By Dan Moffett
When a Publix Super Market held its grand opening in Spotsylvania County, Va., last month, shoppers started lining up before 2:30 a.m. to be there when the electric doors parted at 7.
It’s unlikely Manalapan will match that level of consumer fervor. But make no mistake, in their own way, Manalapan residents are about as excited as those in Spotsylvania to get their new Publix.
After three years of polite yet persistent wrangling between town and corporation, Publix is set to open its supermarket at Manalapan’s Plaza del Mar on Aug. 16.
“We’re very, very happy with what’s going on here,” said Mayor Keith Waters. “They’ve done a remarkable job. They’ve been very cooperative with the community in addressing our needs.”
Those needs included architectural features not typically seen in nearly all the other 1,188 Publix stores.
It took the town and the company more than 10 months to agree on a sign design. There will be no iconic green and white Publix trademark atop the front doors — but rather, a tasteful, understated backlit marquee.
Dozens of 25-foot areca palm trees line the backside of the plaza to hide delivery trucks and a water tank needed to boost water pressure. The store’s exterior color palette is a tranquil, beiger shade of beige. The company’s proposal for a free-standing liquor store next to the supermarket was pronounced dead on arrival by town commissioners.
In floorspace, the new supermarket is about 28,000 square feet, roughly that of the Publix in downtown Lake Worth but 25 percent smaller than the one at CityPlace in West Palm Beach.
The doors of the new store will open at 7 a.m. Aug. 16, said Nicole Maristany Krauss, the company’s media and community relations manager. “Customers will receive an insulated Publix reusable goodie bag from the Publix Pharmacy and enjoy tastings in all departments,” she said.
The Publix is the centerpiece in a $10 million renovation of the 30-year-old Plaza del Mar.
Kitson & Partners, the plaza landlords, said the overhaul actually will shrink total retail space from about 103,000 square feet to 83,000 square feet. The sweeping overhaul includes new pavement, landscaping, signage and LED lighting.
The plaza has languished in recent years, town officials say, and the Great Recession that began in 2007 took a toll. Occupancy fell below 70 percent at times.
“It was tired,” said Vice Mayor Peter Isaac, who commended Kitson for giving the mall the makeover it needed.
Publix has chosen Wade Rinderknecht, who currently manages the CityPlace store, to take over as manager in Manalapan. He said employees would begin stocking the shelves the first week in August.
“I’ve always just loved being around people,” Rinderknecht said. “I’m looking forward to being part of the community here and serving the residents.”
Will the Manalapan store offer the town’s upscale consumers anything beyond the offerings of a typical Publix? Rinderknecht isn’t saying.
“We have some things in mind,” he said. “We’ll see.”
In other business, the Town Commission tentatively approved a substantial increase in the tax rate for the next fiscal year to cover the cost of expanding the Police Department.
During their meeting on July 14, commissioners unanimously signed off on raising the rate to $3.03 per $1,000 of taxable property value, up roughly 8 percent from the current $2.795.
With a 10 percent increase in property values during the past year, Manalapan expects to bring in enough revenue to help pay for a police and security expansion that could cost more than $500,000.
The town wants to add four uniformed officers to expand the force to 15, increase police salaries and benefits, and add to its network of surveillance and license plate recognition cameras.
Final hearings on the 2019 budget are scheduled for Sept. 18 and Sept. 25, both beginning at 5:01 p.m.