Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Farewell to Earth Fare

Earth Fare #582
13024 Narcoosee Road, Orlando (Lake Nona), FL - The Shoppes at Nona Place

     If the failure of Lucky's Market wasn't enough to get 2020 off to a shaky start in the grocery world, the sudden and unexpected failure of Earth Fare made things even worse. Only two weeks after Lucky's announced the closure of nearly all its stores, organic rival Earth Fare announced that it would be totally liquidating. With Lucky's and Earth Fare putting much of their recent emphasis on expanding into Florida, this was a nasty double whammy of store closings for the Floridian supermarket scene. While the Lucky's drama stole more of the headlines in Florida due to the company's larger expansion push in the state, Earth Fare's woes were mostly swept under the rug after the initial announcement of the company's liquidation. While Lucky's made a bang with their demise, Earth Fare quietly liquidated, with the final Earth Fare stores closing for good on February 25, 2020.

     In this post we'll be taking a look at two different Earth Fare stores, beginning with the location in Lake Nona, FL (an unincorporated area southeast of Orlando). The Lake Nona Earth Fare opened on September 29, 2018, and closed on February 25, 2020. Like Lucky's, the majority of Earth Fare's Florida locations weren't open for very long, with most of the company's 14 Florida stores barely making it past the three year mark. Earth Fare originally entered Florida in 2010 with a single store in Tallahassee, however it wasn't until the late 2010's when Earth Fare began a much larger push into the state. Also like Lucky's, Earth Fare exited Florida with a handful of locations in the midst of construction, like the upcoming Earth Fare stores in DeLand and Lady Lake. To show how unexpected Earth Fare's liquidation was, this article was published exactly one month before the liquidation was announced, explaining the company's plans to double its store count in Florida. While Lucky's and Earth Fare's demise couldn't have been timed any worse, I'm still not sure if all this was pure coincidence, or a sign that the organic grocery bubble is finally beginning to pop.

     Anyway, my visit to the Lake Nona store happened about half way through Earth Fare's liquidation, so things will be looking quite barren here. Stepping inside, instead of being greeted by bins of produce, we were greeted by boxes of random store supplies. All the produce displays were converted into stands to hold the boxes of cups, containers, and other random things found in the back of the store.

     Not so fresh, organic & local anymore in the produce department...

     From the edge of the produce department, here's a look across the front end. The registers were located behind that stack of crates in the distance, with the prepared foods counters poking out from the side wall.

     While a lot of the merchandise had depleted as discounts hit 60% off in some categories, the entirety of the sales floor was still open at this point in the liquidation. Seen here is the store's rightmost aisle, home to bulk foods. During my visit, almost all the bulk foods had been sold out. 

     The Meat and Seafood counter was located in the back right corner of the store. While Earth Fare and Lucky's were comparable stores as far as merchandise selection was concerned, Earth Fare was much more "in your face" with their philosophies on organic foods than Lucky's was. As I've mentioned before, while Lucky's was organic-focused, Lucky's did carry non-organic produce and some non-organic products. That was Lucky's way to ease people into organics, and to make the store seem less "stuffy" to people (like me) who aren't into the whole organic thing. Earth Fare, however, had something called a "boot list", which was a long list of certain ingredients that weren't allowed to be in products carried in their stores (including artificial dyes, preservatives, and things of that nature). Earth Fare was very much pushing that "boot list" and "clean food", to the point where their official slogan was "Live longer with Earth Fare". While that was Earth Fare's mission, in the end, Earth Fare wasn't able to live longer with us.

     Looking across the back of the store, we see the empty dairy coolers off to my right. The center of this aisle was also being used to house some of the fixtures that were for sale.

     Unlike Lucky's, Earth Fare was using lots of the classic store closing signage we've seen all over the place - from Kmart to hhgregg to everywhere in between. While this picture only shows some of the percent-off signs, there were plenty of the yellow and red store closing signs to be found here. It just happens that none of those yellow and red "Everything Must Go!" signs made it into my pictures, as Earth Fare did a good job of hiding them throughout the store. Every aisle marker had a closing sign taped to it, and you can see pieces of those signs in a few of my photos from the Lake Nona Earth Fare.

     Stepping out into the front aisle, one of those famous closing signs is peeking out from underneath the aisle 6 marker at the top corner of the photo.

     Frozen foods was located in the center of the store.

     The wine department can be seen here, nestled in a little pocket behind health and beauty.

     Stepping away from the wine, here's the health and beauty department, which took up two aisles between frozen foods and the fresh departments.

     Returning to the back of the store, here's one final look toward the grocery aisles.

     The bakery department was located in the back left corner, the very last department in the fresh aisle (the remainder of which is out of frame to my left).

     Since we were over half way through the closing at this point, none of the fresh departments were open anymore. I'm surprised this side of the store wasn't roped off yet, actually, but the lack of caution tape made picture taking that much easier!.

     Stepping back a bit from the last photo, we can see the deli counter, the salad bar, and the hot foods bar. To my right were coolers for drinks and beer, which were also empty (except for one cooler at the very front of the aisle, which had a few random drink bottles consolidated into it).

     Like just about every modern Earth Fare store, the city or neighborhood name was incorporated into the name of the prepared foods department, which was called the "Nona Place Kitchen" here. Nona Place is actually the name of the small shopping center this store is located in, and not the name of the area (which is Lake Nona). No matter how they phrased it though, it was still a fun little addition of local flare.

     To the left of the Nona Place Kitchen was the juice bar, which like all the other fresh departments, was closed.

     Before leaving, here's a look at the front end, looking back toward the produce department.

     With this store looking into its final week open, there weren't going to be too many opportunities to "see us soon" anymore.

     With that little spin around the Lake Nona Earth Fare done, we'll jump forward a week and head 50 miles to the east for the conclusion of our post - a quick peek at the Rockledge Earth Fare during its second to last day open:

Kash n' Karry #1908 / Earth Fare #583
5410 Murrell Road, Rockledge (Viera), FL - Viera East Market Center

     We've seen the Rockledge Earth Fare on the blog before in this post, which took a look around the store shortly after it opened in January 2019. In all, the Rockledge Earth Fare lasted just barely one year, closing for good on February 23, 2020 - two days before the last of the Earth Fare stores closed for good. The Rockledge Earth Fare took over a long-vacant Kash n' Karry building in a dying shopping center, bringing life back to this place upon its opening. In the year Earth Fare was here, this shopping center saw a large increase in tenants, with many of the smaller storefronts finding new life after so many years of emptiness. Earth Fare's departure was a bit of a blow to this plaza, which was finally on an upswing after so many years of decline.

     Heading inside, this store had an identical layout to the Lake Nona Earth Fare we just toured. Produce was located just inside the entrance, although the produce display bins had become home to whatever merchandise was left in the store at the time. The perimeter of the produce department contained racks of store supplies, although it didn't seem like there was as many cases of supplies for sale here as there were in Lake Nona.

     With only two days left to go, most of the sales floor (except for the produce department and front end) were closed off to customers. Aisle 1, pictured in the background here, was blocked off by shelves of supplies.

     Peeking through the shelves, here's a look down aisle 1 at the old bulk foods department.

     The store closing signage was a little more apparent here than it was in Lake Nona, as we see some of the famous closing signs hung around the front end. Unlike the West Melbourne Lucky's last day, which the employees were treating as a farewell party, the employees here certainly weren't living up to Lucky's "Don't be sad, be happy it happened" mantra. The people working here on this day all seemed a bit grumpy, but we'll get back to that in a moment...

     Caution tape blocks off access to this grocery aisle, which was completely empty. One thing that does differentiate the Rockledge Earth Fare from the Lake Nona store we just saw is the use of clerestory windows over the sales floor, a relic from Kash n' Karry days in this building. Unlike this store, the Lake Nona Earth Fare was built from scratch.

     Turning away from the grocery aisles, here's a look across the front end. The juice bar and the Viera Kitchen are located straight ahead, with frozen foods off to my right. Also note the lady in black in the foreground of this image - I'm going to get back to her in a moment too...

     This photo is similar to the last one, but angled up a bit further to showcase more of Kash n' Karry's clerestory windows. As I mentioned in my original posts from this store, this building was one of Kash n' Karry's weird round prototype stores from the late 1990's, which featured a really strange curved layout around a central service island. While a good 10-15 of these prototypes were opened throughout Florida, only one still survives to this day with the original layout in-tact (and that store is on my radar to visit one of these days, as this prototype is quite intriguing, but that's besides the point right now).

     More clerestory can be seen over the empty frozen foods aisles, where all of the coolers had been emptied and turned off.

     Besides the little bit of grocery stuff crammed into the old produce department, there was still a decent amount of merchandise left in the health and beauty department, pictured here. It seemed like most of the people in the store during my visit crammed themselves into this aisle, as it was packed down here! I guess an 80% off discount will do that...

     My last interior photo from the Rockledge Earth Fare looks down the old fresh department aisle, toward the old deli and bakery counters. The reason my interior tour is going to end so abruptly here is because right after I took this photo, an employee came up to me and told me to stop taking photos. Since this was a closing (and the second to last day, no less), I wasn't trying too hard to hide what I was doing. I believe what happened is that lady in black I pointed out before (who appeared to be some kind of front end employee, patrolling that part of the store the entire time I was here), ratted me out to a group of managers standing in a circle around the service desk. I couldn't figure out how those managers could have spotted me taking pictures all the way over here from the service desk, so I feel that lady in black was the one to tip them off, as she seemed to be staring down everyone who was walking by her. After I took this photo I was going to get one or two more pictures across the front end for a seamless transition out the store, when the one manager popped out from one of the check lanes to tell me to stop. Since I was already in the process of working my way out, the only thing I replied to the manager's comment was "OK" before making a beeline to the door. In six years of photographing stores, that was the first time I was ever approached by an employee who told me to stop. My only other encounters up to then were from curious customers and bystanders (who were more curious than concerned with what I was doing in all those cases), my lady friend in Winter Haven (who was annoyed with the fact I was taking pictures, but never actually told me to stop), and a run in with the cops (although I promise you that incident had nothing to do with photo taking - I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time with that one!)

     That little incident aside, I did take this final shot of the exterior as I left the store. While my parting experience with Earth Fare was much different than my parting experience with Lucky's two days prior, both stores served their purpose well, and will be missed by the communities they served. While Lucky's has managed to find buyers for roughly half of their former Florida locations so far, Earth Fare isn't in the same position. I have yet to hear of anything taking over any of the former Earth Fare stores, so the fates of both the Lake Nona and Rockledge locations we saw today will remain up in the air for now. Like Lucky's, it's a shame to see so many practically new stores sitting empty now, as Florida's crazy grocery wars claim two more victims back-to-back. It will be interesting to see how the effects of Lucky's and Earth Fare's sudden implosions play out over the coming months, and how these spaces will get re-tenanted.

     Now that I've spent much of the last month blogging about these current events, I can finally get back on track with some of my other previously scheduled content. Be on the lookout for that soon, as long as we don't have any more crazy retail developments to hit us in the near future!

So until the next post,



  1. Regarding your employee issue -- I've done that exact thing a few times! So far I've always had good luck with problem employees coming up to me at the very end of my visits, so I've been able to noncommittally bail out with no problems :)

    And regarding the double chain collapse, I'm certainly starting to worry that this is a bubble bursting for the upscale grocery market. And since it's starting to look like the whole economy is having issues, I wouldn't be surprised if there's more to come...

  2. Yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if the whole upscale niche market bubble burst and more organic chains closed. I feel that there’s something impractical these types of stores as there are a lot of people out there who can’t afford that kind stuff. I much prefer traditional grocery stores.

  3. to afb, I posted a new comment on your latest post on foodtown about a store exterior.