Birmingham’s New Downtown Publix Attracts Residents Beyond the City Center

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For years, downtown Birmingham residents have wanted a grocery store. Now, they have one.

Publix opened its downtown Birmingham supermarket Wednesday morning.

City leaders say the store’s opening is a key part the city center’s revitalization, including many apartments, lofts and restaurants since the recession.

David Fleming leads the economic development group REV Birmingham. He says this store should pave the way for more retailers downtown.

“It’s the kind of thing that when somebody like Publix has confidence in downtown or in a place, then other people want to follow that,” says Fleming.

Some lauded the new Publix as an oasis in what’s known as a food desert in the city center. That refers to a lack of stores selling fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. But some nearby neighborhoods also struggle with a lack of healthy food options. And it’s not just downtown residents who are showing interest in the new store.

Norwood resident Ben Gallagher is an avid biker. He bought a trailer specifically so he could carry groceries home with his bike from the new downtown Publix store.
Norwood resident Ben Gallagher is an avid biker. He bought a trailer specifically so he could carry groceries home with his bike from the new downtown Publix store.
Andrew Yeager,WBHM

Ben Gallagher has been excited about this store ever since he heard it was coming.

“Because that’s a convenient place for me to access with my bicycle,” says Gallagher. “It’s essentially on the way home.”

Gallagher lives in the Norwood neighborhood. He works downtown and bikes as much as he can.

“I immediately thought about how I was going to bring groceries home from there with my bicycle,” says Gallagher. “That put the thought in my head that I need to buy a trailer for my bicycle. And eventually found a trailer and got it second-hand from someone that didn’t need it so it was perfect.”

Gallagher’s tried grocery shopping by bike before at another Publix. But it was a long ride and he could only carry a few things. Now he’ll be able to take home a lot more.

A handful of other Norwood and Druid Hills residents say they’re also excited about the Publix opening.

UAB Retail Professor Bob Robicheaux says for many people, the store they choose is about convenience.

“That typically is the one that is maybe on the side of the road [or] the highway as they’re headed home,” says Robicheaux.

Robicheaux says many customers are loyal to one retailer.

“They’ll drive out of their way to find the Publix because they just like that particular Publix store,” says Robicheaux.

But that loyalty cuts both ways.

Titusville Neighborhood Association President John Harris says he probably won’t shop at Publix even if it is close by.

“I guess, basically, I’m so used to going to Walmart,” says Harris.

He says he can get groceries, plus whatever else he needs at the supercenter. Harris says some people in Titusville buy groceries outside the neighborhood at another Walmart or a Save-A-Lot because a city bus takes them straight there.

Harris, though, can’t help but recall ten years ago when Walmart planned to build a supercenter in Titusville. It fell through. He says that was a lost opportunity to help his neighborhood.

“I’m just hopeful that even though Publix is there, we’re still looking at [trying to] get a grocery store here,” Harris says.

Lines of carts are ready to go as Publix opens in downtown Birmingham.
Carts are ready to go as Publix opens in downtown Birmingham.
Andrew Yeager,WBHM

As the opening wave of Publix customers streamed through the checkout Wednesday morning, many were there out of curiosity. Then there were shoppers like Mattie Magby. She was thrilled. She lives in North Birmingham but has been buying groceries in Gardendale.

“This one is a lot closer to me and I love it,” Magby says. “I couldn’t wait until they opened the doors.”

Donna Miller lives in the Ensley neighborhood. She drives her husband to work downtown and came to see the new store.

“We usually shop in Publix in Hueytown, but this is so much closer and more convenient for me anyway,” says Miller.

It’s a sign the impact of the downtown Birmingham Publix might be felt well beyond downtown.