Othell Phillips may not have pinched himself on Saturday morning, but perhaps he should have. Because a day many thought might never arrive, finally did.
The Gardendale mayor had announced that the city would get its own Publix supermarket — the popular, somewhat-upscale Florida-based chain beloved by many shoppers for customer service, wide merchandise selections, meat and seafood cut to order and its famous “BOGO” buy-one-get-one-free specials.
That announcement came in 2009. Since that time, Phillips and other city officials have had to endure never-ending questions about when the store would finally arrive. The nay-sayers became more numerous as time wore on, and the oft-changing sign in front of the store site — spoofed by neighboring officials in Fultondale when their new Aldi store was built and opened within a span of a few months — at last changed to read simply, “coming soon.”
But “soon” is finally “now.”
At 7 a.m., the line of shoppers waiting to get inside stretched all the way down the Magnolia City Place sidewalk, as far as Dollar Tree at the other end of the building. Inside the front door, Phillips, Gardendale Chamber of Commerce President Sharon Burton and store manager Janella Long cut the ribbon, and shoppers streamed in.
It was an event big enough to even draw a congressman, or at least the man who will be one in a few weeks. Representative-Elect Gary Palmer was in attendance, along with State Senator-Elect Shay Shelnutt and the Gardendale City Council.
Publix had brought in dozens of workers from other metro-area stores to help out with the grand opening, which featured numerous prizes, food samples, special prices and giveaways.
The opening is the biggest highlight of the redevelopment of the shopping center, known for many years as Northgate Shopping Center. The center’s previous owner couldn’t quite close the deal on Publix, so Gardendale officials sought help from Preferred Growth Properties, the development arm of Book-A-Million.
PGP eventually bought the center, renamed it, moved Dollar Tree down to the other end of the main building to make room for Publix, and then sealed the deal with the grocer.
That wasn’t the end of it, though. In the process, PGP also brought in T.J. Maxx, which moved its Irondale store into a long-empty space next to Hobby Lobby. And next door to that, a new Starbucks location is currently under construction; it’s the first stand-alone store for the iconic coffee chain in north Jefferson County.
In short, Magnolia City Place — and by extension, Gardendale itself — has finally gotten away from its image as the home of the shopping center with the tattered sign in front and a dream of a Publix in the back.
More importantly to Gardendale, though, is the boost that the new development will provide for city coffers. Phillips is precluded by law from saying how much Publix by itself will bring in sales-tax revenue. But as for the new stores combined, “we estimated that it will bring in an additional $540,000 a year,” he said.
The Gardendale store stayed busy well throughout Saturday. A check back at lunchtime found aisles packed with shoppers — including Phillips himself, who got rid of the suit and tie and returned with typical Saturday-shopping attire.
“They can’t get rid of me here,” he joked.