As workers continue to construct commercial buildings at the intersection of Burnt Church Road and U.S. 278 in greater Bluffton, where a PGA Tour Superstore and Hobby Lobby are slated to go, there’s some question about whether the intended tenants are still on the way — specifically The Fresh Market.
To be perfectly clear, I don’t know if The Fresh Market will ever open its doors in Bluffton because even when a big box store has announced an opening and has gone as far as signing a lease, there’s actually no guarantee it will happen.
Here’s what I do know, though, so you’ll be able to form an opinion for yourself.
The doubts began when a sign that initially announced the opening of these three retailers was suddenly blank this past fall. People began to post on Facebook, worrying that these stores were no longer coming, and called The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette for confirmation.
From what I could gather at the time, Hobby Lobby and PGA Tour Superstore were likely still on the way, based on job listings for the stores, business licenses and even chats I’ve had with store representatives.
As someone who’s spent much of her time in Beaufort County figuring out which businesses will open and when, I have little doubt these retailers are coming here.
I was not been able to find any concrete evidence that The Fresh Market was or wasn’t coming, however, as representatives of Brave Public Relations, the store’s marketing team, have told me several times the company cannot comment on rumored or unannounced stores, and not much has changed since then.
I speculated then that the removal of logos on the sign was due to a re-branding of The Fresh Market logo as the company continues to undergo changes after being bought out by Apollo Global Management LLC in March 2016.
But questions about The Fresh Market in Bluffton have continued to pour in.
A post on the popular Facebook group Bluffton/Hilton Head Ask and Answer last week inquired about the status of The Fresh Market and other stores planned for that shopping center. Some group members provided feedback on why they thought the store was or wasn’t coming, others shared information they had heard from insiders and many just commented on the stores they would rather see in Bluffton instead of The Fresh Market.
Terri Davey of Bluffton, a member of the group, shared a picture of a conversation she had had with the admin of The Fresh Market Facebook page over Messenger.
She asked the admin if the store in Bluffton was still opening, as rumors around town were suggesting it wasn’t.
“All of our stores in progress of opening are on an indefinite hold,” the admin wrote back. “We are really looking forward to an exciting 2017, but unfortunately that is (the) most up to date information we have right now.”
Davey pointed out that the entire structure for the planned store is already up and appears close to being finished. The admin did not respond to these questions, according to Davey.
I, too, have asked The Fresh Market these questions.
This was the first statement I received from The Fresh Market back when I began writing about it: “In order to provide more flexibility in developing the company’s long-term growth strategy, The Fresh Market has re-evaluated the timing of its new store opening announcements. The Fresh Market is continuously reviewing its investment priorities, which often results in shifting opening dates. As such, the company does not plan on projecting or speculating on specific store opening timing prior to construction start.”
At the time, construction had already begun at the intersection of Burnt Church Road and U.S. 278. As many passersby can tell, it’s even further along.
Contractors could be seen working on all three buildings at the site Wednesday afternoon.
Though I’ve asked for comments regarding the store’s opening, even sending the conversation Davey kindly brought to my attention, I’ve been told by Brave Public Relations that there are still no updates to report as of Wednesday morning.
So why would workers continue to build out a building they’re not sure is officially coming anymore?
It’s quite possible the developer hopes this store in Bluffton will be one of the few that The Fresh Market decides to follow through with.
Many businesses, including large retailers and grocery stores, lease their buildings instead of outright owning them. A construction company essentially provides the shell and structure of the building and these retailers will customize the space just before moving in.
The Fresh Market, however, could choose not to inhabit the building and to pay its lease through the end of the contract anyway, something that would be far more economical than opening a new store amid cutbacks (all The Fresh Market stores in Texas, Iowa, Missouri and Kansas — 13 in total — closed in May 2016, according to the Consumerist, by the way).
At this point, there’s not much else we can do but speculate and wait to hear from The Fresh Market about if and when it will open a store in Bluffton.
And if we don’t hear from them, we can always wait until construction is finished to see if there’s an empty building on the lot.