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Earth Fare opening in Lakewood Ranch draws line of more than 800

Two friends arrived seven hours early; for busy mothers, it was rare chance to talk

Joy Hill and Lindsey Rezin had been outside the new Earth Fare in Lakewood Ranch for seven hours by the time it opened for the first time on Saturday.

But their shopping lists weren’t quite as impressive as the hours they’d dedicated to the trip.

Hill wanted some essential oils and Rezin was eyeing some kale. As one of the first 500 shoppers inside, they’d each get a gift card. One of the 500 given out that morning would be worth $1,000.

What they were really after, though, was a little camaraderie.

I met the two friends at 6:30 a.m. Saturday about a half an hour before the new, 23,500-square-foot health-centric grocer at Lakewood Ranch Boulevard and State Road 70 was set to open.

By then, more than 550 people had joined them in line — a figure that well surpasses the turnouts from when Earth Fare’s competitors, Sprouts Farmers Market and Lucky’s Market, opened their first stores in the area last year.

That $1,000 gift card would be nice, they told me, but this was more about a “mom’s night out” for them than that 1-in-500 shot at the big prize.

Hill, 32, has seven children between the ages of 1 and 12 at home, and Rezin, 33, has four between 2 and 9. They knew each other through church and had been meaning for a while to carve out a time to really talk. That’s not an easy thing to do with big, busy families, they told me, and waiting in line to get into Southwest Florida’s newest grocery store seemed as good of a time as any.

“We might come home with a $10 or $5 card, but we get to be out,” Hill said.

So they set up camp at the store at midnight. This was all new territory for Rezin. She’d never even shopped Black Friday; but Hill had dabbled in grand openings before. She’d once spent the night at a new Smoothie King for a chance at free smoothies for a year.

They had a solid three hours to themselves in front of the store to laugh off the funny looks they got from the grocer’s floor cleaners working inside, play a game of Monopoly and finally have that talk.

A line started forming behind them about 3 a.m., they said, and it turned into a strong crowd about an hour and a half after that.

When the doors opened just before 7 a.m., shoppers had snaked east along the retail strip, curved south into the parking lot and then back again to the north.

Earth Fare’s official tally ballooned to 842 people, and shoppers were still waiting to get inside about a half-hour after the ribbon cutting.

I caught back up with Hill and Rezin about five minutes or so after they’d been in the store to see how they’d done with the gift card giveaway.

Both their baskets were empty. One was holding a $25 gift card and the other hadn’t even checked to see what was on hers.

The $1,000 gift card ended up going to a high school student who was excited to spend it all on chocolate.

As for Rezin and Hill? They’d already gotten everything they’d come for before they even got inside.

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