When retailers close large stores or go out of business, operators of malls and strip centers have to get creative to fill the spaces or break them up into smaller spaces. The national trend has escalated in recent years and it’s likely to grow. Casey Logan/news-press.com

“The Beef People” are repositioning once again.

Three Winn-Dixie stores will close in Lee County as the parent company of the supermarket chain announced it will shutter 94 underperforming stores in seven southern states.

The local stores that are closing are in south Fort Myers, San Carlos Park and Bonita Springs, but there will still be at least six remaining locations spread across the county.

Collier County appears to have four stores, none of which are closing.

Winn-Dixie, which has long gone by “The Beef People” moniker, has faced fierce competition for years in the grocery sector and has struggled to find its niche.

The chain is not the cheapest, as Walmart and Aldi fit that bill. It’s also not the higher end, where Whole Foods Market is among the dominant players, preparing to soon open a new location off Daniels Parkway in south Fort Myers.

Despite its Florida roots, Winn-Dixie is not even the dominant home-grown grocer, because Publix takes that spot. Add other competitors such as Target and online players, and it’s a tough market.

After the closures, Jacksonville-based Southeastern Grocers, which is also the parent company for Bi-Lo, Harveys and Fresco, will have 582 stores.

“Southeastern Grocers is faced with a critical milestone in its transformation and we have made choices for our future and long-term growth potential,” said Anthony Hucker, president and CEO, in a statement.

In a letter to suppliers, the company said it intends to begin a court-supervised restructuring process by the end of March and anticipates the process taking 90 days.

“This course of action enables us to continue writing the story for our company and our iconic, heritage banners in the Southeast,” Hucker said in a statement. It also said it has a three-year plan to create “stunning, remodeled stores in a significant portion of our footprint.”

The Winn-Dixie closures announcement comes on the heels of news that Toys R…