Thursday, October 20, 2005

Goodbye Goodings

It seems like just a few weeks ago I was posting that our new Goodings grocery store had opened. The long-awaited store was meant to the anchor of the Water Tower Place shopping center at the entrance of Celebration. There used to be a small Goodings downtown on Market Street, but it closed in anticipation of the new, full-service location.

Now, I'm sad to say that Goodings is shutting down. It's only been in business for a few short months (its pharmacy never even opened), but word has it that it will close for good by the end of this month.

I guess it's not surprising; I was a frequent visitor to their salad bar (and, I'll confess, the bakery), and I never saw more than a handful of people wandering forlornly around the aisles. The salad bar, sushi, and deli counter seems to do a decent lunch-time trade, but not enough to support the overhead of an entire store that was nearly deserted the rest of the time.

One of the biggest stumbling blocks was their prices. There is a well-established Publix on the other side of 192; some of Goodings' prices were only a few cents more, but other items were much more expensive. It was a good place to grab a few quick items, but it wasn't practical for weekly stock-up shopping. Worse yet, while I'm too lazy to go very far from "The Bubble," many Celebration residents head to the Wal-Mart Super Center or Target for their grocery shopping. The high-volume superstores are even cheaper than Publix.

The Goodings store was lovely; I can't even imagine how much of an investment they sunk into its construction. Unlike the businesslike set-up of Publix, it had low lighting and homey decor. There was an eating area with internet access, and even an attached liquor store.

But Goodings was pretty much hidden from view, and the tourist traffic on 192 probably never even noticed it. In general, Water Tower Place is not a well-laid-out strip mall. Even though it has limited parking to start with, there's a large so-called park smack dab in the middle, wasting valuable space. It wouldn't be so bad if the park were visually appealing, but unfortunately it's not even completed. Not only does it chew up potential parking spots, but it looks decidedly shabby. Lack of visibility for the stores only compounds the problem.

In general, Water Tower's construction schedule ran very late. The Goodings opening was delayed by months; I remember passing by it during my morning walks, on the way to Planet Smoothie, peeking in the windows and trying to guesstimate an opening time. By the time it finally opened for business, the event was anti-climactic.

Now, it will soon be a memory and a vast, empty storefront, leaving Water Tower Place to flail without an anchor (unless you count the Mobile Gas Station, Chik-Fil-A, or Joe's Crab Shack). I fear for the future of the other merchants; they struggled for a long time waiting for Goodings to open, hoping that it would bring in precious traffic that would overflow to the other stores. Now, they're back to square one, and although I hate to say it, I fear that it will be a ghost town by this time next year.

I'm surprised that Goodings is bailing after only four months. Surely they have a lease, so I wonder if there's more to the story. Unicorp, the mall's developer, is currently embroiled in another fiasco at Baldwin Park, and they haven't even come close to fulfilling all their obligations at Water Tower Place, so I wouldn't be surprised if a legal battle ensues.

Earlier this week, when I had just heard the first rumblings of a possible closing, I went to Goodings for a lunch salad. Many of the containers on the salad bar were empty, and there was a general air of unkemptness. Previously, the salad bar was clean and well-stocked, but now it was messy and unappetizing. I made a small salad from the least yucky-looking ingredients, only to discover that there was no silverware and most of the topping bins were empty too. The next day, when the impending shutdown was confirmed on the Front Porch intranet, I surely wasn't surprised.

Today, I popped in to have a look around; the empty shelves and barren racks gave the store an atmosphere of sadness and defeat.

Oh well, at least there is one positive note, although it doesn't have anything to do with the Water Tower Place fiasco. The market that had located in the old Goodings shop downtown recently closed, but now it's becoming a New York-style deli. I am a huge chopped liver fan, and I normally head all the way to Two Jays in Dr. Phillips when I need to fulfill my craving. Now, it will just be a short bike ride away.

Maybe we'll get another anchor store at Water Tower Place...we can only hold. At this time next year I'll have to revisit this blog entry and post an update. Will it be a thriving strip mall or a deserted parking lot filled with barren, soap-windowed stores? Only time will tell.

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