By SC Reporter Reese Holiday, photos by Associate Publisher Chuck Larsen
For generations, the Bailey’s General Store has remained a staple of Sanibel, providing those that roam the unique island with groceries, hardware and general needs long before any bridges were built.
Now, Owner Richard Johnson said big changes are coming to the beloved store to enhance the shopping experience and provide customers with a look into the modern-day grocer.
“The local grocery stores have changed dramatically over the past few decades,” Johnson said. “What we’re planning for is we’re going to become more relevant in what today’s customer is looking for in a grocery store.”
The plans for this external change will replace the yellow and brown look with the flat roof that has remained for decades with more prominent, blue facades on top of the building, including the largest one right at the entrance of the grocery store.
But the changes don’t stop there as Johnson, who is also Sanibel’s vice mayor, explained that the grocery store will be expanding further towards the south side of the shopping center, adding an additional 6,000 square feet in retail space.
To do so, the Island Cinema, a building located next to the grocery store in which the shopping center owns, will be demolished to make more floor space for the store. Johnson said this decision came about during the COVID-19 pandemic when he and his staff decided to not re-open the theatre.
With these changes to add new areas to the grocery store, many of the popular, older features that visitors loved will still remain, including the liquor store, which will be relocated, and the highly successful coffee bar.
“The things that people know us for and love about Bailey’s are not going away,” Johnson said. “Mainly, that’s the people that are there.”
Other changes include increasing the parking area of the shopping center to include more spaces and parking for bikes, increase the vegetation buffers around that parking area, add electric vehicle charging stations to some parking spaces, decrease the amount of developed property on the parcel, as well as bring the center into conformance with Sanibel’s Architectural Design Standards.
This means that the shopping center’s renovations will be “constructed, maintained and improved in a manner that enhances the environment, visual and physical character of Sanibel consistent with the Sanibel Plan and its vision statement,” the ordinance reads.
It also means that the structure will successfully represent the community aesthetic, not appear monolithic, be visually interesting from the perspective of pedestrian, bicyclist and motorist, as well as not permit noise, light and other impacts on the quiet and private enjoyment of adjacent residential uses.
These proposed changes are coming after the grocery store added more renewable energy to not only save money, but to improve the environment on the island as well.
This included replacing the store’s open retail displays for cold foods with closed doors, the replacement of fluorescent lights with LED ones, and the installation of solar panels along the roof. With these changes, Johnson said the store’s electric bill went from $25,000 to just $7,000 a month.
Outside of these renovations, the gas station adjacent to the Bailey’s Shopping Center, another property in which the center owns, will be converted into a restaurant that is yet to be determined. According to a Community Services Department Staff Report, this restaurant will have a total of 66 indoor seats, as well as an additional 16 outdoor ones.
But before any shovel breaks ground, the overall renovation project of Bailey’s Shopping Center needs to go through a number of approvals, one of which occurred on June 8 during a Sanibel Planning Commission meeting.
This approval moved to have the planning staff prepare a draft ordinance for the plan, which requested to amend the city’s Land Development Code, specifically the development standards for Bailey’s property in its Planned Unit Development, so that the requested changes to the shopping center can be made.
City Planner Craig Chandler explained during the meeting that the PUD consists of two parcels of land, which are Bailey’s Shopping Center and Doc Ford’s, but the request for an amendment to the PUD only relates to Bailey’s.
The staff was requested to return to the Planning Commission on June 22 with their draft ordinance where commissioners will then vote to approve it or not.
If successful, the project will then move to Sanibel City Council where more deliberation will occur, including a first reading in July, and a second reading in August.
With much of the journey still ahead, Johnson emphasized that this project is long overdue, noting that no substantial remodeling to Baileys has occurred in nearly 40 years. He said every five years, a plan for the shopping center is put in place, but this plan has been discussed for about a decade.
This project will become a part of the store that has inhabited Sanibel since 1899, its history, as well as the Bailey family name it carries. As this history continues, architect Ray Fenton noted during the commission meeting that this change will embrace the family name, and the over 100 years of service behind it.
“This plan represents the dreams, the wishes and the growth of the Bailey family going into the future for the next five years,” Fenton said.
Richard Johnson, his wife Mead, and their children Calli, Bailie and Dane, are all a part of the business, and it is owned by his wife and generation 4 of the Johnson family.