After running successful fruit shops in the Sutherland Shire for more than 20 years, Mark Amerio was initially reluctant to open a new Wollongong store.
But when he was given the chance to design what he calls "the perfect store", he decided to open a branch of his Best Fresh greengrocer in GPT's Wollongong Central expansion on Keira Street.
"When I was initially approached, I just thought this was a stage in my life where I didn't really want any hassles," he says.
"But over the years you develop an understanding of what you consider your perfect store to be and because we're starting this store from scratch I see this as the chance to build my perfect store."
Although he is still waiting to have the plans for the perfect shop officially approved, he says he hopes to stock a delicatessen as well as fresh fruit and vegetables.
"It's so nice to be given a square box and be told, 'here you go, design your store'," he says.
"I'll be in a fresh fruit market: I had a choice of where I wanted to be and how big I wanted it to be, where I wanted the coolrooms, my entry and exit - so I'm very excited."
Amerio was recently named the 2013 runner-up at the Sydney Markets Greengrocer of the Year Award for his Southgate Sylvania Best Fresh, beating out several hundred retail outlets competing for the title.
He attributes this success to knowing his customers and being passionate about food.
"I basically believe in catering for all types of people - families, single people, people on a budget," he says.
"I've had half a dozen stores in the Sutherland Shire, and even though some of the stores are only five kilometres apart it's amazing how different they can be."
To make sure his Wollongong outlet can hold its own, Amerio has been working with GPT to connect with farmers and suppliers to make sure his grocery store can stock locally grown produce.
"I believe strongly that I should be retailing products that you can't buy in supermarkets," he says.
"So, for example, I have a local honey I bring up from the South Coast, and a range of pasta which is manufactured by a chef I know in Marrickville.
"Once I come down to Wollongong, I'm really interested in meeting the farmers on the coast and building up a relationship with them so I can sell their produce."
Amerio says his first Illawarra store, which will employ up to 30 people, will be open when the $200 million mall opens its doors "sometime in September".