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Lucky’s Market, a supermarket chain that specializes natural and organic products, celebrated its first year in Gainesville with a festival with food and games Friday, Jan. 8, 2016 through Saturday, Jan. 9, 2016.

When Eric Cheek left his shift at Lucky’s Market late Monday night, he didn’t think it would be one of his final times doing so. 

As front end supervisor of the Gainesville store, he’d recently celebrated his five-year anniversary there. But now, Cheek is just one of thousands of Lucky’s Market employees laid off as the chain prepares to close nearly all of its Florida stores in the next few weeks, as first reported by the South Florida Sun Sentinel. 

Jason Rief, the store’s regional director, told the Sentinel that the 20 stores will be closed as of Feb. 12, and the only remaining location will be in West Melbourne, Florida. 

“I feel really betrayed, like I’m sure all the other team members there,” Cheek, 43, said. 

While the news came as a shock to almost everyone, Cheek said speculation was “running rampant through the employee grapevine” after a sign was hung in the store informing employees of an important meeting Tuesday morning. 

It was during that 7 a.m. meeting that the store informed its employees of the abrupt closure, he said. 

Kroger invested in Lucky’s Market in 2016, back when the chain  only had 17 stores. It later pulled out of the agreement in early December. 

Cheek said ever since Kroger pulled out of the partnership, there’s been a lot of uncertainty about the store’s future. He thinks by divesting its stake in the company, Kroger was aware of the impact its decision would have on Lucky’s fate. 

“They knew if they pulled out they were going to kill Lucky’s,” Cheek said. “And that’s exactly, essentially, what they did.”

The company has made no official statement as of Tuesday evening. The Alligator reached out to the Gainesville store’s director for comment but was unable to get in touch as of Tuesday evening. 

Mike Mangus, general manager of MidiCi at Celebration Pointe, posted in Gainesville Word of Mouth Tuesday, a Facebook group for Gainesville residents, offering jobs to those recently laid off by the grocery store. 

Among the positions Mangus listed at the pizza restaurant were kitchen staff, server and bartender. He wrote that while he can’t hire everyone, he wanted to set up some interviews for those interested. 

“I hate seeing that Lucky’s is closing,” Mangus wrote. “It really is my favorite place to shop and extremely convenient.” 

Cheek said he’s already received a ton of community outreach in the wake of the news, even from strangers who have informed him of available job opportunities. A few of his regular customers at the store also reached out to show their support Tuesday. 

“People loved Lucky’s, people loved our store, and there’s a lot of upset people out there in the community right now,” Cheek said.

Contact Alex De Luca at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @alexldeluca.