Mayor Leon Smith stood at the front doors of the store at 6:45 a.m., microphone in hand, and smiled. He thanked the employees standing nearby, and with a quick motion, cut the ribbon marking the opening of the 49,000 square-foot store.
“We’re very proud of this store,” Smith told the crowd of several dozen shoppers, local officials and visiting business leaders. Nearby was a construction zone, where work continues on the rest of Oxford Commons, the retail development at which Publix is the first store to open. A Panera Bread bakery and café is nearing completion at the site.
Also nearby was a sinkhole that has stalled work on a portion of Oxford Commons. The City Council and the city’s Commercial Development Authority on Tuesday agreed to pay the $3.3 million cost to repair that sinkhole, bringing the city’s total investment in the development to $10.79 million. City leaders have said they expect sales tax receipts and other revenue generated by Oxford Commons will help them quickly to recoup that cost.
The excitement of Publix’s first shoppers Wednesday would seem to support those expectations.
Miranda Kubela traveled from Eastaboga to arrive at the store by 5:45 a.m. for the grand opening.
“I was at the Pell City grand opening several years ago,” Kubela said, but this time she wanted to be the first in line to take advantage of grand opening deals. She was.
If you ask Sheila Anderson from Weaver, the new Publix was all her doing.
“This is my store,” said Sanderson with a smile.
Sanderson said while visiting a Birmingham Publix several years ago she recommended to management that the company open a store in the Oxford area.
“They said OK, and they did,” Sanderson said with a wry smile.
Even Smith himself conceded, if only half-jokingly, that maybe Sanderson’s request spawned Wednesday’s opening.
“I just met a lady that said she was the cause of this store, and I believe her,” Smith said to the crowd, spurring laughter.
Before he cut the ribbon, as he’s done countless times since he was first elected mayor in 1984, Smith spoke about how good it is to have so many new jobs, and how proud Oxford is of its new store.
Oxford didn’t get simply a standard Publix. What makes the store special is easy to spot on entering. The deli’s Pacific Wok station offers fresh Mongolian beef and sweet-and-sour chicken, and 12 different kinds of gourmet olives are arranged in an olive bar. The cheese station has more than 200 different types of artisan cheese from all around the world.
The Oxford store combines gourmet, natural and organic foods along with the traditional groceries. That’s because of customer demand, wrote Brenda Reid, manager of media and community relations for Publix, in an email to The Star.
“This has been a national trend for more than five years,” Reid wrote.
There are no other stores like Oxford’s in Alabama, Reid wrote, but the company has opened similar stores in Florida called Publix Greenwise Markets.
“Since this is our first store in Oxford we thought it would be a good opportunity to offer this type of store in a new market. The location is central to many communities including travelers looking for a quick hot meal,” Reid wrote.
Employees were at every corner of the store Wednesday, handing out samples, giving cooking demonstrations and helping customers navigate the aisles.
Speaking of the long-awaited opening, Oxford Councilwoman Charlotte Hubbard said she was happy the wait was over.
“I know all of our citizens have been waiting, and we’re glad that it’s open,” Hubbard said.
Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.