Western Supermarkets, a 70-year-old independent retailer with four stores in the Birmingham, Ala., area, said it is winding down operations this month.
Two of Western’s stores in Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills, Ala., will be sold to Publix Super Markets, according to the company, whose Western’s Highland Avenue store in Birmingham, which is destined for redevelopment, will close in coming weeks. Its Village Market in the East Lake area of Birmingham, which Western also owns, is for sale.
“When I became involved in ownership in 1987, our goal was to maintain Western as Birmingham’s leading independent grocer,” owner Ken Hubbard said in a statement. “With the help of the loyal and talented people on the Western team, we’ve achieved that goal. We’ve taken Western as far as we can. It’s time to exit the business that has been my life’s work.”
Publix said the Mountain Brook store will reopen under its GreenWise Market banner in the third quarter of this year. The Vestavia Hills location will open as a Publix at a date to be determined.
Terms of the acquisition, which is expected to close in March, were not disclosed.
“Publix is always seeking locations where we can serve our customers and offer an exceptional shopping experience,” said Publix CEO Todd Jones. “This acquisition allows us to expand our presence in the Birmingham area, and we are very excited to bring one of our GreenWise Markets to this region.”
The more than 200 Western Market employees have been informed of the closures and encouraged to seek employment with Publix. “Many of our employees have worked at Western their entire careers. Treating them fairly, giving them plenty of notice, and helping them find employment is now our mission,” Hubbard said. “I am committed to that.”
Western said inventory reduction sales at its stores will begin Jan. 9, when wine will be priced at 20% off. The remaining inventory liquidation will begin Jan. 30.
Western was known for fresh foods and a long history of service in Birmingham. Its longtime president, Darwin Metcalf, was named Retailer of the Year by the Alabama Grocers Association in 2017.
“It is astounding how many people—doctors, lawyers, business-leaders and the current mayor of Birmingham—had their first job at Western,” said Hubbard, who began with the company as a bagger in 1960. “Our people made Western a special place for our customers. They will continue to provide that same level of service, wherever they work.”
Publix Super Markets last week took the wraps off its new GreenWise Market concept store near Florida State University and Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. As the first of five planned locations for the Lakeland, Fla.-based retailer’s new small-format specialty banner, the store represents the next generation of the GreenWise format, which Publix had put on hold in 2007 until announcing the revamped model about a year ago. “The customers in this growing market are looking for a brand they trust, and we are confident GreenWise Market will be their specialty, natural and organic store of choice," said Publix SVP of Retail Operations Kevin Murphy.
The convenience-focused GreenWise Market puts fresh prepared foods front and center in its Eats department, which features handcrafted sandwiches, acai bowls, gourmet pizzas, burritos, bowls, sushi, organic cheeses and vegan items. “With our new-format GreenWise Market, we will offer today’s natural and specialty customer the new and interesting products they are looking for while setting the stage to provide a uniquely different shopping experience,” said Murphy.
The meat department, aptly named Cuts, showcases antibiotic- and hormone-free choices, house-made fresh sausage and an expanded line of sustainably sourced seafood certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. The new GreenWise Market offers a loyalty rewards program, which enables customers to receive personalized offers and digital coupons. Although currently only redeemable at the Tallahassee GreenWise Market, future locations will accept the rewards offers as they open.
A one-stop shop for entertaining needs, the Finds department houses curated selections of wine, beer, spiked seltzer, imported cheeses and massive gouda wheels. The Tallahassee GreenWise Market also boasts a beverage bar serving kombucha, local craft beer, wine, smoothies and locally roasted coffee, as well as a large mezzanine where customers can eat and connect.
Fitting with the healthy living focus of the new GreenWise Market is its Care department, which offers an array of personal products ranging from vitamins and nutritional supplements to natural soaps and shampoos. A mixed media mural by Tallahassee artist Charity Myers is among the store’s other unique features.