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Trader Joe's coming to Lakeside at Winter Park

May 6, 2013

By Mary Shanklin, Orlando Sentinel

7:43 p.m. EDT, May 3, 2013

Trader Joe's, the specialty grocery-store chain with a cult-like fan base, has signed a lease to locate in a retail center being built on U.S. Highway 17-92 near Winter Park Village.

The California-based company has leased 12,500 square feet in Lakeside at Winter Park, a 4-acre retail project being developed by Unicorp National Developments of Orlando. Construction will start in July on the center, which will be on the eastern shore of Lake Killarney, opposite Morse Boulevard.

The Winter Park store, set to open next year, will feature beer and wine. Florida has three Trader Joe's so far — in Naples, Sarasota and Gainesville — and a fourth in the works near Miami.

"We don't disclose what goes into the site-selection, decision-making process," spokeswoman Alison Mochizuki said of the Winter Park location. "But I can tell you we love the neighborhood, and it's filled with lots of foodies."

Trader Joe's considers itself a neighborhood grocery, with shelves that are 80 percent stocked with store-brand goods that have no artificial colors or preservatives, she said. Launched as a convenience store in 1958, Trader Joe's is known for keeping costs low by purchasing directly from suppliers.

Trader Joe's Winter Park site has not been considered a jewel within the redevelopment world, Unicorp President Chuck Whittall said. He said some people have second-guessed his decision to pay $8.5 million for the lakeside acreage; the purchase is slated to close next month.

"Everyone thought I was paying too much for it, and I saw just a wonderful opportunity to utilize the lake. It's working out exactly as I'd hoped," Whittall said. "It's going to change the landscape of Winter Park."

Other tenants scheduled to locate there include Marilyn Monroe Spa, OrangeTheory Fitness and an Orlando paddleboard company.

When the Orlando Sentinel broke the news online Friday that the long-awaited store had signed a deal with Unicorp, fans reacted quickly.

Many of them raved about the Trader Joe's merlot named for company founder Charles Shaw — and nicknamed "Three Buck Chuck" for its low cost. Winter Park resident Joyce Woolman recalled that, when someone served her a glass of it several years ago, she thought it was a $15 bottle of wine.

"Honestly, I particularly like that I'm not buying Hostess or another brand, and that I'm buying the Trader Joe's brand," she said. "It will be great for Publix to have some competition. We've seen several grocery chains leave, like Goodings."

Trader Joe's will make fast-redeveloping U.S. 17-92 in Orlando and Winter Park the most competitive grocery-store corridor in Central Florida. The new store will be within a half mile of two Publix Super Markets and a Chamberlain's health-food store, and a new Fresh Market is under construction 2 miles to the south.

Orlando resident Jill Martin said she discovered Trader Joe's three years ago while visiting friends in California.

"The first time I went there, I thought I was in food heaven," said Martin, who now makes it the first — and last — place she stops whenever she returns to California. "I just hope the [Winter Park] store is big enough, because it's going to be busy."

The new site will be typical of the chain's stores, which range from 10,000 to 15,000 square feet.

Trader Joe's is the latest in a series of popular chains to enter the Orlando market in recent years. IKEA and Container Store each had large followings when they opened near Mall of Millenia. And Wawa, a Pennsylvania-based convenience-store chain, has opened nine local outlets in nine months.

Trader Joe's, said Winter Park Planning Director Jeff Briggs, seems to have an even more-ardent fan base than some of the other chains. Local residents, he said, had never called City Hall to champion a chain store moving into the city — until now.

mshanklin@tribune.com or 407-420-5538


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