Publix, the largest employee-owned grocery store chain in the United States, has decided not to build a new location in Alexander City, according to chamber of commerce president and CEO Ed Collari.
Collari said he was informed of Publix’s decision through developer Jim Wilson & Associates but declined further comment.
The reasons for Publix’s decision are unclear. However, Alexander City has four grocery stores for a population of 14,000 people and Lake Martin’s tourism impact is seasonal.
“We’re all certainly disappointed,” Alexander City Mayor Tommy Spraggins said. “I really felt good about it. I was optimistic. The city was involved and we were prepared to offer (Publix) substantial incentives.”
The chamber of commerce and city worked three years on a plan to bring Publix to Alexander City. The grocery store would have been built on property at the intersection of U.S. Highway 280 and Alabama Highway 63.
Publix, which was founded in 1930, is one of the 10 largest volume supermarket chains in the country. It had $36.1 billion in retail sales in 2018 and employs more than 200,000 people in 1,218 locations, including 71 stores in Alabama. One of its nine national distribution centers is in McCalla.
The closest Publix to Alexander City is 34 miles away in Auburn.
Spraggins said it isn’t easy to acquire a Publix, which is highly desirable in and of itself and also because of the additional retail development it usually brings with it.
“I am aware of one municipality that finally got Publix after six tries,” he said. “It’s not easy. We admire the Publix corporation. We respect their decision and hope they will reconsider our area in the future. This is a temporary setback. We’re ready to move forward and do our best to attract commercial business and industrial business.”
Business opportunities exist in Alexander City based on a study conducted by RCLCO (Robert Charles Lesser Co.) real estate advisors in 2018 showing $149 million in annual retail leakage in the Lake Martin area.
“That shows with some creativity and more diverse retail offerings, we could be keeping a lot more of that money right here in our area,” Russell Lands CEO Tom Lamberth said at the time. “The big takeaway from this report is that it represents opportunity.”
Spraggins said the report shows shoppers would spend more of their money locally if given a variety of outlets.
“People are going out of town to get groceries and other things too,” Spraggins said. “I am optimistic about the future. Look at what’s happening on 280 with the new municipal complex and the Russell Marine Superstore.”
Also, Spraggins said the city has already drawn interest in its newly acquired business frontage along 280 which it bought along with the former Russell Sales Office and 56 acres of property earlier this year. The city is converting the sales office into the new municipal complex.
Spraggins said he is encouraged by continuing reports of higher-than-expected sales tax collections which were 7.9% higher in May 2019 than May 2018 and are 2.5% higher over the first eight months of this fiscal year than the same period last year.
The 5% increase in lodging taxes the city receives brought in nearly as much revenue in the first four months this year ($215,000) as it did in all of last year ($245,000). In May alone it brought in $47,000 as compared to just $19,600 in May 2018.