BRADENTON -- Store manager Craig Dunbar doesn't think there's any place quite like Hobby Lobby.
"A lot of people sell the products we do, but nobody really does what we do," Dunbar said inside the newly opened store in Pinewood Square on Cortez Road.
Dunbar describes Hobby Lobby to men as Michael's on steroids, and to the women, as if Jo-Ann Fabrics, Pier 1 Imports and Michael's combined to build a mega store.
The brightly lit store with its wide aisles features everything from silk flowers, patriotic merchandise, a full-service fabric counter, furniture, décor and religious-themed items.
Hobby Lobby prides itself in being a welcoming, large store and displaying merchandise in different ways to make the store inviting. Soothing Christian music pumps through the speakers.
"We want everything to look fresh," Dunbar said. "We don't want it to looked like it's shopped over and picked through like you're going through leftovers."
Hobby Lobby stores carry more than 67,000 products in 13 departments, most of which can be personalized. The chain is known to carry a large amount of Christian-themed items, and offers a full-service fabric and custom framing departments.
The Bradenton store, 4490 Cortez Road West, is part of the chain's Florida expansion. A Sarasota store in a Benderson-owned shopping center at South Tamiami Trail and Beneva Road had its grand opening Monday.
"We opened 26 stores in 2010, 33 stores in 2011, 29 stores in 2012 and are hoping to open 50 more in 2013. There are many reasons for our growth, but we just give the credit to God," said Vincent Parker, Hobby Lobby's customer service director in Oklahoma City. "We feel that the market is under served. We are looking forward to becoming part of the Bradenton community."
The average Hobby Lobby store ranges from 55,000 to 65,000 square feet. The new store takes over a spot previously occupied by Big Lots.
The store had a soft opening Monday and a steady stream of shoppers Tuesday afternoon. A grand opening is planned for Memorial Day. The store will be open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Memorial Day. Regular hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The manager hails from Madisonville, Ky., and has lived in Florida for three years, coming to the Sunshine State to begin a new chapter in his life.
"I hear they call this Bradentucky, which is cool because I don't need a translator," he said, joking.
Dunbar who weighed nearly 400 pounds three years ago, is down to 189 pounds. With a new body, he ventured out to start a new career. Tired of irregular and long hours after 20 years in the grocery store industry, he found out that Hobby Lobby was hiring for its Florida expansion.
After working at the New Port Richey store, Dunbar earned a promotion to the Bradenton store.
Hobby Lobby gives employees Sundays off, as well as Thanksgiving and Christmas. The store also closes early on other holidays. The company bumped its minimum wage to $14 for full-time workers in April. With the Christian values, employees are encouraged to say Merry Christmas instead of Happy Holidays.
"I thought that would be awesome to do what I do and still have a life -- especially now because I felt like living because before I was miserable and didn't even know it," Dunbar said about working at Hobby Lobby.
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter@ImYourChuck.