The specialty grocer Fresh Market, based in North Carolina, said yesterday it will open three new stores in the first quarter of 2006, bringing the total number of its stores to 56.

The Fresh Market operates stores in 12 states, and plans to expand into three more by the end of the year, opening a total of 10 to 12 new unit before the year is out.

The first of the three stores will open its doors in Bonita Springs, Fla. on Feb. 15, the company said. This new location marks the Fresh Market's 15th store in Florida. The Fresh Market will also open in the Buckhead area of Atlanta (sixth store location in Georgia) on Feb. 22, and Richmond, Va. (fourth store location in Virginia) on March 8.

The Fresh Market format offers high-quality perishables, a high level of customer service, and specialty grocery items, including an extensive beer selection in most stores.