ELLENTON -- Patrons inside Chumlee's Wings in Ellenton consoled a weeping Sweetbay Supermarket employee Thursday, who just 24 hours earlier learned she, and roughly 58 coworkers at the Ellenton location, would be laid off.
Sweetbay announced plans to close 33 underperforming stores in Florida, including three in Manatee County and one in Sarasota, on Wednesday.
Not on the list are three Sweetbay supermarkets in Manatee County: 515 Seventh St. W., Palmetto; 5805 Manatee Ave. W., Bradenton; and 5802 14th St. W., Bradenton.
But the Bradenton stores at 5201 33rd St. E. and 8750 State Road 70 E., as well as the stores at 3410 U.S. 301 in Ellenton and 501 N. Beneva Road, Sarasota, will close by mid-February.
About 2,000 employees will be laid off as a result. Each store employs 50 to 60 workers.
While wiping away tears, the Sweetbay worker at Chumlee's declined to comment, citing a company-wide gag order regarding store layoffs.
"This is a middle-class area and those are 59 jobs gone," said Chumlee, the owner of the eatery who goes only by that name.
Chumlee thinks the disappearance of Sweetbay will affect revenue and exposure for the remaining tenants in the shopping complex.
"It'll hurt the complex," he said. "Going from 70 cars in the parking lot to 20 will be drastic."
A sign is posted in the front window of the Ellenton Sweetbay, thanking shoppers for their loyalty.
"A lot of people order food here, go shopping, and come back," said Christine Pasko, Chumlee's wife and co-owner.
Other than Sweetbay, nearby groceries include Publix stores in Parrish and a Super Walmart at the intersection of U.S. 41. The Sweetbays along State Road 70 are also located near Super Walmarts, in addition to a Sam's Club close to the 33rd Street store.
"While these decisions are difficult, especially given the impact on our associates, customers and communities, these actions will continue to enhance the performance of our overall store portfolio and further enable us to deliver profitable growth and accelerate shareholder value," said Nicole LeBeau, a spokeswoman for Sweetbay.
LeBeau said all employees, both full-time and part-time, will receive severance packages, but the company will not offer an employment placement program. Sweetbay leases its properties and LeBeau said the locations are in the process of being vacated.
The store closures include six stores in Tampa, 12 in Pinellas and Pasco counties, and three in Naples.
"It's too bad," said Sherburn Dakin, an Ellenton resident as he exited Sweetbay. "You see all the cars here and it's a busy place. That's business, I guess."
Sweetbay isn't the only grocery chain to downsize in Manatee. In April 2012, Albertsons grocery store chain announced it was closing 13 stores in Florida, including its Manatee Avenue location in Bradenton and its Lockwood Ridge Road store.
An estimated 1,100 employees were affected, 77 of whom worked at the 7415 Manatee Ave. W. store and 90 at the 8415 Lockwood Ridge store.
After these closures are complete, Sweetbay will have 72 stores in Florida.
Nick Williams, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-748-0411, ext. 7049. Twitter:@_1NickWilliams