Published: Jan 03, 2011 12:40 PM EST
Updated: Jan 04, 2011 1:20 AM EST

FORT MYERS, Fla. - Three years after a Publix store closed on U.S. 41,  leaving many without close access to a grocery store, a new one is finally here. Tuesday morning, Save-A-Lot will open its doors at the South Trail Shopping Center, allowing shoppers to buy food for their families without worrying about how they'll get there.

"Oh man, it was a bummer," Shakeisha Cobb said, remembering the day her neighborhood grocery store closed for good. "I had to catch a ride and stuff, and then nobody could get me a ride."

Without cars, or gas money, the vacancy became a burden for some, and meant less traffic for stores at shopping center. "Once they took the Publix out of here, they did a lot of damage to this neighborhood," Antonio Murray said.

That all changes with the grand opening of this Save-A-Lot. "There's a real need in the community, and this store in particular," Director of Operations David Hoalt said. "We've been trying to get into here and open up for about 3 years.

Monday night, new employees put final touches on displays and 70 local people got ready for day one.

"We are getting all our meats cut, getting everything nice for the public so they're real nice and fresh," Meat Manager Mark Carbonell said.

Arranging fruits and vegetables, Produce Manager Michael Tuminello said, "It's a nice place to work, and it's nice to have a job."

Just like its name suggests, Save-A-Lot promises customers will save up to 40% off conventional grocery prices. "We have 1,300 items roughly in the store compared to 20-30,000 items in a large supermarket, but it's all high quality," Hoalt said. "We will not accept a product unless it's as good or better than the national brand."

To most passersby, this may seem like just another grocery store. But to those in the community surrounding it, it's a blessing.

"Now this is closeby, I can just ride the bicycle or even walk there," Cobb said.

"This is like magic in the place! We're so happy. I'll be here tomorrow," Murray said.

Nearby stores say they are thrilled to have the new neighbor and the additional traffic they lost with the departure of Publix. Save-A-Lot will be opening a 3rd local store at Morse Shores on Palm Beach Boulevard at the end of March, which means more local jobs up for grabs.