City gets creative to help fill void left by Publix closing

Publix in Gateway Town Center is slated to close in December

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The City of Jacksonville is working to figure out what to do when a Publix on the Northside closes its doors later this year. And it's floating some creative ideas. 

The grocery store on Norwood Avenue in the Gateway Town Center will close its doors on Dec. 28 after occupying the space for 20 years. Store officials said the lease is up and it doesn't plan to renew. 

Many are concerned the store's closing will create a food desert — defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as an urban area where many residents live at least a mile away from a grocery store that sells fruits, vegetables and fresh meat.

District 7 Councilman Reggie Gaffney represents the area and told News4Jax news partner WJCT on Monday that he believes a large portion of nearby residents live below the poverty line and have nowhere else to buy fresh food.

"You've got public housing there. You've got a homeless center there. At least 10% to 15%, or probably higher, walk to Publix every day. They cannot walk two or three miles," he told WJCT. 

Kirk Wendland, head of the City of Jacksonville Office of Economic Development, told News4Jax on Wednesday that the first option was trying to persuade Publix to stay. 

"We would love if they would reconsider, but it doesn't look like that's a possibility," Wendland said.

Wendland said he's now looking at possibly bringing a new grocery store into the space to replace Publix, but that takes time. 

To fill the void in the meantime, Wendland said he is working with the Jacksonville Transportation Authority on transportation initiatives. 

"People with transportation could get steeply discounted rides to and from the grocery store," he said.

Currently, the two closest grocery stores to Publix appear to be Harveys Supermarket about a mile east at 201 W 48th St. and Save A Lot about 1.2 miles east at 5751 N. Main St., the Jacksonville Daily Record reported.

Also in the mix is the possibility of teaming up with Feeding Northeast Florida to bring residents fresh food via "mobile market." The new concept would be a 32-foot-long trailer filled with fresh foods and dry goods that could be moved to different food deserts across the city. 

"It's a quality of life issue. There are health benefits when people have access to fresh foods," Wendland said. "We want to make sure all citizens have access to those amenities."

Wendland also said the city could partner with grocery delivery apps such as Instacart or Shipt to help bring food to people in food deserts.

The city does have money available to incentivize new grocery stores to rent the space in food deserts like the one created by the Publix closing. Earlier this year, City Council adopted a new full-service grocery program that appropriated $3 million for grocery stores and healthy options education. 

The program is already expected to be put to use in Northwest Jacksonville, where Mayor Lenny Curry is asking council members to approve a $750,000 grant to help renovate the vacant Harveys Supermarket on Edgewood Avenue North. The area is considered by the city to be a food desert and the space would be leased to Rowe's IGA Supermarket.