Publix opens in Ballantyne; first store in North Carolina

Publix Super Markets opened its first store in North Carolina on Wednesday, as the Florida company attempts to muscle its way into the crowded Charlotte grocery scene with a foothold in Ballantyne.

The company previewed its store, which Charlotte division Vice President Chuck Roskovich called a “historic milestone,” for reporters on Tuesday.

The 56,000-square-foot building on Providence Road West, off Johnston Road, is among the company’s biggest, executives said. It’s larger than the average grocery store, but smaller than the Harris Teeter at Morrocroft, which tops 72,000 square feet.

The Publix features expanded prepared-food and health and wellness sections, which the company is piloting in Charlotte while it works to introduce them more widely.

Dee-Dee Harris and her family’s Harris Land Co. owned and developed the site with Publix. She said Tuesday the store was five years in the making and started with a cold call to Publix’s real estate department after she visited one of their stores in Florida.

Publix is entering an increasingly crowded and rapidly changing Charlotte grocery market. Matthews-based Harris Teeter, the region’s No. 1 grocer by market share, was acquired by Cincinnati-based Kroger in January in a $2.5 billion deal. That followed a 2012 move in which Harris Teeter swapped stores with Lowes Foods to gain eight new Charlotte-area locations, reducing Lowes Foods’ presence in Charlotte sharply.

Whole Foods is opening two new area stores, while Walmart plans to open more Neighborhood Market stores – a smaller type of Walmart store focused on groceries – in the Charlotte area. Food Lion is revamping its stores and image in an attempt to win back market share. And to supplement its new stores in the Charlotte area, Publix bought seven Bi-Lo supermarkets last year, which it is overhauling and preparing to reopen as Publix stores.

Roskovich said the competitive atmosphere in Charlotte is not a hindrance.

“It’s a distraction,” said Roskovich. “We focus on what we do. Ultimately, the winner is going to be the consumer.”

Publix operates almost 1,100 stores, clustered in the Southeast and stretching from Florida to North Carolina. In addition to its planned 14 Charlotte-area stores opening over the next two years, the company is opening supermarkets in Cary, Winston-Salem and Asheville.

The company’s stock is owned by its employees, and though Publix is not publicly traded, the company regularly reports its financial results. In its most recent quarter, Publix said sales were up almost 6 percent compared to the same quarter last year, to about $7 billion. Profits dipped 2 percent, to $360 million, as Publix’s expenses increased.

Publix’s next area store openings are tentatively set for the end of March in Rock Hill and the end of April in Matthews.

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