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2 Sweetbay locations on chopping block

A Sweetbay supermarket in Dade City and another in Zephyrhills are scheduled to close April 5 as part of a planned takeover of the grocery chain by Bi-Lo Holdings, the parent company of competitor Winn-Dixie, a Bi-Lo spokeswoman said Tuesday.

They are two of just three Sweetbays that would close as a result of the deal, which came one step closer to reality Tuesday. The other Sweetbay expected to shut its doors is in Naples. All other Sweetbay stores are to be converted to Winn-Dixie stores, the company reported.

The Bi-Lo spokeswoman, Kelly Bell, said she is unsure how many people the Sweetbay stores employ, but added, “While positions in those affected stores will be eliminated, we anticipate many will find open positions in nearby Bi-Lo Holdings stores.”

The Dade City store, Sweetbay No. 1798, is at 12530 U.S. 301. The Zephyrhills store, Sweetbay No. 1872, is at 36538 State Road 54. Both are near existing Winn-Dixie stores, which led to the decision to close them.

“That’s a blow to the community,” said John Moors, executive director of the Dade City Chamber of Commerce. “There are a lot of jobs there and a lot good people who have been working in those stores for years, I’m sure.”

He expressed hope that someone would “step up and fill the void” left by the closed locations in both communities.

Vonnie Mikkelsen, executive director of the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, said the company’s decision probably should not come as a surprise considering how close that Sweetbay is to a Winn-Dixie, but she said she hopes any impact is short-lived and that Bi-Lo is able to follow through on its goal of finding jobs for as many people affected as possible.

“We went through this a year ago when they closed the (Sweetbay) on Gall Boulevard,” Mikkelsen said. “It seems like that was in our recent past and that was a disappointment.”

Still, overall Zephyrhills has had some positive news on the retail front, such as the opening of a Hobby Lobby and other stores, Mikkelsen said, making her optimistic that job opportunities are improving.

The announcement about the Dade City and Zephyrhills stores came after Bi-Lo Holdings reached an agreement Tuesday with the Federal Trade Commission to sell off a dozen stores in Florida, Georgia and South Carolina as a condition of its proposed takeover of 154 Sweetbay and other grocery stores owned by Delhaize America.

Bi-Lo Holdings’ agreement with the FTC is designed to preserve competition in local markets and starts a 30-day period for the public to comment on the proposed takeover. The next step is for the FTC to vote again on the takeover.

In addition to the three planned Sweetbay store closings, Bi-Lo officials announced they would close 10 other stores under the Winn-Dixie, Reid’s, Harveys and Bi-Lo banners as part of the overall transaction, because of their proximity with other Bi-Lo-controlled stores. Those closings include Winn-Dixie stores in Tarpon Springs, St. Petersburg and Seffner, which are scheduled to shut down in May.

“Given the number of stores we are acquiring, we anticipated that we may be asked by the FTC to divest some stores to close the deal,” R. Randall Onstead, president and CEO of Bi-Lo Holdings, said in a prepared statement. “In addition, with the close proximity of some of the Bi-Lo Holdings and Delhaize stores, we also knew that we would have to close a few stores as part of the acquisition.

“We appreciate the many contributions our associates in these stores have made, and we will ensure they are treated respectfully and have the opportunity to pursue other open positions in nearby stores.”

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Reporter Richard Mullins contributed to this article.

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