The wait is over. Tullahoma’s long-anticipated Publix Super Market opened Wednesday morning.

More than 100 customers flocked to the new 46,797-square-foot store early Wednesday to witness its grand opening and the ceremonial ribbon cutting ceremony – and to be the first to step inside when the store opened at 7 a.m.

Margie McCullough, who arrived “a little after 5 a.m.,” was first in line. A first-time Publix shopper, she said she’d had only tried the store’s cakes before, but had been waiting a long time for the local grand opening.

“I will still shop at other grocery stores,” she said, but “this is going to be good for Tullahoma.”

In the week leading up to Wednesday’s opening, local excitement was clear. Social media was abuzz with shoppers who were eager to see the store, Coffee County’s first, open at Northgate Mall. Prior to Wednesday, the nearest Publix was in Rutherford County, and many local shoppers, like Ann Sharum, were willing to make the 50-mile trip.

“I was driving to Murfreesboro to shop at Publix so I am one happy camper!” Sharum posted to Facebook.

Sharum wasn’t the only one to express her enthusiasm on Facebook. Gearing up for Wednesday’s opening, local artist Becky Shelton said she was “So ready, it’s been long time waiting for this.” 

Manchester-based travel journalist Kristin Luna also expressed her excitement on Facebook, noting that she and her husband, Scott van Velsor, had been in the habit of driving to Nashville to stock up on the ingredients needed for a “clean eating” diet.

Luna said she is “stoked we can now drive to Tullahoma for everything we need.”

Near the front of the line Wednesday morning, Leanne Shannon and Tiffiny Langford were visibly excited about the opening.  They, too, had been making monthly trips out of town to shop at Publix.

The crowd was still growing as Store Manager Tim Hastings, who was “born and raised in nearby Decherd,” welcomed the eager crowd at 6:45 a.m. and thanked everyone for their attendance and support.

“We’re very glad this day is finally here,” he said. “My number-one priority is taking care of you, our customers.”

Introducing his management team, Hastings said, “We’re here to serve you, so please feel free to reach out to any of us at any time. If you’re looking for a product, we’ll be glad to walk you to the product. And if there’s anything we don’t have, we’ll do our very best to get it for you.”

 

Words of welcome

Before Hastings cut the ribbon to mark the store’s grand opening, Tullahoma Mayor Lane Curlee, Coffee County Mayor Gary Cordell and State Rep. Judd Matheny each took a turn at the microphone.

Curlee welcomed guests and the Publix team to town, calling the store “great news for Tullahoma area families” and expressing his thanks to the company for its investment in the community and to those in the community who worked “tirelessly” to bring it here.

“We are truly excited to welcome an industry leader like Publix to our Tullahoma community,” he said.

Cordell also welcomed Publix and its considerable economic impact to the region, thanking everyone responsible for bringing the store to Coffee County before inviting Matheny to say a few words on behalf of the state.

“This town has experienced tremendous growth in the last few years and that’s because of the city leadership team you see up here,” Matheny said, referring to the gathering of city board members and the area economic development team. “None of this happens by accident.”

 

Tullahoma’s newest grocer

As the sun began to rise, the first customers entered the store, where Hastings greeted each of them with a fresh-cut carnation.

Inside, the new store features a full-service meat department with GreenWise Market beef and chicken, a full service deli, bakery, full service seafood department and a drive-through pharmacy.

Publix also offers in-store daily cooking demonstrations in a built-in kitchen area. Two recipes are featured each week.

According to Hastings, the Tullahoma store also has future plans to launch an online grocery delivery service, dubbed Publix Delivery powered by Instacart, via its expanding partnership with the San Francisco-based third-party delivery service.

No timeline for that local launch has been suggested, but Publix Super Markets has announced plans to move the service to all markets by 2020.

“Publix is known for providing excellent customer service in a bright and inviting environment filled with lots of fresh products,” said Brenda Reid, Media and Community Relations Manager for Publix. “We are proud to bring the Publix shopping experience to Tullahoma.”

According to Reid, the store employs roughly 125 associates. The company has been named one of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For in America for 21 consecutive years.

Founded in 1930 in Winter Haven, Florida, Publix Super Markets, Inc. is the largest employee-owned grocery chain in the United States and one of the 10 largest-volume supermarket chains in the country. In 2017, retail sales reached $34.6 billion.

With 1,204 store locations in seven states throughout the Southeast, the chain employs more than 195,000 people.

 

Changing the face of North Jackson

The addition of a new retail space to the north end of the existing Northgate Mall structure for a then-unnamed grocery store was first reported by The News in March 2016. At that time, Northgate LLC owner of record Joe Lester said the addition would change the face of North Jackson Street – and indeed it has.

Since the announcement was made, the Aspen Dental office formerly located on Northgate property was razed and rebuilt across the street. That move was necessary to accommodate construction of the supermarket and its 1,302 parking spaces.

Also razed for the effort was the North Jackson Street branch of what was then American City Bank, now FirstBank, formerly located in front of the mall.

Though that branch has not been rebuilt, the bank did purchase property on the corner of Washburn Road, adjacent to its former location. That land, former American City Bank president and CEO Troy Martin said in August of 2017, might one day become the site of the bank’s single, centralized location. However, Martin – perhaps foreshadowing that month’s announcement that FirstBank had officially completed its acquisition of the company – said at the time any plans for the property were speculative at best.

Within a year of the Publix announcement, two new retail centers were built across from the mall. One, a three-tenant structure built by Brentwood-based Warren Commercial Real Estate, is now home to retailers Starbucks, Kay Jewelers and Jimmy John’s. The other, a three-tenant structure built on spec by Northgate Retail Partners in care of its management company, Nashville-based Brookside Properties Inc., has yet to announce a confirmed lease. However, Mayor Curlee said of the Publix opening, “I am confident this addition will bring even more retail to Tullahoma.”

Earlier this month, a new traffic light was installed at the intersection of North Jackson and William Northern Boulevard to accommodate traffic into and out of the new grocery store.

Kelly Lapczynski can be reached via email at klapczynski@tullahomanews.com.