolds said.
Store manager Sanel Tufekcic comes from Palmetto, Florida, in the Tampa Bay area, where he was assistant manager. Assistant Manager Linda Rush, who transferred from the Publix store in Greeneville, Tennessee, said she had her eye on the Hendersonville store as soon as she learned it would open.
Bakery manager Emily Tompkin came north from the Villages in Central Florida.
“I’ve always been in the bakery,” she said. “I started as a decorator and actually my daughter’s a decorator now, too. My husband’s a baker.”
Kaye Strang knows her way around a kitchen. She closed the Saluda Grade Café when she could not find enough help. She’s now a Publix deli clerk and loving it. Her bosses like her, too.
“When we first met, I thought you were a transfer from another store because you knew everything,” Rush said to her.


Aprons Simple Meals

At the Aprons Simple Meals station, Bil Mitchell asked everyone whether they knew what they were having for dinner that night. No one raised their hand. Seventy percent of the time people at mid-day don’t know, he said. That’s the market Publix targets with its simple recipe approach, serving up the day’s special from among 1,300 recipes. The station is stocked with the ingredients for that night’s supper.
“A lot of people struggle with what to have for dinner,” he said. “You can come by here and a half hour later have everything you need.”
At the seafood counter, Bob Doughty boasted that “the fish we sell was swimming in the ocean 1½ days ago.” Retired from Raytheon in McKinney, Texas, Doughty decided he still wanted to work and immediately thought of Publix.
“I knew Publix from my Florida days,” he said. “Publix was always the place we shopped.”
Meat cutter Taylor Ortiz left an assistant market manager job at Ingles in South Asheville to take a new job at Publix.
“It’s absolutely amazing,” he said of the work environment. “Every day it makes me happy to have made that decision.”
Other specialties include olives, antipastos, hummus and more than 200 varieties of artisan cheeses, sushi made fresh daily, fresh soup bar, a full-service pharmacy with an expanded health and wellness section and an event planning center that can put together menus for everything from tailgate parties to weddings.
Started in Winter Haven, Florida, in 1935 by George W. Jenkins, Publix has 1,197 stores in Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, North Carolina and Virginia. It has 188,000 employees and reported sales of $34 billion in 2016. One of the largest employee-owned companies in the U.S., it has been named one of Fortune’s “100 Best Companies to Work for in America” for 20 years straight.
It opens its store in the south gateway against a recently remodeled Fresh Market, the Harris Teeter and a new Ingles and it becomes the sixth pharmacy within a few hundred yards of Greenville Highway at Spartanburg Highway.
Denise Cumbee Long, the executive director of the United Way, was among the invited guests at the preview. She had never set foot in a Publix.
“Pretty impressive,” she said. “I think they’re going to give other stores a run for their money.”

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Publix store hours are 7 a.m.-10 p.m. seven days a week. Pharmacy hours are 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. The phone number is 694-4440.