Perhaps I haven’t been paying attention but sometime over the last, oh I don’t know how many years, local, and some national stores, have become highly specialized. Maybe not so much here in South Florida, but certainly in New York, Washington and other big cities.  Yes, the trend eventually hits Miami and elsewhere.  I am talking about stores that sell things like just cupcakes instead of a general bakery or coffee shop.  I hadn’t paid much attention to this until recently when my wife had 3 or more choices of cupcake stores in Washington from which to send cupcakes to our son for his recent birthday.  Here, in our Ft. Lauderdale suburb, we would have just gone to Publix.

Maybe it is a food trend. We were in New York last year with our daughter lining up at Momofuku Milk Bar for cereal milk ice cream, the ONLY flavor on the menu.  Momofuku only sells this interesting ice cream as well as cookies and other baked goods that center around the cake, cereal and truffle theme.  Not a place to go if you are watching your weight.

Starbucks originally was just a coffee shop. But it has expanded to way beyond coffee.  Today, there are many niche coffee shops which are going back to the coffee roots.  Just coffee.  The list of specialty shops is by no means just food – bags/purses, containers, phones, soap, bath items – to name just a few.  But food is certainly a leader and there are numerous different single item food stores.

But the kicker, to me, in this trend, occurred on May 31 in Chicago when the 1st all-Nutella café opened. This is a stand alone restaurant dedicated to serving Nutella filled crepes, pastries, gelato, pancakes, waffles and other items.  Seriously?  1 or 2 spoonfuls of Nutella is great, but an entire restaurant’s worth is really…. I don’t have the words to finish this thought.


        Every couple of weeks, Publix gets positive media attention about its expansion plans. Lately, the plans include expansion into the Virginia market which will cause Publix to compete head to head with another industry leader, Wegmans. In the South, however, Winn Dixie was Publix’ historic competitor. But that does not seem to be the case so much any more. From a purely real estate perspective, Publix has been slowly acquiring successful shopping centers that it anchors. Much of the success of these shopping centers is due to the success of Publix itself. Publix centers are often large, vibrant centers, attracting other large retailers such as Kohls, TJ Maxx, Steinmart as well as national restaurant chains, banks and gas stations. Local retailers clamor for space in Publix centers and often are vary successful.

             Contrast Publix centers with Winn Dixie centers, at least those in South Florida. These centers don’t thrive the way Publix centers do. They have more vacant stores, fewer, if any national retailers and restaurants. They are less well maintained. Most importantly, the Winn Dixie stores are not as well maintained as Publix stores.

             What really drives this? Customer service is clearly the answer. This is a point that was driven home to me just the other night. Our family is a loyal Publix family. We do, however, live a few blocks from a Winn Dixie. Our Publix is not far away either, but is not quite as close as the Winn Dixie. We needed toothpaste, badly. We had been squeezing that last squeeze out of the tube for about 3 days. Since that was the only item we needed, and it is always easier to run in and out of the Winn Dixie (our Publix is also being re-built so parking is a bit of a problem right now), I ran to Winn Dixie. The toothpaste section had a good selection of Crest and it appeared that with my Winn Dixie rewards card, I could get 3 tubes for $6. What a deal! The sign said I could choose from 5.8 ounce tubes of Crest Complete or 6.2 ounce tubes of Crest Whitening. Since we like the green mint over the blue mint, I chose the Crest Complete and went to the cashier.

             The toothpaste rang up at $4.79 each. I pointed this out to the cashier and she went back to the toothpaste aisle. She told me that I had chosen the wrong item. Only the item above the sign was included in the discount. At this point, Publix would have honored the discount because the sign clearly said Crest Complete, but I went back to the toothpaste aisle with an assistant manager. He too was perplexed. He showed me where the sign was and indicated that although it said 5.8 ounce Crest Complete was part of the promotion, there did not appear to be any such product above the sign. I showed him that the toothpaste was in fact on the next shelf above the sign. He understood, but that is not how the deal works. However, the Crest Whitening in 6.2 ounce, the blue mint was right above the sign and that was part of the promotion. I took 3 tubes of that and went to the same cashier.

             This time, the toothpaste rang up at $3 per tube. Still not 3 for $6. She went back again to the toothpaste aisle and told me again I had selected the wrong item. I told her that the assistant manager had selected it. A discussion ensued. Finally, she honored the price, but the entire transaction took over 15 minutes. I don’t believe that any toothpaste in the store would have rung up for the correct price.

             I am not here as a shill for Publix, but it is easy to see why one company has grown and thrives and another, a long time legacy company, continues to shrink. Publix will continue to well for us in the real estate business and for its customers. Winn Dixie landlords and co-tenants continue to use caution.

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