Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market will take over part of a Sunflower Market that closed more than a year ago, leaving a gaping hole at a major Gilbert crossroads.
Merchants at Bayshore Plaza on the northwest corner of Cooper and Warner roads endured 18 months without a major anchor after the grocer decided to shutter a roughly 33,000-square-foot market and warehousing facility.
A broker who handled the lease negotiation said Fresh & Easy, a subsidiary of the United Kingdom-based grocer Tesco, will likely open sometime in July.
Sarah Garrison, a shift leader at the nearby Hollywood Video store, echoed a common complaint among Bayshore merchants when she said the store's customer pool dried up some following the closure of Sunflower.
"That's for sure," she said. "So it's nice to see something going in there."
Garrison estimated the store experienced at least a 25 percent dip in business after Sunflower moved out.
One of those customers was Jeannie Spachtholz, a local who was at Bayshore on Wednesday to dine with her daughter, Tori, at Rubio's Mexican Grill.
Spachtholz shopped at Sunflower and often rented movies from Hollywood because the two stores were so close. That ended shortly after Sunflower closed because it was no longer convenient, Spachtholz said.
"It's probably been a year since I've been to Rubio's because of the same thing," she added.
The women said they were happy to learn Fresh & Easy would take over given its similarities to Sunflower Market. Both stores specialize in healthy foods.
Sunflower Market now operates under the name Sunflower Farmers Market.
"It's better than a regular grocery store because we have a ton of those," Spachtholz said.
Brent Mallonee, a broker at Grubb & Ellis Co., said it took about 16 months to close the deal with Fresh & Easy.
"It was a pretty long lease-negotiation process," he said, adding the company plans to finish construction June 19 and open shortly thereafter.
Brendan Wonnacott, a Fresh & Easy spokesman, said the company hasn't announced an opening date for the store and usually doesn't do so until roughly 30 days out.
Mallonee wouldn't say why Sunflower decided to close, adding the reasons were of a personal nature for the owners. No one from Sunflower could be reached for comment.
The store space that included Sunflower was originally built for a 60,000-square-foot Smith's grocery store. Eventually, the owners parcelled up the site, leasing 27,000 square feet to an Ace Hardware store, which opened in 2006. The remainder of the space went to Sunflower, which had warehousing operations there in addition to its store, Mallonee said.
Fresh & Easy will occupy 16,200 square feet, leaving about 17,000 square feet empty.
Mallonee said finding tenants for stores the size of Sunflower is getting increasingly difficult as major retailers gravitate to larger store footprints. He pointed to Fry's Marketplaces as an example, which occupy over 100,000 square feet.
When Fresh & Easy opened in the Valley in late 2007, it began snapping up a lot of smaller store spaces that had previously been difficult to lease, Mallonee said.
"They really created a new market segment," he said.
The company, which has about 30 stores in the Valley, operates neighborhood-centric markets roughly 10,000 square feet.