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        Winn Dixie will replace Earth Fare in Boynton Beach. Here’s the rundown on vacant groceries in South Florida.

        Here's an illustration of the new-concept Winn Dixie planned to open Nov. 11 in Boynton Beach. The new store will offer more specialty products, including prepared foods, fancy cheeses and "certified Angus beef' held to standards exceeding those for USFA choice and prime, a Winn Dixie spokeswoman said.
        Here's an illustration of the new-concept Winn Dixie planned to open Nov. 11 in Boynton Beach. The new store will offer more specialty products, including prepared foods, fancy cheeses and "certified Angus beef' held to standards exceeding those for USFA choice and prime, a Winn Dixie spokeswoman said. (Southeastern Grocers Inc/Courtesy)

        A rebooted version of a familiar supermarket brand — let’s call it Winn Dixie Mach II — will open Nov. 11 at the site of the short-lived Earth Fare organic grocery in Boynton Beach.

        The new store from Jacksonville-based Southeastern Grocers is one of three former Earth Fare stores in the state with planned grand openings on Veterans Day. The company plans to commemorate the event by honoring veterans and passing out free miniature American flags and samples from the chain’s private labels.

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        It’s situated at 8855 W. Boynton Beach Blvd., just east of Lyons Road. The grand opening ceremony will begin at 7:30 a.m., and the store will open to shoppers at 8 a.m.

        The Boynton Beach location will be the first to reopen with a new tenant out of a dozen grocery stores left vacant when the Earth Fare, Lucky’s Market and Penn Dutch chains suddenly folded between September 2019 and February 2020. Four of the remaining 11 have commitments from future occupants, but most of the stores are still vacant or available for lease.

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        Earth Fare, a healthy food-style chain with offerings similar to Whole Foods, Fresh Market, Sprouts and the defunct Lucky’s, was open less than a year at the Boynton Beach location and less than two years on PGA Boulevard in Palm Beach Gardens before its parent company filed for bankruptcy in February and closed 40 stores in 10 states.

        No new tenant has been announced for Earth Fare’s former Palm Beach Gardens location. Alfredo Sanchez, sales associate for the commercial real estate firm Avison Young, declined to detail any known plans for the site, saying he wasn’t yet authorized to “spread the good news.”

        Analysts said Earth Fare and Lucky’s were unable to survive in an increasingly crowded niche market.

        Yet, Winn Dixie’s new concept is targeted to shoppers attracted by the organic offerings, prepared meals, farmer’s market-style produce displays and boutique cheeses pioneered by Whole Foods and later offered at lower prices by such chains as Lucky’s and Sprouts. Winn Dixie rival Publix has entered the fray as well with seven standalone GreenWise Market stores in Florida, including in Boca Raton. Three other GreenWise store are planned. One will be in Fort Lauderdale.

        Winn Dixie plans to open eight of its new concept stores through early 2021. The others are in Gainesville, Jacksonville, Lakewood Ranch, Fort Myers, Lake Mary and Melbourne.

        While the name won’t change, “it’s not going to look like a traditional Winn Dixie,” spokeswoman Kaley Shaffer said. Green colors and wood panel accents will greet shoppers, as well as updated displays for the store’s new “farm-fresh” produce department, she said.

        The stores will offer expanded varieties of “signature items,” including fresh and dried peppers, tomatoes and mushrooms, unique tropical fruits and berries, plus specialty cheeses, “take-and-bake” pizzas, fresh sushi and other grab-and-go meal options in the deli departments, according to a news release announcing the openings.

        Capitalizing on Winn Dixie’s longtime identity as “The Beef People,” the stores will feature full-service meat departments with 12 flavors of freshly made sausages and “Certified Angus Beef” cuts that the company says will meet standards of marbling, maturity, sizing, quality and tenderness above those required to be graded as USDA choice or prime.

        An expanded seafood department will offer Florida Keys lobster, Florida stone crab and shrimp. The bakery will include “artisan-baked breads,” pastries and desserts.

        Organic, natural and gluten-free options will be available throughout the stores, the company said.

        Winn Dixie hopes the new stores will provide the spark it has sought to reverse a long downward slide in Florida.

        Pressured by Walmart’s success capturing value-oriented customers and Publix’s muscle as a full-service grocer, Winn Dixie’s profile in South Florida has steadily declined in recent years. Since 2005, Southeastern Grocers has filed for bankruptcy reorganization three times and closed 31 stores. It most recently emerged from bankruptcy in May 2018 after shedding $600 million in debt.

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        But at least the company is still alive, which is more than can be said for Earth Fare and the Florida operations of Lucky’s Market.

        Former Lucky’s stores slow to reopen

        Lucky’s Market, filed for bankruptcy less than a month before Earth Fare closed, forcing the immediate closure of recently opened stores in Oakland Park, Coral Springs and Plantation. Planned openings of three other Lucky’s stores — two in Boca Raton and another in Dania Beach — were also scuttled, leaving those locations without tenants.

        The former Lucky’s stores have been vacant since January despite purchase of the Oakland Park and Coral Springs buildings by no-frills grocer Aldi days after Lucky’s declared bankruptcy .

        The Coral Springs location, at the southeastern corner of University Drive and Wiles Road, is under construction and will reopen as an Aldi store in 2021, according to Chris Hewitt, Aldi’s Royal Palm Beach division vice president.

        Hewitt said the company had no information to share about the former Lucky’s on Oakland Park Boulevard, west of Old Dixie Highway. Today the vacant store still bears Lucky’s Market signs and is surrounded by a temporary fence.

        The former Lucky’s store at 7700 Peters Road in Plantation, in the Plantation Commons shopping center, is available for lease as a grocery store or for non-grocery uses, said Paul Puma, Kimco Realty Corp.'s president for its Southeast, Florida, and Puerto Rico regions.

        Kimco is also the leasing agent for the site 30,000-acre Lucky’s planned to occupy in the Dania Pointe shopping center at 139 S. Compass Way, Dania Beach. That site has been leased by a national grocer that Puma declined to name. The new tenant is expected to announce its planned opening soon, Puma said.

        Plans to open two Lucky’s in Boca Raton also fell apart when the company pulled out of Florida. One is at 499 NE Spanish River Blvd. called North Dixie Center. It’s still available for lease, according to Peter Wolff of Cinderella Properties.

        Listing agents for the other planned site, in a new mixed-use development at Glades Road and State Road 7 called Uptown Boca, could not be reached.

        A planned Lucky’s site at 5024 W. Atlantic Blvd. in Delray Beach is in a shopping center purchased in 2018 specifically for Lucky’s by supermarket giant Kroger, which was Lucky’s primary financial backer until its divestment in late 2019 forced Lucky’s to close 33 of its 39 stores, including 20 in Florida. Officials of Kroger’s commercial real estate division did not respond to phone and email messages seeking information about the space, but a neighboring tenant said it’s currently vacant.

        Penn Dutch stores still vacant

        Penn Dutch, a longtime South Florida-based company that specialized in discount-priced meat and seafood, closed its two locations in Hollywood and Margate after state health inspections twice found listeria contamination in its products and on surfaces in food preparation areas and ordered the stores to close. The company blamed the contamination on water leaks from the ruptured roof of its Hollywood location, but said it could not afford to make necessary repairs.

        Two of Penn Dutch’s founders, operating as W&P Holdings, sold the Hollywood building to Scozak Realty Inc., in November 2019. The new owners rehabilitated it, added a new roof, and are currently marketing the 25,275-square-foot building for sale or lease suitable for distribution, manufacturing, equipment rentals, office uses or as a retail showroom.

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        Penn Dutch’s former Margate store at 3201 State Road 7 is still available for lease through Ross Realty Investments. Any company that leases the 75,256-square-foot site just south of Sample Road will also be offered naming rights for the shopping center, which is still called Penn Dutch Plaza.

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        When Penn Dutch closed, it also abandoned plans to open a third store at 2301 N. University Drive in Sunrise. Owned by Walgreens' real estate division, the property does not show up in a search for active commercial real estate listings in the area. On Oct. 6, an assignee handling Penn Dutch’s dissolution filed a notice in Broward County circuit court abandoning any interest in furniture, fixtures or equipment located on the premises, suggesting that the location is still entangled and not yet available. Agents for Walgreens' real estate division did not respond to requests for information.

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