By Dan Moffett
Manalapan town commissioners say they’re delighted to be negotiating with Publix to bring a supermarket to their Plaza del Mar.
There is just one thing, however. They say they want it to be a Manalapan sort of Publix, and that could require some extra negotiating.
So, at their April 26 meeting, the commissioners postponed giving final approval to an ordinance that would have allowed Publix to erect its trademark sign in the plaza, as they grappled with a flurry of newly minted worries:
What about delivery trucks? What about the traffic and hours of operation? What about the displacement of other merchants? What about that familiar green-and-white Publix sign? And yes, what about the impact on the character of Manalapan itself?
Come to think of it, there is more than just one thing.
“It’s not that we don’t want Publix — far from it,” said Mayor David Cheifetz. “But we need more information.”
Basil Diamond said he worries about disruptions to the peace and quiet of mornings in Manalapan.
“Publix likes to have their trucks come early in the morning,” Diamond said. “We want to make sure they don’t come early in the morning.”
Cheifetz said the com-mission should get involved in negotiating the new store’s hours of operation, but he expects the supermarket giant to be reasonable and sensitive to what the town wants.
“We certainly would not be happy with a 24-hour Publix,” he said. “I’m sure they want to be good neighbors, too.”
Sources close to the negotiations between the town and the Lakeland-based supermarket chain have confirmed that Publix wants to build a 26,000-square-foot store in the middle of the plaza.
Kitson & Partners, the center’s landlord, has acknowledged in media reports that it intends to bring in a grocer as part of a redevelopment project scheduled to wrap in late 2017.
Cheifetz said he expects Kitson and Publix to have a contract signed in early May. Neither Publix nor Kitson responded to requests for comments for this story.
Former Commissioner and Vice Mayor Robert Evans told commissioners he believed the supermarket could attract some 20,000 customers a week and that could have a detrimental effect on Manalapan.
“You shouldn’t trade the character of our town for a little convenience,” he said, and told the commission to consider requiring a tasteful Publix sign — such as the engraved stone sign at the Palm Beach store.
“It doesn’t have to be an ugly sort of thing — if we do decide to go with Publix,” Evans said.
Commissioner Ronald Barsanti worries that the sign might be backlighted and that tenants would be uprooted. He said the town “would be losing the flavor of the plaza” if the new store is too big or forces too many changes.
Cheifetz said he believes the displaced tenants would have the chance to move to other spaces in the plaza.
One of those displaced tenants could be Pedro Maldonado, owner of Jewelry Artisans, whose store sits in the eye of the redevelopment storm.
Maldonado has been doing business in the same Manalapan location for 27 years, making him one of the plaza’s longest-term tenants. He has endured several recessions, several hurricanes and several landlords.
Maldonado says Kitson sent him a letter telling him he must leave his spot in the heart of the plaza by Sept. 30 to make way for the redevelopment project. He’s been offered another space next to the Thaikyo restaurant at the western end of the center.
“In my business, you don’t want to be moving from place to place,” Maldonado said. “We rely a lot on word of mouth and people knowing where we are. For us, moving is very damaging.”
The cost of moving would be difficult for a small business to absorb, he says. Two years ago, Maldonado spent $50,000 to renovate and expand his store. He estimates the 100-yard move west will cost him $100,000. He says he will have to fit his new location with security systems to protect his jewelry and satisfy insurance carriers. His business will have to shut down for weeks to make the changes, then reopen in the dust of demolition and construction from the plaza’s overhaul.
“Just moving my safe will cost me $1,500,” Maldonado said. “We are willing to make sacrifices to stay in business here. But give us a chance to make a living without having to go through more obstacles.”
Maldonado’s neighbors in the plaza — among them Manalapan Italian Cuisine, Tiffany Nail Studio, Angela Moore boutique, Sheila Payne Art Gallery and Palm Beach Travel — face similar obstacles.
Maldonado says 90 percent of his business comes from Manalapan residents, and several of his best customers sit on the Town Commission.
“We will be sacrificed, and it will be a totally different environment here,” he said. “I don’t want to antagonize anybody. But then the truth is the truth.”
By Dan Moffett