The Coastal Star

Publix opening caps $10 million renovation that breathes life into aging landmark, excites residents

An employee gathers carts at the new Publix in Plaza del Mar. The store has 110 employees.

Manalapan Mayor Keith Waters and store manager Wade Rinderknecht cut a ribbon to open the store, joined by town and store officials and employees.

Suzi Goldsmith samples tea on opening day. Photos by Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

Related story: Meet three iconic tenants of Plaza del Mar

By Mary Thurwachter

Three days before the new Publix opened its doors in Plaza del Mar, Wade Rinderknecht kept a close eye on an army of employees filling the shelves and undergoing training sessions. As the store manager, Rinderknecht needs to stay on top of it all.

“This is coming together great,” he said. “I’m amazed at what we’ve been able to fit in here. I’m super-excited.”

That excitement only grew on Aug. 16, when the 28,000-square-foot supermarket officially opened for the first time. The beige-colored store is about the size of the downtown Lake Worth Publix and about half the size of the Palm Beach Publix. It’s the only supermarket on the barrier island from South Palm Beach to Boca Raton.

“Because it’s smaller, we have a more concentrated shopping experience, said Rinderknecht, 44, of Palm City. He has worked for the Publix chain for 19 years, but this is his first time as a store manager. He oversees 110 employees.

“The store has digital menu boards at the deli counter,” he said, as a dozen employees were trained on proper sandwich making.  “Instead of two homemade soups, we’re offering six.”

Another store feature that Rinderknecht expects will be a customer hit are the Chef Selections, fully prepared and cooked meals with a meat and two sides. “Time is a real value to people,” he said. "With Chef Selections they can pick up dinner and take it home ready to eat.”

Other store highlights include a pharmacy, bakery, full-service meat case with more prime meats than the average Publix, a large cheese selection, an extensive wine collection, a floral department, seafood, sushi and fine farm-raised caviar from Marky’s, a Florida-based company.

Areca palm trees planted on the backside of the center camouflage a water tank and delivery trucks, which will be limited to working between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.

Before opening day

Employees must stock shelves more often because the Manalapan store is about half the size of a typical Publix.

Melissa La Rock trains workers at the deli, which has sandwiches, salads and soups.  Photos by Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

Hub of plaza renovation

The grocery store is the centerpiece in Plaza del Mar’s $10 million renovation. The 36-year-old shopping center at State Road A1A and Ocean Avenue was treated to new landscaping, signage and LED lighting.

Plaza landlord Kitson & Partners said the redesign actually decreased the retail space from about 103,000 to 83,000 square feet.

Occupancy at the plaza at times fell below 70 percent in recent years as the last decade’s recession took a toll. But Matt Buehler, Kitson’s vice president of retail operations who has worked extensively on the plaza project, said occupancy has risen to 93 percent, the best in the center’s history.

“Having Publix there gave us the opportunity to renovate the shopping center and stabilize it,” Buehler said. “It benefits the community as well. It serves the residents there, and that was part of the driving factor. We wanted to turn that into a successful shopping center for the town as well as the ownership of the shopping center.”

Now that Publix is open, the plaza is doing so well that Kitson & Partners, the Palm Beach Gardens real estate development company that has owned the center since 2007, is very pleased.

“We’re excited,” Buehler said. “We’re happy this day is here. It’s been a long time coming.”

Also excited was Terrance Richmond, the first person in line waiting for the store to open. He arrived at 5:40 a.m. for the 7 a.m. grand opening, providing him with a front-and-center position for the ribbon- cutting photos.

But perhaps no one was as happy as longtime Manalapan resident Melissa Parker, one of the first customers. “I have been waiting 26 years for this store to open,” she said. “Tomorrow marks the 26th year we have lived here in Manalapan.”

Opening day

Ginny Foot of Boynton Beach pays for her purchases at the new Publix.

Produce manager Julie Rutmann handed out 100 roses to customers. More than 20 people waited in line before the 7 a.m. opening.

Changes in ownership

Kitson is the third real estate development company to own the plaza. The first was Draper & Kramer, an old-line Chicago company. The second was Woolbright Development, a real estate investment firm based in Boca Raton.

John J. Hoecker, who worked for Draper & Kramer, was the shopping center’s first property manager. Along with his college pals Rich Draper and Tom Jackson, they founded the Ice Cream Club, the shopping center’s first tenant. Hoecker long ago sold his share to his partners but continued to work at the shopping center until he left after 15 years to go out on his own. He has his own company, Jupiter Realty in West Palm Beach.

“When I first got there, I was all of 22,” he said of Manalapan. “We had a lot of fun in the early years there. We went through the original construction that sits on 1,100 pilings. It was a construction event. It was a good experience.”

Plaza del Mar opened in 1982. At the time, La Coquille Club, an exclusive residential club built on the beach across the street in 1952 by Spelman Prentice, J.D. Rockefeller’s grandson, was still operational. The club was known as a tropical retreat for folks such as the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Vanderbilts, Fords and Whitneys. The club closed in 1984 and was razed in 1986.

By 1991, a Ritz-Carlton opened on the property. Five years ago, the hotel became Eau Palm Beach.

According to 1982 news reports in The Evening Times, the 43-unit shopping center, Plaza del Mar, was long-awaited by island residents. With the exception of a few stores at the Lake Worth Beach Casino complex, the plaza was the only island shopping area between Palm Beach and Delray Beach.

Buildings were given a contemporary style and architecture, and the majority of the façade was cedar siding to give it “a very rich look,” the Times reported.

The three buildings of the center were separated by an outdoor walkway, and one had a 52-foot clock tower. That tower was bulldozed during the recent renovation.

Some of the first stores to make a home in the shopping center were Flagler Bank (now SunTrust), the Ice Cream Club, a gourmet food store, a wine and cheese shop, a florist shop and a pharmacy.

Other businesses housed in the center over the years included a housewares store, a clothing shop, a cashmere shop, gift shops, several art galleries, a theater, several restaurants, a coffee shop, a travel agency, a dry cleaner, and several real estate offices.

Besides Publix, the center’s newest tenants are the Shoe Garden, which has another location in Delray Marketplace; and Fountain Dry Cleaners, which opened Aug. 16, just like Publix. 

Jerry Lower contributed to this story.

'I have been waiting 26 years for this store to open,' Melissa Parker (in green) said at the Publix opening. She moved to Manalapan 26 years ago. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

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