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Publix Super Markets : BuyGo seeks to fill void downtown

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02/01/2017 | 10:11pm CET

When Randy Bowman and Michael Smith moved to Centre Street in 2013, it seemed that they had just about everything at their fingertips.

But even though they had many options for dining, drinking and entertainment, they noticed that downtown Fernandina Beach was missing something: a store within walking distance where people could purchase everyday essentials like groceries, cleaning supplies, and health and beauty products.

Hoping to fill the need, Bowman, 29, and Smith, 32, opened BuyGo at the Pelican Palms shopping plaza on South Eighth Street in September 2015. A year later, they moved BuyGo a few blocks down the road to the current location at the corner of South Eighth Street and Gum streets.

"BuyGo is a bodega-style retailer that's designed to accommodate areas – like downtown Fernandina – where you don't have the access to get the everyday essentials like bread, milk, even some wine and health and beauty products. So it allows that ease of walking distance without having to get in the car and driving 10 miles," Bowman said in an interview. "Our mission is to accommodate – starting with Northeast Florida – areas such as Fernandina, downtown Jacksonville, even as (far) west as in the Panhandle (in) Pensacola – which we're working on a site now – that don't have the ease (of access) to those everyday staples. They're labeled food deserts for a reason that in some cases either they don't have the transportation to get (people) to a Publix or Winn-Dixie, which are 10 or 15 miles out on average. We kind of fill that void."

Bowman said that a "bodega is a smaller type of retailer (that) uses about 2,500 (to) 3,000 square feet and carries everything from general food items to cleaning and health and beauty (products)." He added that their expectation is to open up 17 BuyGo locations across Northeast Florida to the Panhandle. He added that each BuyGo location will cater to each individual community's wants and needs and that customer feedback influences what products would be offered at each location.

"The local one here, we do a lot of interesting wines, we have good cheeses, craft beers (and) we have food items. Not as many grocery items – we have some – but more like … snacks. That's really what the market in this particular area (wants)," Smith said. "Probably our biggest selling item in this location has been the wine. We carry restaurant wine. We don't carry the types of wine you can get at Publix or Winn-Dixie or other places. It's usually the ones from if you go to a nicer restaurant that you'll see on the menu there. We get it from a restaurant supplier."

BuyGo also offers a wide variety of everyday essentials, such as general food items, spices, cleaning supplies, kitchen utensils and pet supplies. BuyGo also offers an in-house coffee shop, which brews Caribou Coffee.

Bowman said that growing up in a rural area that was miles away from the nearest grocery store and working 17 years in retail inspired the idea for BuyGo.

"I grew up in a very rural area outside of Pensacola, (called) Cantonment. … It's about 20 miles north of Pensacola," Bowman said. "As a kid, we would have to get in our car on Saturdays, drive into town with coolers to stock up for the week. That was how we survived. If you needed some essentials throughout the week, it was very tough to get and so that always stuck in the back of my mind."

In addition to filling needs for everyday essentials, Bowman is also passionate about community involvement.

"This is my passion. I love being involved with the community. I've been involved with the community in Fernandina with the Arts Council, the Artrageous Artwalk Board of Directors, I'm part of the Main Street Promotion Committee. I'm also the director of the film festival here. So I like to be involved and consistently volunteer," Bowman said. "We're big supporters of Barnabas. They have a cooking class called ‘Cooking Matters' and we're partnered with that. During ‘Cooking Matters' – it's a free class for anyone to take – it teaches you how to utilize different types of foods on a budget to make a healthier lifestyle. And in week 5, I go in and teach the class how to walk a grocery store without … getting the items you really don't need. It's really been fun. We've been doing it almost a year now, (and) we donate our food products to them."

Barnabas Food Pantry Coordinator Robert Peck, 29, said in an interview that BuyGo helped him obtain 100 turkeys for families in need for Thanksgiving.

"We're able to secure a donation of 100 turkeys and our client volume throughout the duration of November greatly exceeds that. So, being unable to secure any more than that through the original donor put us in a bind, and we don't want to make promises to the clients or the expectation and not be able to deliver with it. I was probably on the phone for an hour (or) two hours just trying to secure somebody (or) some promise to get it, and no one even entertained the idea of it being possible," Peck said. "When I, thankfully, thought of Randy and Michael, I was on the phone, and Randy said, ‘Let me go ahead and see what I can do. I'll give you a call right back.' Within 30 minutes, he called me back (and) let me know, ‘Not only do I have the turkeys, I've got them at the price point that you need them at.' Within a week, those 100 turkeys I did not expect, they were right here at the store and available. That saved the day."

Bowman said the next step is to move BuyGo into the former Fred's building by fall of this year.

"We have an LOI (letter of intent) with the intents of moving in to the former Fred's location," Bowman said. "They're doing some building out there. We're going to take a portion of the building. … There's going to be at least three to four different retailers (inside the former Fred's building)."

BuyGo is at 626 S. Eighth St. Hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. The store is closed Sunday.

© Copyright © 2017 News Leader, Community Newspapers, Inc. All Rights Reserved., source Newspapers

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