This little piggy went to 5 points, and the same little piggy went home.
Santa Rosa County officials regularly laud successes in bringing large companies to set up shop, which in turn mean jobs and economic growth. These include Goldring Gulf Distributing and Aerosync Support to name a few. However, recent efforts by locally owned Piggly Wiggly to expand into Five Points led co-owner Stuart Norris to question if the county pursues larger, outside corporations more than local business.
Currently, a high-end grocery store is making its way to Five Points in Pace, and county officials say multiple grocers have shown interest for some time. White Development Company, out of Clearwater, is the one responsible. The same real estate company is constructing a Publix in East Hill, Pensacola, and so the same store is suspected to be coming to Pace. Before this effort, Piggly Wiggly had a chance to come to the same neighborhood but ultimately failed.
Norris has been vocal with his concerns on social media and in a letter to the editor in the Press Gazette. Still, he said he understands the reasoning behind bringing larger businesses into the county. “They’re good at creating jobs, and on average they pay more than local businesses and can offer more.” The general population, he said, says it’s a good thing for the same reasons. However, he said, “The money (a chain grocery) makes goes out of the county.”
In brief, Norris’ attempt to put a Piggly Wiggly in Five Points started in a lot across from the Circle K. He said the bank decided not to sell the lot so he moved to a lot across from Dollar General. A petition of 168 signatures against the store led the county to deny rezoning. Norris said he was told “It was not ready to be commercial yet.” He said he also collected 250 signatures to put his store there.
Finally, Norris attempted to build in a properly zoned lot next to Dollar General, but he said the county required he construct a turn lane to do so, since Dollar General had not. Norris said the lane would cost him another $250,000 and asked why he should be required to build it. He said he asked the county about postponing building the turn lane but received no answer.
The attempted Piggly Wiggly sites fell both in Commission Chairman Don Salter’s and Commissioner Jayer Williamson’s districts. Salter brought up the initial issue of rezoning but found local residents opposed to having a commercial entity so close.
On Norris’ larger concerns, Salter said, “I think our record is very supportive of very big and small business. I was supportive of Piggly Wiggly coming to Pace. It happened to be incompatible land use where it was blending with houses…I’m all for mom and pop type local business, but retail is a very competitive world. Too often big businesses push little businesses out of business, but that's just the competitive market they're in.”
Commissioner Williamson said it seemed to him county staff was trying to help Norris while he was trying to help with what he could on a property in Salter’s district before backing off for the Chairman. While not confirming Publix is the store coming to Five Points, Williamson said, “I know staff will work just as hard for anybody. I know Planning & Zoning is fairly black and white…We’re not doing anything different for (White Development Company), but (they) are doing what they need to do and Piggly Wiggly didn’t…I don’t think it’s all the county’s fault Piggly Wiggly is not in Pace.” Williamson said he regularly hears from developers how cooperative the county staff is.
“I’m frustrated but moving on,” Norris said. His Very Berry yogurt shop is “really close” to completion in downtown Milton and he said he’s still looking for a location for another Piggly Wiggly.
Meanwhile, Williamson said the center coming to Pace could also hold other businesses such as a restaurant, in addition to Publix. He added Publix itself has a program for hiring high school students to further their education. “It seems to me, if it were a Publix, it would be good for the community.”