The 40,000-square-foot building near the Largo Central Park Nature Preserve no longer has a meat department, frozen food cases or a dairy section with rows of mozzarella cheese and low-fat milk.
Instead, the former Winn-Dixie at 1199 East Bay Drive, deserted since September 2006, now has classrooms, medical training labs and an area of tables where adult students learn the art of massage.
The single-story structure has been gutted, painted cream with peach trim and transformed into a campus of Everest University, formerly called Florida Metropolitan University.
The school moved from its former location in Safety Harbor and opened on May 19 at the 8.4-acre property near Highland Avenue.
"We absolutely like it,'' Mayor Pat Gerard said. "It's good to have institutions of higher learning in the city. I've known a lot of people who attended FMU. It's helped a lot of people finish up their degrees and do it while working full time.''
And having a school where people can advance their careers is better than having an empty building, Gerard said.
Largo now has three such colleges. The other two are Schiller International University, less than a half-mile from the Everest University campus on East Bay Drive, and Remington College on Ulmerton Road.
Having Everest University in the city "is a great resource,'' said Tom Morrissette, president of the Largo/Mid-Pinellas Chamber of Commerce.
"They have a curriculum reflecting the need of the community,'' he said. "When students graduate, they are ready to go right into the workplace.''
Largo Community Development Director Carol Stricklin said having the college in Largo is a very positive thing for economic development in the city because it contributes a trained work force to businesses that need educated employees.
"The city is very pleased to have an active use go into an existing building helping with redevelopment,'' she said.
Owned by Corinthian Colleges, one of the largest post-secondary education companies in North America, the school offers associate, bachelor's and master's degree programs in business, health care, criminal justice, paralegal and information technology. It has nearly 14,000 students at 14 campuses in Florida.
Largo campus president John Buck said he has gotten nothing but positive feedback from his 850 students.
"This campus offers more parking and better access to public transportation,'' he said. "There's a bus bench sitting right in front of our front parking lot.''
Buck said the renovation was a big success.
"You can't tell it was ever a grocery store,'' he said.
Eileen Schulte can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153.