Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Harris Teeter to Close Store in Mandarin; 2 Others in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fernandina Beach Will Stay Open

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Harris Teeter to Close Store in Mandarin; 2 Others in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fernandina Beach Will Stay Open

Article excerpt

Byline: GREGORY RICHARDS, The Times-Union

It was Cindy Pless' birthday Friday. But the Harris Teeter shopper found out some news that was cause for anything but a celebration: Her favorite grocery store is closing.

"I'm going to cry. It's a good store," said Pless, 45, who commutes from her Baymeadows home to stock up at the Mandarin Harris Teeter.

The North Carolina-based grocery chain announced plans Friday to shutter its Mandarin store on May 15. The decision was made after "careful consideration and strategic market review," the company said in a statement. Spokeswoman Jennifer Panetta declined to elaborate.

The store anchors the Mandarin Oaks shopping center at 11406 San Jose Blvd., at Mandarin Road.

Harris Teeter's two other stores in the Jacksonville area -- in Ponte Vedra Beach and Fernandina Beach -- will remain open, Panetta said. "Nothing is changing with our other stores in the foreseeable future," she said.

Both shoppers and retail experts were surprised by the decision. The high-end grocery store seemed to be a good match in Mandarin, an established Jacksonville neighborhood with above-average incomes. The December 1998 opening day was the largest to date, Harris Teeter officials said at the time. More than 4,000 shoppers visited the 45,860-square-foot store during its first 12 hours of operation.

"It's always crowded," said Robby Gorman, shaking her head in disbelief as she helped her husband load cases of Cherry 7-Up into the back of their sport utility vehicle Friday. "You can see it's a work day, and look how crowded the parking lot is," she said, pointing at a parking lot about three-quarters full.

Mandarin residents will not have to look far to find another grocery store: Within a three-mile drive of Harris Teeter, Albertsons, Food Lion, Winn-Dixie and gourmet grocer The Fresh Market all have stores. Publix has three, and has a fourth store under construction at Race Track Road in Fruit Cove.

Several retail watchers said what mystified them was why Harris Teeter only was closing one store, and not all its First Coast stores.

"It's surprising that they would only close one store, not just pull out of all three," said John Pharr, a senior vice president with Regency Centers, a Jacksonville company that owns, operates and develops shopping centers nationwide. …

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