Yesterday (Monday, August 1st), Hobby Lobby celebrated the grand opening of its newest store. Normally, a nearly 700 store chain opening a new store wouldn’t be news on Scrapbook Update, especially as Hobby Lobby is on track to open 50 new stores in 2016. But this new Hobby Lobby store is in the suburban Florida town where I live, about halfway between St. Augustine and Daytona Beach. So that made it newsworthy, around here at least.
Hobby Lobby’s new 46,000 square foot Palm Coast store is in a former Publix grocery store building that is one of the oldest commercial structures in Palm Coast. It’s part of what was the city’s aging former Palm Harbor shopping center, that is in the process of being almost completely bulldozed and reborn as the more upscale “Island Walk”. The building containing the new Hobby Lobby is one of the last parts of the complex to be made over, and one of the few sections to be renovated rather than rebuilt. Until very recently the building was still occupied by Publix, as they awaited completion of their new store next door in the shopping center.
This choice of location is emblematic of Hobby Lobby’s way of selecting real estate. The company seems to prefer others’ abandoned retail spaces as locations for their stores, instead of building new from the ground up. In the NE Florida area alone, Hobby Lobby has built in a former Publix (Palm Coast), a Steinmart (Gainesville), a movie theatre (Daytona Beach), and an Albertson’s (Apopka), among others.
The only local exception to this that I’m aware of is a recently announced store in Jacksonville, which is planned to open in 2017 and which will be in a new development being built across from the expansive St. John’s Town Center luxury shopping center.
The company also seems to have a knack for placing their stores close to competitors. Most of the stores already open or planned in this area that I’m familiar with are virtually directly across the street from either a Michaels or Joann Fabric’s store (or in one instance both).
In Palm Coast, a town of about 80,000 people, they don’t have a large chain competitor across the street, but within a mile or so there is both a boutique scrapbook retailer and a quilt shop as well as a Walmart. A few more miles away on the south end of town sit a Michaels and another quilt shop.
The strategy seems to be working for the retailer, who will open their 700th store location next week in Fresno, CA.
In Palm Coast, the old Publix store location was initially rumored locally to be slated to become a Bed, Bath & Beyond, and there was some vocal disappointment when Hobby Lobby was announced as the building’s new occupant. But enough of the city seemed to have gotten over their initial fit of pique that a small crowd of (by my estimate) about 50 people, plus a bevy of local dignitaries and press, showed up for the ribbon cutting at 9am. A few people did voice their continuing boycott of the chain in online comments of local news reports about the opening, though.
After the ribbon cutting by Mayor Jon Netts, Chamber of Commerce representative Rebecca DeLorenzo, and store manager Tim Materni, the curious crowd of shoppers streamed into the store.
Hobby Lobby was laying out the hospitality welcome mat for the store’s first guests, providing coffee and refreshments at a table near the front door.
In the store’s airlock and register area, there were displays emphasizing the store’s coastal style decor options – appropriate to the store’s location less than 5 miles from the coast of the Atlantic.
Even as someone who was quite familiar with the store’s former incarnation as a grocery store, there were no visible traces of its previous identity in the renovated building. The new Palm Coast Hobby Lobby feels immediately familiar to anyone who has been in another Hobby Lobby location.
One of the biggest features of the paper crafts section is Hobby Lobby’s massive collection of stickers, a significant portion of which are their house brand The Paper Studio.
Hobby Lobby has been generating a lot of buzz online the last week or so for already having their Christmas holiday inventory on shelves. On a sweltering hot August day in Florida, though, the holiday aisles weren’t getting much love!
While this is exciting news for Hobby Lobby, it isn’t for everyone. Whenever a new big box store opens in a community, this poses a challenge to the small local retailers that were already occupying the market there. In Palm Coast, that means our local scrapbook store and our two quilt stores. I hope that when the excitement wears off of the shiny new Hobby Lobby that the local consumers will remember to still also support their local business owners who’ve been here all along nurturing their love of their hobbies.