WEST BRADENTON -- After five months of remodeling, the Winn-Dixie in the Shoppes of Paradise Bay might as well be a new store.
In many ways, this West Bradenton Winn-Dixie looks unlike any other in the area with a new layout and wall treatments.
Joey Medina, regional vice president for Winn-Dixie, wore a big grin Wednesday while pointing out the store's new customer friendly features, low shelving and subtle touches.
"This store feels a lot bigger than it really is," he said.
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The store, 7400 Cortez Road, will host an open house with free food, giveaways and live entertainment from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Friday to celebrate. Meals on Wheels PLUS of Manatee will be presented with a donation.
Winn-Dixie looks at each store individually to gauge whether it needs an update or remodel based on competition, store performance and age. For this store that opened June 1, 1989, and had an expansion in the mid-1990s, it was time.
"The store was doing well, but it was just dated," Medina said. "We had a beautiful shopping center and had a really great customer base that allowed us to upgrade the store."
Features in the store are similar to a remodel Winn-Dixie completed in 2012 for its 5400 Fruitville Road location, but given the distance between the two stores, most shoppers wouldn't know.
A new cheese station with a full-time cheese steward and 100 artisanal cheese is set up front-and-center in a new area where the bakery, deli, produce, floral and beer sec
tions converge. The wine section added 200 different wines. The store now carries craft beers, including Sarasota's Big Top Brewing Co. and Tampa's Cigar City Brewing. In the deli, customers can have slices of prime rib carved for a meal on the go, or order a Dietz & Watson sub for the road. At the cheese station, shoppers can also buy artisan cooking oils and refill them.
The bakery was moved to the deli area across the store, making way for 46 doors to the frozen foods and ice cream section with all new coolers and equipment. The configuration also allowed the store to redesign the pharmacy, eliminating a cramped foyer.
The features are reflective of catering to the demographics of the shoppers, Medina said.
"With our proximity to Longboat Key, this is a pretty affluent area here," he said. "It's all about having what appeals to the customer base."
The wine section is placed adjacent to cheese and wine vendors who will work with the cheese steward on pairing events. The store has a wine and cheese tasting set for Jan. 22.
A new floral arrangement station offers a floral designer on staff who can take orders for flowers and balloons.
The staffing and services in floral, meat, cheese and deli areas is how Jacksonville-based Winn-Dixie is trying to distance itself from competitors such as Lakeland-based Publix and Walmart.
"When you look at our competitors in this area, there's not a deli like that. That's not what theirs looks like," Medina said.
Expanded prepared meals and hot food to go is another new feature in the deli area, along with a new wing bar. And yes, those are actually pots and pans hanging in the kitchen that employees use to cook food.
"There's no 'break open a bag and heat it up' here," Medina said.
The store added 40 employees to the 55 it had in June, store director Rick Welch said, and is still hiring.
Welch was one of those new employees, coming on board in June as a transfer. He's worked for Winn-Dixie for 40 years and enjoys the new amenities.
"I've had in my career several grand openings and re-openings," he said. "It's like moving into a new house -- it would be better if we did this or this -- and every one of them gets better, better and better."
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.